There is no real way to clean a regular deck of playing cards.

100 percent plastic playing cards, on the other hand, can be cleaned quite easily.

To clean plastic playing cards, you want to use a non-abrasive cloth, and cold water. Do not use soap. You want to rub each plastic playing card individually, and then allow the cards to dry on a clean surface. Do not use a hair dryer.

How to keep playing cards clean (important)

Playing cards in box

Most people tend to overlook this step, but it really is important.

Although plastic cards can be cleaned and, theoretically, even washed — the best way to prolong the lifespan of the cards is to simply pay attention to the following five things.

Cleaning the cards with cold water may remove some of the stains and dirt, but it’s not always guaranteed. Try to follow these five tips instead.

Always wash your hands

Before you even sit at the table and play, don’t be lazy and wash your hands thoroughly.

And if you’re serious about keeping your plastic cards clean, you should probably ask all your friends to do the same.

Also, when playing cards, avoid touching food with your hands. The grease can easily spread on the cards, and that’s basically the opposite of what you want.

You want the cards to remain as clean as possible for as long as possible.

Now, this isn’t usually possible during a home game. People eat while playing and touching the cards, and that’s okay — personally, I’d just replace the deck after a while rather than acting like some kind of clean freak.

Always put them back in the box

The second tip is pretty easy — you want to make sure you don’t leave the cards on the table, where they would accumulate dust and dirt, and put them back in their box.

If you’ve thrown it away, then a drawer is probably as good. Just don’t leave them on the table.

And definitely don’t leave them in direct sunlight. Which leads us to the next tip.

Store the cards in a cool, dry place

Heat and moisture will ruin all playing cards, whether they’re made of paper or plastic.

So if possible, put the cards back in the box and then store them in a cool room. This will prolong their lifespan and ensure they handle and shuffle well when you use them.

One way to fix playing cards sticking together is to actually put them in a refrigerator. Sounds strange, but it does work. Try it yourself and notice how the cards handle differently afterwards.

Use them on a clean table

You literally have no idea how much dirt can accumulate on the felt of a poker table (or whatever table you’re using).

Try and spread a deck of cards on a table that hasn’t been cleaned for a while. Then pick the cards up and look at all the dust and dirt. Yuck!

This is why it’s pretty important to use the playing cards on a clean surface. It doesn’t need to be spotless, but if it’s visibly dirty, then it’s probably best to clean it up before the game.

The easiest way to take care of this is to simply cover the poker table with a cloth when you’re done. If there is no dust on the table, then the cards will not absorb it.

Don’t use them too frequently

Finally, try not to use the cards too often as it could easily shorten their lifespan.

For example, if you have a two-deck set of playing cards, try to alternate the two decks.

If you’ve bought a few decks for a home game, do not use the cards before the game. Wear and tear is inevitable, even if you follow all the tips.

The real issue: marks and dents

The main reason you’ll need to replace your plastic playing cards often isn’t necessarily dust and dirt, but tiny marks on the cards.

Now, 100 percent plastic cards are designed so that they can be bent easily. If you lift the corner of a plastic card, you won’t ruin it — the card will basically straighten up by itself.

That being said, some players like to bend the cards excessively. And even if they don’t, eventually you’ll notice tiny marks and dents on the back of the cards simply because they’ve been bent over and over again.

Unfortunately, you can’t really fix that. So even if you keep the cards clean, expect to replace them quite often.

How to clean 100% plastic playing cards

Alright, let’s have a look at what you should do if you decide to clean your plastic playing cards.

To be completely clear, this only applies to 100 percent plastic playing cards, such as Kem, Copag, or Fournier. Cheap plastic-coated cards are a different thing.

There are different ways to clean plastic cards, but the tips listed below are the safest, and the ones recommended by Copag. If you visit their site, that’s basically what you’ll read on their Cleaning Instructions page.

  • Use a spare card first. If you’re worried about ruining your plastic cards, then feel free to test this method on spare cards, such as the jokers. Although you probably haven’t used those, so they won’t be as dirty.
  • Use cold water. Avoid warm or hot water. Do not use soap as it may cause discoloration. Also, do not submerge the cards. Yes, they can be washed, but the safest way to clean them is to rub each card individually.
  • Use a soft non-abrasive cloth. Do not use paper tissue. Take your time and clean only a few cards at a time. Ideally one card at a time. They are only 52 anyway.
  • Do not use a hair dryer. Instead, leave the cards on a clean surface and allow them to dry for up to one hour on each side. Absolutely do not stack the cards on top of each other.

How to clean regular paper playing cards

Old playing cards

Now, regular playing cards (such as Bicycles) cannot be cleaned with water. And really, they cannot be cleaned in any way.

So the most effective way to clean them is to simply wash your hands, put them in a cool place, and so on — that’s the five tips you read earlier.

Some people like to sprinkle cornstarch or baby powder on the cards. This can make them a bit more slippery, but it won’t really clean them.

Same with fanning powder. At least fanning powder makes it easier to perform some magic tricks, such as packet cuts and fans.

Also, if you use any powder on the cards, they’ll feel a bit weird. And it’ll take a while to get rid of the powder as well.

Playing cards don’t last forever

100 percent plastic cards can be washed. And they’re much more durable compared to regular playing cards.

To give you an idea, if you used a deck of paper cards and a deck of plastic cards the same exact way, the former could last you a couple weeks and the latter could last you a year.

But as explained, there are other reasons you may want to replace the cards sooner, such as dents and marks, or simply because a brand new deck feels and looks better.

Besides, wear and tear is inevitable. Just like discoloration. So if you can, don’t worry about cleaning the cards and invest in a few more decks.