The Chemistry of a Tennis Ball


A tennis ball is a soft yellow ball made of rubber and felt. The diameter is between 6.54-6.86 cm and it weighs about 2oz. Tennis balls are yellow so they can be seen better, but they can be any color if you are playing recreationally. Yellow tennis balls were first used at the professional event Wimbledon so the people watching on TV could see the ball. I chose to do my project about the chemistry of a tennis ball because I play tennis almost every day and thought it would be cool to know about the chemistry of the tennis ball I hit everyday. Tennis is very important to me because I have been playing it since I was 5. And I am a big fan of watching it on TV. My favorite player is Rafael Nadal because we both like to grind out points and wear down our opponents.

Composition of ...

    • Rubber( C5H8)
    • Wool (C16H14R7O8)
    • Nylon ( C12H22N2O2)n

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Rubber is a main component in a tennis ball because it makes up the actual ball itself and also helps the ball bounce. What: Rubber is a polymeric substance made from latex. When: There are two types of rubber, synthetic rubber was first made in a German laboratory by Fritz Hofmann and natural rubber was first discovered in 1736 but was not successfully made into useable rubber until the 1770s. Why: Rubber is an important invention because it is used in so many everyday things such as pencil erasers and tires. Where: Natural rubber is found in South America and is made by the latex in trees. Synthetic rubber is made in laboratories.

Felt, which is a wool and nylon substance, is also used on tennis balls. What: Wool is a textile fiber that can be found on sheep and other animals and is used to make clothes mostly. It is a main component in tennis balls because it is used to cover the rubber and make the balls last longer and bounce better. When: Wool was discovered in 6000 BC and did not become part of clothing until about 11,000 years ago. Why: Wool is made to be a part of clothing that is very comfortable and keeps you warm. Where: Wool is found on sheep and other animals around the world.

Nylon, is also used in tennis balls. What: Nylon is an elastic synthetic polymer with a protein like chemical structure. It is sometimes used in the shells of tennis balls. When: It was discovered in 1935 by Wallace Carothers. Why: Nylon became a substitute for silk because silk was expensive.

Chemistry's Role

The rubber in tennis balls can be made from synthetic rubber or natural rubber.

How Synthetic rubber is made: It is basically an elastic plastic, and is now made using a computer program in a factory. The components stored at the factory include petroleum based liquid called butadiene (C4H6) and also a solvent called Hexane( C6H14). When they combine these with a catalyst it changes the chemical make up into poly butadiene (CH2=CHCH=CH2) which is a rubber used to make tires. They then stop the reaction at just the right moment by adding another catalyst and you get synthetic rubber. Next they have to pump in chemicals to make it the right synthetic rubber for different uses. After that they go into tanks and are constantly stirred. Next, the liquid synthetic rubber is put in different tanks and boiled until the solvent is boiled out which leaves a mixture of little pieces of rubber. Then, they put the crumbs of rubber and water in a rotating sive that gets rid of the water. Then they add more water to cool it down but quickly drain it again. Following that they squeeze out the moisture from the synthetic rubber. And finally the last step. The rubber is compressed into big bales. The whole process of making synthetic rubber takes about six hours.

How natural rubber is made into rubber is: It is made from a tree that produces latex. It takes a long time for the tree to make a mature liquid that can be tapped. Next they add formic acid which causes it to start to clump together until it looks like dough. They then run it through a roller to get all the water out and put it out to dry which makes it stronger. They then store them and wash them again. Next they smoke them for 5 days. This prevents the growth of mold. It is then baled and can become anything made into any type of rubber for all types of uses through different chemical processes.

The felt on a tennis ball is either melton cloth or needle cloth but the way they are put on the tennis ball is the same. They are stamped on by a machine and then covered with vulcanising solution. Next they heat up the fabric to make it stick to the rubber on a tennis ball firmly.

Background Research

A tennis ball is a ball that is made for a sport called tennis. A tennis ball is normally the color yellow but you can play with any color as long as you are not in a tournament. Early tennis balls were made of a sheep or goat stomach. But they were later made with hair and puddy. Currently, tennis balls are made out of rubber and felt and even have specified balls for different court surfaces.


    • A tennis ball is covered in fibrous felt that helps them be more aerodynamic
    • Modern tennis balls must be a specific size
    • The tennis balls are yellow so they can be seen better on tv, and when you are playing

    • Tennis balls use to be only white and black and it was not until 1972 that yellow balls were invented

    • Every tennis ball takes a full 24 hours to make
    • Tennis balls go through 3 curingore complete
    • The tennis ball shells are pressurised at 18 psi

    • Numbers are printed on tennis ball to identify them not to show how much bounce they have

    • Yellow tennis balls were used first at the tournament wimbledon
    • There are 200 tennis ball brands that the ITF has approved for people to play with

    • Tennis balls used to be delivered right off the press but now are in pressurized cans to make their shelf life longer.

    • Info about natural rubber

    • Watched video and learned how synthetic rubber was made.

About the Author

Jay Montague is a junior at Billings Senior High School. He enjoys playing tennis competitively through the United states tennis association and plays for the Billings Senior High tennis team at the number one singles spot. He also enjoys going fishing and hiking with his family and having fun outdoors. He is planning on going to college and getting a business degree.