How to Clean Sports Cards for Grading

Before you send out your cards for grading, one of the best things you can do is clean your cards.

Sending your cards to be graded without cleaning them is a bit like going on a date without brushing your teeth – it just needs to be done.

No matter if you have a newer card or an older card, you will benefit from cleaning your cards, I promise you.

In this article, you’re going to learn how to clean sports cards for grading to get the highest grade possible.

How to Clean Sports Cards for Grading

In short, here is how you clean your sports cards for grading, step by step:

  • Take your card out of the cardholder and penny sleeve carefully
  • Take a microfibre cloth or round cotton wipe (and some Windex or alcohol solution if cleaning old, dusty, or dirty cards)
  • Start cleaning the surface of your card carefully by making circular motions all over the card
  • After cleaning, inspect the card carefully with a magnifying lamp or glass
  • If everything’s in order, place the card into a new penny sleeve
  • Prepare the card to be sent out for grading and send it

This is the process of cleaning your sports cards for grading in short. We’ll now go into a bit more detail through every step to help you make sure you get everything right.

Step 1: Gather Everything You’ll Need

Before you start cleaning your sports cards and send them to be graded, you’ll want to gather everything you’ll need for cleaning the card.

It’s not much, but being prepared will help you clean the card faster and more efficiently, and get higher grades more easily.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A microfibre cloth or cotton round wipes – a microfibre cloth will do best here because these don’t leave any traces behind as you clean the surface of the card, which is the key. Note that the cloth should be new and completely clean. Alternatively, you can also use round cotton wipes.
  • Windex or alcohol solution – for newer cards, you might not need anything additional to a microfibre cloth. But for older and dirtier cards, you might want to use an alcohol solution of something like Windex to clean your card.
  • A magnifying lamp – ideally, you’d want to have a magnifying lamp before you send out your cards to be graded. This will be used to inspect your card for any faults before applying for grading. You can use a magnifying glass but it just won’t be as effective as a lamp.
  • Brand new cardholders and penny sleeves – this is more important than you might think. Get new cardholders and especially penny sleeves, which will help you make sure your card stays beautiful and clean inside the packaging.
  • (Optional) Corn flour or baby powder – these two solutions are great for old cards especially, but might not be as effective for newer cards.

Once you have everything you need, move onto the next step.

Step 2: Take Your Card Out of Penny Sleeve

The next step is to carefully take your card out of your penny sleeve and cardholder. At the same time, you’ll want to be careful not to damage the surface of your card.

Try holding your card by its edges, but make sure that you don’t blunt the edges too much or at all.

If you have an older card, you can use something like a pincer to hold your card.

If you intend to use the same penny sleeve for shipping, be careful not to leave any smudges on the sleeve.

However, I do not recommend using the same penny sleeve. It’s always better to use a new one for sending the card to be graded as it’s inexpensive and easy to do.

Step 3: Clean Your Card Using a Cloth

Now you’re ready to start cleaning your card.

Depending on which type of cloth you’ve picked for cleaning your card, you’ll want to start slowly and systematically.

I’ve found microfibre cloth to be the best for cleaning your card, but round cotton pieces can also do the trick, although they might leave some smudges behind. I’d avoid using cotton cloths as they tend to leave pieces behind as you clean the surface of the card.

  • If you have a newer card: you might not need to use additional sprays or conditioners to clean the card. Using your microfibre cloth should be enough to clean the smudges, and you can even use your breath to wet the card a bit and then wipe it with a cloth.
  • If you have an older card: use something like a Windex or an alcohol solution (70%) to clean the card, especially if it is dirty or dusty.

To clean the card, use circular motions to clean portions of the card. Start in the top right corner and clean the card there. Then, move on to the bottom right corner and proceed to the middle of the card. Then, you’ll want to clean the left side of your card the same way you did the right side.

Quickly inspect the card and see if all the smudges and the dirt is gone. For older cards, you might need to repeat the process.

If you use something like a Windex to clean the card, it might be useful to clean the card again with a dry cloth to complete the procedure.

You might also want to clean the back of the card if it is dirty. In this case, it’s best to stick with just using the cloth since the back of the card is often made with a different material than the front of the card.

Once you feel the card is clean enough, you can start a more detailed inspection of the card. This will help you determine whether the card needs further cleaning or not.

Step 4: Inspect Your Card

When you send your card out to be graded by PSA, BGS, or any other grading company, you can be sure that they’ll inspect your cards with scrutiny.

Most of these companies will use the latest technologies possible to determine the grade of your card.

Also, it’s almost certain that all of these companies will use a magnifying lamp of some sort to take a look at the condition of the surface of your card. And you should do the same before sending your card out.


Because this will give you a better chance of improving your card before you send it out to be graded.

Mind you, this is not a necessary step of the process – it’s merely a helpful step that you might want to take if you want to get a higher grade.

In this step, you might want to use a magnifying lamp to check the condition of the surface of the card – or a magnifying glass at the very least. We’ve created a full guide on the best magnifying lamps for inspecting sports cards here.

With a magnifying lamp, you’ll be able to spot the following signs:

  • Coloring issues of your card
  • Scratching of the surface
  • Fake autographs (if you’ve got a good eye)
  • Smudges, small spots, or other imperfections that can be cleaned off
  • Reprints

You might want to be precise when taking a look at minor spots and smudges in this case, especially if you want to clean your card thoroughly. With a magnifying lamp, you’ll be able to spot these easily and then scrub them off, which will give you a better chance of getting a higher grade when you send your card out.

Details matter.

Step 5: Place the Card in a New Cardholder and Pennysleeve

After you’ve inspected the card and everything seems to be as good as new (or as good as the card can be), then it’s time to start preparing your card to be sent out.

I’ve already mentioned that you’ll need brand new penny sleeves and cardholders for this occasion, so make sure you get that in advance before cleaning your cards.

This is an important step that you should not ignore.

Placing the card in a dirty penny sleeve can result in smudges being applied to the card after putting it inside the sleeve. This will render all of your effort useless, unfortunately.

And you wouldn’t want to have your card’s grade suffer because of such minor issues…

Tip: if you have a jersey patch on your card, you’d want to measure your card for thickness. There are different thicknesses when it comes to top loaders, and you’ll want to have the right type of thickness that will suit your card. If you don’t do this, the quality of your card will deteriorate inside the top loader.

Step 6: Prepare the Package and Ship It

Now that you’ve properly cleaned your card and used new top loaders and penny sleeves, it’s time to prepare the package to be sent out.

This should be a fairly straightforward process.

If you submit to PSA, you can visit this site where you’ll find all the instructions you’ll need to fulfill your submission form and all the needed documentation.

If you submit to BGS, visit this site.

For submitting your card to SGC, visit this site. You will need to create an account.

After you’ve submitted all the forms needed, it’s time to prepare the package and ship it. Here are some tips that you might find useful:

  • Use brand new penny sleeves and top loaders, as we’ve already mentioned
  • Add the worst cards to the top of your pack (which might act as a diversion for the person grading your cards)
  • Pay special attention to the submission form – make sure all the information is accurate, as you don’t want to create unnecessary confusion for the person grading
  • Note that PSA or other grading services will not clean your cards or alter them – they’ll grade them as they arrive, so you might want to keep things as perfect as possible

Should I Clean My Cards Before Grading?

You should absolutely clean your cards before grading. PSA, BGS, and other grading services will grade your cards as they come to them, and slight imperfections like smudges and stains can ruin the grade of your card.

This is especially true for older cards. These are often dirtier than newer cards, so you might want to use a cleaning solution of some sort to get the stains off. For newer cards, using a cloth and your breath should do the trick.

Remember, the lower the grade of your card, the lower the selling potential it will have, so make sure you don’t waste that potential by not cleaning your cards.

Does PSA Clean Your Cards?

No, PSA and other grading services do not clean your cards as they get them.

They will grade your cards as they receive them, which means that you should pay extra attention to the cleanliness of your cards before sending them out to these services.

Even though it sounds a bit dull and you just want to send your card out ASAP, don’t forget to clean them thoroughly and prepare them – this can earn you a higher grade (or two)!

Do Fingerprints Affect Card Grading?

Yes, fingerprints, smudges, wax, and other minor imperfections will affect the rating of your card. Even if it might only cause your card’s grade to drop for 0.5 a grade, it’s still a slight loss that could have been avoided completely.

To give yourself the highest chance of earning the most money possible from your card, you should take some time to clean your card.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning your cards before having them graded should not be an overly complicated process. In some cases, only a quick wipe should do the trick, but you wouldn’t want to risk the grade of your card by not cleaning it before sending it out.


  • Vince

    I'm a big time sports nerd, with soccer being my first true love. I've been collecting sports cards since I was a little kid, and now... well, not much has changed, but I write about it... and I have facial hair.

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