The Chemistry of a Soccer Ball


I chose to do my project on the chemistry of a soccer ball. There are two different compositions, depending on whether it is a professional ball or a practice ball. I chose to focus on the practice ball composition because that is more of what high school teams use. I chose the soccer ball because I have been playing soccer since I was five. I was interested in finding out what makes up the main component of the sport that has been such a big part of my life.

Composition of ...

    • Cover: Synthetic leather [Polyvinyl Chloride *PVC*] - (C2H3Cl)n
    • Panels: 32 panels made of the synthetic leather, 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal - (C2H3Cl)n
    • Stitching: 5-ply twisted polyester thread
    • Internal Linings: polyester and/or cotton bonded together
    • Bladder: latex; most common, provides better surface tension
    • Valves: Butyl - -C4H9

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

    • Synthetic Leather (polyvinyl chloride or PVC)
      • Chemical Compositions: (CH2 = CHCl)
      • Molecular Formula: (C2H3Cl)n
      • Chemical Formula: CH2=CHCl
      • Makes the cover panels for the ball
      • Flexible form of PVC with the help of plasticizers
      • Man-made in a factory/lab setting
    • Cotton
      • Contains 90% cellulose
        • Chemical Formula: C6H7O2(OH)
      • Makes up the lining of the ball
      • Naturally occurring fiber

Chemistry's Role

Polyvinyl chloride is a man-made, synthetic plastic polymer. It can be made more flexible with the addition of plasticizers, most often phthalates. It is produced by the polymerization of the vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). Polymerization takes up about 80% of production. Then, VCM and water are added to the reactor and a polymerization initiator. The reaction vessel will remain pressure tight to enclose the VCM. The contents are then mixed to keep the suspension and guarantee a uniform particle size of the PVC resin. After, initiators are added to start the radical chain reaction. Initiators are usually dioctanoyl peroxide and dicetyl peroxydicarbonate. Once the reaction is completed, the PVC slurry is degassed and stripped to remove any excess VCM (which they recycle). The polymer is sent through a centrifuge to remove any remaining water. After, the slurry is dried in a hot air bed and the powder produced is filtered before storage.

Cotton is a naturally occurring component that is used to make a soccer ball. It is a soft and fluffy fiber that grows in a boll around the seed of the cotton plant. Cotton fiber is 90% cellulose (organic compound). It is harvested mechanically by a cotton picker. Cultivation of cotton requires that there is a long frost-free period, 24-47 inches of rainfall, and the soils need to be heavy but do not need to be rich with nutrients. These conditions are normally met in the seasonally dry tropics and subtropics of the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Cotton may also be cultivated in areas with less rainfall with the help of irrigation. It is grown annually, even though it is a perennial, to help control pests. Cotton is most often grown organically.

Background Research

Soccer balls are made with four different sections. First is the bladder made of latex to hold the air. The second part is the lining, which is made of a cotton or cotton/polyester mix. Next is the cover, which is composed of a synthetic leather, or PVC. All of these things are held together with a 5-ply polyester thread. The ball consists of 32 panels, 20 hexagonal and 12 pentagonal, which is essentially a Buckminster ball.


Four main components of a soccer ball

Compounds and other materials used in the construction

Background info

Chemical Composition of PVC

Process of making polyester

Specifics of the composition of each component

Construction of polyvinyl chloride

How cotton is grown

Where it grows best

Definition of cellulose

Chemical Formula of cellulose

About the Author

Dominique is a junior at Billings Senior High. She also plays varsity soccer. She has two younger sisters and spends a few weeks of her summers visiting her dad in Texas. She plans on furthering her education at the University of Montana or possibly out of state in Texas.