Best Way to Clean Skateboard Grip Tape & Not Ruin Your Deck


cleaning skateboard with dirty grip tape

A bit of dirt on a skateboard grip tape isn’t usually that bad but if you stepped on your board with muddy feet the grip tape might lose its eh grip. There are a couple of ways to clean your grip tape, but some work better than others.

The best way to clean grip tape is by using a belt sander cleaner. Rub it firmly in a straight line and apply pressure on the dirty spots on your skateboard deck. Remove the residue on the sander stick and repeat the process until you are happy with the result. 

It requires some effort and time depending on how old and dirty the grip tape is. Results vary, and I noticed older grip tape is much harder to clean. 

Not everyone cares about dirt on their skateboards, but if you want to clean your grip tape there are a couple of things you can do. Let’s see what works, what doesn’t and what to avoid.

Belt Sander Cleaner Method

There are a few ways to clean grip tape but the cheapest and most effective way is to use belt sander cleaner. It’s relatively cheap and does the job well even in extreme cases. You can get them for around 10 bucks online. It requires some time and effort but you can make it look like new. Be careful not to grind your knuckles into the grip tap.

  1. Cut off a piece you can still hold firmly or just use the whole block or use the whole block.
  2. Rub it firmly in a straight line on the grip the surface and see if the dirt comes off. Rub it harder if needed
  3. Remove the residue on the stick and continue rubbing the grip tape surface
  4. Repeat until you cleaned all the dirty spots or you are happy with the result

I need to point out that buying new grip tape is cheaper, but this is a one-time purchase that will last you a long time. This is by far the best method to clean your grip tape. Keep in mind that you can’t clean it until it looks brand new. 

So let’s put this to the test and see what happens. Tools you need:

  • A block of belt sander cleaner
  • A table and a towel
  • A glove if you worry about grinding your fingers or knuckles
  • A brush to remove the last bits of dirt

Preparation

I used my table in my garden and used a towel to prevent any damage, it also helps to keep your board in place. Some recommend to remove the trucks, but it isn’t necessary.

You could use a brush to remove some of the sand on the surface and you’re ready to go. Note that a week before I stepped into so dirt on purpose, it’s the spot in the back. 

Cleaning the Grip Tape

cleaning the grip tape

Firmly rub the belt sander block back and forth in a straight line. Remove the dirty residue from the block when needed. Repeat this process until you are happy. In this case, the week-old spot was easy to remove but I had to apply a lot of pressure on to get some results.

The End Result

cleaned skateboard grip tape end result

The end result is disappointing and I expected more to be honest. It’s probably because the before and after images you see advertised that aren’t very realistic. This grip tape is like 4 years old so it’s impossible to get it perfectly clean without using soap or water. I rather have dirty grip tape than damaging the maple wood, do not use water! 

The sides are impossible to clean without damaging the tape and most of the dirt specks won’t come off. 

Second Attempt

Time to grab another board and repeat the process. This grip tape is about 15 months old and I treated this board well. I only skated this board under sunny conditions so maybe this time I have more success.

dirty grip tape on skateboard

The worst spots are near the grizzly logo and bolts, so let’s treat this spot first. 

clean vs dirty grip tape differences

Much better! I didn’t have to apply a lot of pressure and the dirt was easy to remove. Either it has to to with the quality of the grip tape or the fact that it isn’t as old as my other skateboard. Be careful around the bolt area, if you rub over the bolts you can damage the grip tape.

comparing two cleaned skateboards

The differences are pretty obvious. I guess some grip tape is harder to clean than others. It doesn’t matter though, as long as it stays grippy you’re able to ride it.

Brass Wire Brush Method

If method one didn’t work it’s time to get a bit more drastic. I haven’t tried this myself but you can also use a brass wire brush to get the dirt out of the grit. Be careful though, you could damage your tape if you apply too much pressure. Make sure you use a softer brush, not the one to clean your BBQ.

  1. Gently brush the grip tape and use circular movements.
  2. Use a regular brush to wipe off the dirt that surfaces.
  3. Repeat until you’re happy with the result.

This should remove older dirt that’s deeply embedded in the grip tape. Be aware that you won’t be able to remove everything but when done right, it should help to restore some of the grippiness.

What to Avoid

I see many tips online about using water or cleaners like Windex. I honestly don’t get why this is recommended. You want to keep water or any liquid away from your board. If it’s that bad, you’re better off getting new grip tape it’s just 6 bucks.

Be careful when using steel brushes. Don’t apply too much pressure as you will ruin the grip. You need a brush with fine steel hairs and gently apply a bit of pressure.

Try to avoid skating in places with a lot of dirt. It’s not just bad for your grip tape, it will also destroy your bearings.

A Few More Tips

  • If possible, leave your deck out in the sun for a while (not too long), it will make it easier to remove dirt. If it’s too hot outside wait until it cools down a bit. Leaving your board exposed to the sun for too long might damage the epoxy resin or glue that holds the layers together.
  • Clean your board occasionally, properly maintaining your skateboard wheels, bearings and trucks will make it last a lot longer. 
  • Do not use water to clean your board! 
  • Clean your grip tape as soon as possible. If you don’t it will be a lot harder to remove dust and dirt.
  • If you have bubble gum stuck on your grip tape, use belt sander cleaner. Make sure you remove it as soon as possible. 
  • If you have a hard time moving your feet around on new grip tape, sand it down a bit using old tape.
  • If your grip tape starts to peel at the edges, try to cut some of it away and sand it down.

How To Prevent Dirty Grip Tape

Often dirty grip tape is because you skated near mud or sand or a dusty environment. Sometimes you can’t help it but usually, you can prevent your grip tape from getting dirty by avoiding stepping in dirt or mud. Don’t skate outside just after it rained, you get mud under your soles and it will get stuck.

If you happen to step in a puddle or a muddy patch, don’t step on your board. Especially water is your decks worst enemy. The maple wood fibers absorb water which makes them expand. Once that happens your deck will lose its pop. A waterlogged deck might look brand new on the outside, it just won’t pop as it used to.

If you just have to skate and can’t take it anymore, consider a rain deck. Just use an old board instead of your usual setup.  Obviously you can skate in indoor parks or find a spot that has some cover (like parking garages).  

Removing Old Grip tape

Sometimes it isn’t worth cleaning grip tape. Grip sands down and needs to replaced at once the grit is extremely worn (given that you don’t snap your deck before that). Replacing grip tape isn’t that hard but you need to remove the old tape first. 

  1. Use a hairdryer to heat up the tape and start at either the tail or nose
  2. Heat the tape for a while and use a thin knife the peel the grip tape
  3. Once you manage to peel a part of the grip tape, repeat the process on the next spot
  4. Once you can get a firm grip you’re able to rip it off. Stand on your deck and slowly remove the grip tape.

Peeling off skateboard grip tape using a hair dryer

Make sure that the grip tape doesn’t tear. You should go about this slowly because otherwise, you have to start all over again. Now it’s time to add new grip tape.

Applying New Grip Tape

Here’s the tricky part, applying new grip tape isn’t that hard but it might be a bit of a challenge the first time. Just make the tape covers the entire deck before you scrape the edges. 

  1. Remove the sheet from the grip tape and cover your board. Don’t apply it just yet.
  2. Place the end near the tail or nose and slowly apply the tape
  3. Keep it at an angle to prevent air bubbles.
  4. Slowly work your way forward while keeping the angle, tap the grip tape and hold the other end using your thumb and index finger
  5. Use a screwdriver to scrape the edges. Scrape it firmly and quickly.
  6. Use a very sharp razor blade to make a few cuts near the bolts.
  7. Keep the razorblade in an angle and cut towards yourself, it’s easier to get a clean cut this way.
  8. Sand down the edges with old tape or use the pieces you just cut off. This will prevent it from peeling off and will smooth out the lines.
  9. Puncture the bolt holes (deck bottom) and turn it around. Push the punctured holes back using a screwdriver.
Applying grip tape to your skateboard deck
Click for the full image
scraping the edges of the skateboard deck with a blunt screwdriver
Scraping the edges
how to cut skateboard grip tape preview
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For the best result use a new razor blade. I used a new Stanley knife and had some trouble making a clean cut. It still worked though, but a razor makes it easier.

Conclusion

Not everybody cares about dirty grip tape but it’s not hard to remove stuff that gets trapped in the grit. Make sure you clean the grip tape as soon as possible for the best results. Old and dirty grip tape is harder to clean and as you can see, the result is a bit disappointing.

If cleaning sounds like too much of a hassle, just buy a new sheet and replace your old tape. I honestly don’t care about dirty grip tape as long as it doesn’t affect or compromise my boardfeel and stability.

I hate it when my feet slide when I don’t expect it, but also don’t like too much grip. You need to feel in control and rely on your equipment. If you feel like you don’t have as much as grip as you used to, see if you can fix it.

Grip tape needs to be able to keep your feet in position but still allow you to move your feet around. Also, make sure to wear proper skate shoes.

 

Ruben Vee

I 'm an aged skateboarder, but I still shred responsibly. I started skateboarding 25 years ago and I'm out there whenever I can.

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