How can I clean my playing cards?

How can I clean my playing cards?

Those old cards

When my three brothers and I were young, my parents played a lot of party bridge. The living room would be full of adults at little tables surrounded by dishes of nut mix and drinks in low glasses and lots of cigarette smoke. So different from our kid parties and so exotic!

Every now and then mother would surprise us with a deck of cards all our own. Usually these were decks that were too old and dirty for her guests to use anymore. Back then cards came in small boxes sprayed with velvet and had classy pull ribbons that would reveal a drawer with the decks tucked inside.  Oh I loved these decks and I still have some today!

But did I mention dirty? I can still smell the cigarette smoke when I open the box and the cards themselves are stuck together with party grime and age. Time to get these cleaned up!

Many people have asked me how I would clean a deck of cards. Truth be known, I have never bothered. But researching this question recently has sent me to the games cupboard to dig out those old decks. Here then are some excellent ideas.


One friend insists he takes his deck of plastic cards into the shower with him. “It’s the best, and quickest, way to wash them!” After the shower he scrubs them all with a towel and lets them spread out on his bed to dry.

Plastic cards are easy to clean – you can submerge them in water and use soap to clean them like any other item. A word of warning though, plastic cards can fade. Best to use cool water (sorry Bill, but the shower might be too hot) and do not scrub them with cleaning tools. Never use detergent or alkaline soap – shampoo or mild soap are much gentler. Rubbing them with a towel or soft cloth then leaving them to dry on the bed is much better than putting them in the sun and resist the temptation to use a hair dryer (or microwave!) to speed up the drying process.

Standard paper cards are another thing altogether. You do not want to get them wet.


With Talcum Powder

The best you can hope for when cleaning paper cards is to remove snack grease and finger oils. The most recommended way to clean pasteboard cards is to put them in a plastic bag with a few tablespoons of flour, talcum powder, or cornstarch. Shake the bag well so all the cards are covered, then pull the cards out and wipe them off with a paper towel. Or some say shuffle the cards several times to remove the powder. When I tried this method, it really did make the cards nice and smooth, shuffle nicely, and deal nicely compared to what they had been like prior to the treatment.

With white bread

This may seem strange but give it a go. Take the crust off the bread and then use it like a sponge and rub each card, then wipe clean with a paper towel. The benefit of using this method is your cards won’t be shedding talcum powder all over your table and hands.

The best advice

Keeping your cards clean in the first place is the best approach. Have some hand wipes available when your guests first sit down, and avoid offering greasy snacks during play. My parents loved ‘bridge mix’ which was a delicious salty, and oily, mix of peanuts and cashews and other nuts. Not good for your playing cards!

Watch for an upcoming article on some great snack ideas for the card table.