Are Pinball Machines Hard To Maintain?

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Pinball machines have always been a popular option for businesses that want to offer customers a form of entertainment. Arcades cater specifically to people’s search for distracting recreation, and a lot of restaurants like to offer customers something to do while they wait for their meals. Over the past few decades, pinball machines have become a popular option for in-home game rooms as well.

Are pinball machines hard to maintain? How hard it is to maintain a pinball machine depends a lot on what kind of machine it is, where you’re setting it up, and how much of the maintenance work you hope to handle on your own. Regular cleaning and basic upkeep are usually pretty simple, but repairing things that go wrong with the game can get pretty complicated and might require professional assistance.

Have you always dreamed of having your very own version of a pinball game that you loved as a kid – waiting for you everyday when you get home from work in your game room? Or, maybe you’re thinking that a pinball machine would be a good addition to the lobby area of your pizza shop or record store? Either way, if you get a machine, you want to make sure it keeps its good looks and works perfectly.

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Maintaining a Pinball Machine

Before you decide to purchase a pinball machine, you should definitely explore the options that are available in your area. Many amusement companies will allow you to rent a machine from them instead of buying one outright. 

That could mean you get the opportunity to switch out titles from time to time and get routine maintenance to boot. It all depends on how your local vendors service their rentals.

If you absolutely have to own your own game, or if it just turns out that this is the best option for you in your part of the world, then you know that you’ll be 100% responsible for the maintenance of the machine and for any repairs that it takes to keep it working. 

You should be able to find an experienced pinball repair person in your area, but that can get pretty expensive, and you’ll probably want to learn how to do as much of the work for yourself as you can.

One of the first things that you need to do when thinking about how to maintain your pinball machine is take account of the machine you’re going to be maintaining. The earliest pinball machines date back to the 1930s, and maintaining them is more like caring for antique furniture than keeping a money-making amusement in your retail location ready to go for your customers. How to maintain your machine will depend on what machine you have.

You will also need to decide where you’re going to draw the line between maintenance and repairs. If you have experience with wiring diagrams, hand tools, and other skills that it takes to make fairly major repairs, than you might be able to handle anything and everything that your machine ever needs. 

If, on the other hand, you’re likely to do more harm than good once you open the machine up—you’ll probably want to stick to the routine cleaning and care while you leave repairs to a professional.

Pinball Maintenance Routine

If you’re keeping a pinball machine in your home and will be playing it a few times a week or less, than you can probably get away with scheduling routine maintenance for the machine in three- to six-month intervals. But if you put your machine in your business or other public area and it gets daily play, performing routine maintenance on a monthly basis or more often will be essential to keeping it in the best possible shape. 

For basic maintenance, it won’t matter whether you have an electromagnetic model or a solid-state machine; the routine will be more or less the same. If you happen to have an antique machine, then all bets are off and you need to check with somebody who can give you specific advice before you touch anything. How you maintain your machine – and how well you maintain your machine – will determine its resale value.

Keeping up on the regular maintenance will not only help its resale value but it will also help your machine break down less which will save you time and money. 

For most modern machines, meaning from the 1970s to present, the routine maintenance tasks that you need to worry about doing for yourself are all going to be the same. They’re the tasks that are easy enough to do that you will want to avoid paying a professional’s rates but important enough that you shouldn’t neglect them. These include:

  • Replacing Pinballs: If the balls in your pinball machine start to get beat up, then they’ll go from smooth steel balls flying across your playfield to abrasive projectiles scratching away your games artwork or wrecking balls that take chunks out of other game parts every time they collide.

  • Playfield Care: Even though it is under glass, the playfield will get dirty. This can slow down game play, gum up switches that affect scoring or even contribute to scratching the same way a rough pinball would.

Most playfields have a lacquer or clear coat that protects them. To clean them, use a soft microfiber cloth and a 50/50 mixture of water and isopropyl alcohol.

In addition to cleaning your playfield, you should apply Carnauba wax regularly. Make sure to avoid getting it into areas where you can’t wipe it away or where it might make game switches stick.

  • Switches: Whether fixing switches falls within the tasks that you consider maintenance or you’ve decided to leave that to the professionals that you pay to repair your machine, you will still want to check and test game switches every time that you open it up to care for the playfield. When switches are working properly, use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe them down.

  • Flippers: It’s pretty simple to replace a damaged flipper. When you open the machine up for cleaning, you’ll want to check to make sure that the flippers aren’t making contact with the playfield surface. That could cause scratches that will reduce the machine’s resale value and also just make it look ugly. You’ll only have to pull a few screws to replace flippers that aren’t working as they should.

  • Batteries: Solid-state pinball games have batteries that power the game’s memory whether it is on or off. Like any batteries, there is the potential for a leak that could damage internal parts of your machine. Make sure to change the batteries in your machine often to avoid this.

Beyond Basic Maintenance

If you aren’t experienced with electronics repair, it’s more than likely that you’ll create more headaches than you solve when you go beyond these basic maintenance tasks. We would strongly recommend leaving it to the professionals so that you get good results in return for money well spent. Trying to save that money if you don’t know what you’re doing could lead to a larger repair bill in the end.

If you are experienced with electronics repair or have the patience and time to teach yourself while working on your own machine, then you will want to do whatever you can to get wiring schematics for your machine before going to work on it. If that isn’t possible, make sure to take lots of “before” pictures prior to changing anything. That way, you’ll have a roadmap to guide you back to where you started.

Many people find watching repair videos on youtube as well as just googling your machine make and model will allow you to not only learn more about the machine you own but also how to repair common issues with it. 

Learn More

Want to learn more? Check out the video below for some great tips on how to clean your pinball machine and keep it in good condition.


Buying a pinball machine can be a great way to bring fun into your home game room or to your business’ customers. If you decide to buy one, make sure that it retains its value by following our guide to proper pinball maintenance.  

You certainly don’t want to shorten the lifespan of your machine because you didn’t spend a few minutes maintaining it. 

Matt Robbs

There is nothing quite so enjoyable as bringing back memories from your childhood. We used to spend hours playing pinball in my friends basement and that really got me involved in everything retro!

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