Bowling Ball Maintenance: The Key to Success
by James Goulding III
I hear many bowlers complain that their bowling balls lose reaction, or that they just can’t get that same look they had from a bowling ball after only 15-20 games with a ball. Many times, bowlers will go out and buy a new piece of equipment, only to run into the same problems over and over again, without addressing the real problem, which is poor equipment maintenance.
How many of you would expect your car to last more than a year if you never changed your oil, or did any routine maintenance on your vehicle? No one would do that, it would be crazy to even think it. But, many of those same people who are so diligent about taking proper care of things such as their car, home, or work space, are also the ones who are guilty of poor bowling ball maintenance.
I have been in the bowling industry as a competitive bowler, coach, or pro shop worker for over 15 years, and I have YET to have a bowling ball “die” on me, unless it happens to split in half due to a variety of factors (i.e. cold temperature, improperly cured resin, etc.). This is because I always take proper care of my bowling equipment, and if you do the same, your bowling balls can out last the 5 years worth of payments on your new car. Here are a few steps you can do at home to keep the reaction alive in your equipment:
1) Clean the bowling balls immediately after each session. This is THE most important step to lengthening the life of your bowling equipment. If you do not have the money for a commercially available product, such as Ebonite or Track ball cleaner, here is a simple formula for you to make up your own bowling ball cleaner:
Take a squirt bottle, and fill it up halfway with Isopropyl Alcohol (I use the 91%, but anything >70% will suffice). Fill the other half up with Simple Green cleaner (very cheap, available in large sizes everywhere). Mix this together 50/50, and it makes an excellent bowling ball cleaner to use at home in between bowling sessions, and it is a much cheaper alternative to brand name cleaning products.
**Now, if you are at the lanes, or during tournament or league competition, and want to clean your equipment, I always suggest using a commercially available USBC approved product, because those are the only ones certified to be used in sanctioned competition. Otherwise, use the home cleaner away from the bowling center, after your league session, when you get home for instance, and NOT during competition.
The quicker you apply the cleaner after your bowling set, the better chance you have of getting the oil out of the cover stock before it seeps in too deep. This will greatly increase the life of your ball, and reduce the need for a complete oil extraction, which can be costly and time consuming from your local pro shop.
2) Use a hot water bath to get the oil deep out of the cover stock. There are various methods to do this, but the general idea is to get the oil out of the bowling ball that regular cleaning can not get out. When the lane oil seeps into the oil absorbing cover stock material, you can get most of it out each time with a general bowling ball cleaning agent, but there is always some lane oil that goes beyond what the cleaner can extract. Over time, this deep oil in the ball will cause the cover stock to weaken, and lose some reaction if not properly taken out of the bowling ball. Here are the steps I use with the hot water bath method to get the oil from deep within the bowling ball:
A) Sand the ball to around 400 grit to open up the pores and allow the lane oil to be extracted.
B) Fill a bucket up with hot tap water (< 140 degrees F), and put in a drop or two of dish soap to help break up the lane oil and pull it out of the ball.
C) Submerge the ball in the bucket of tap water and leave it in there for about 15 minutes. You will notice the film of oil rising to the surface of the ball, and in the water. This is normal and is a good sign that you are getting the oil out of the deepest parts of the bowling ball.
D) Next, take the ball out of the water, wipe it off with an oil and lint free towel, and repeat the process 2-3 times, or until you no longer see any more oil on the surface of the ball after the 15 minute period of time.
E) Finally, after you let the ball dry out for a 24-48 hour period of time, bring the surface of the ball back up to the desired level, and you’re done. You should only have to do this every 50 games or so, if you are diligent about cleaning your equipment after each set. If you start to notice a significant loss in ball reaction before 50 games, you may need to adjust this process to do it more often (cover stock porosity varies greatly on bowling equipment, so keep that in mind), just find a comfort level for yourself and go with it.
3) Baking the ball to bring lane oil out of the bowling ball. This method should ONLY be done by a pro shop in a controlled oven made specifically for extracting oil from bowling balls. Many people try this at home, and it can have devastating results to your bowling equipment. Any time you bring a bowling ball above 140 degrees (F), you start to remove and harden the material that holds the ball together (plasticizers), and this will make the ball brittle, thus hardening the resin to the point where the bowling ball is useless. Once this happens, the ball can not be saved, and has to be discarded.
This process is so hard to regulate in a home oven, that I tell ALL bowlers who seek this process to leave it in the hands of a pro shop who has the material specifically made for baking bowling balls. You can do a good enough job at home with the hot water method to maintain your bowling balls properly without having to resort to baking the ball in the oven.
Well, those are my general tips for bowling ball maintenance. I hope you found it informative and helpful, and realize that with proper care, your bowling balls can last you 500 games or more, no problem at all. This will help keep money in your pocket, and keep that “new ball reaction” longer. Take care everyone, and good luck out there! Please feel free to comment, and I will get back to you ASAP, thanks!
– James Goulding III