Bowling Ball Maintenance: The Key to Success

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

28 responses to “Bowling Ball Maintenance: The Key to Success

  1. James,
    Nice spin. It’s true that more bowlers maintain their cars better than their bowling equipment. I just wanted to let you know that isopropyl alcohol and ‘Simple Green’ are approved for use during certified competition. The other non-traditional cleaners allowed during certified competition are:
    Jolt Detergent
    Windex (window cleaning version)

    I’m glad you pointed out the necessity for a pro shop with the correct equipment to do the ball baking. I’ve heard horror stories, probably urban legend for some, about the results of ball baking.

    Nice to have you back.

  2. Ed,

    Thank you for the heads up on an updated list of USBC approved cleaners. I was pretty sure, but not 100% sure about Simple Green being approved during competition, but I figured that if I let bowlers know about a few alternatives they could choose for themselves.

    Also, the ball baking is a very, very hard process to regulate at home, unless you are using an oven made specifically for removing lane oil from bowling balls. Never, ever, bake a bowling ball in a conventional oven, whether it be gas or electric. Always leave this process to a certified pro shop who has the proper resources to remove the lane oil properly from the ball. But, with proper routine maintenance, you can drastically reduce the need for a full oil extraction from your equipment.

    Thank you.

    -James Goulding III

  3. If you want to hear a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this article for four from five. Detailed info, but I have to go to that damn yahoo to find the missed parts. Thank you, anyway!

  4. Drink Rick Schlauch Beer and chips with Nosh Sauce and you can clean just about any bowling ball after about an hour. Schlauch beer makes you not care just how long you leave the bowling ball in the oven, but sure does stink up the kitchen!!!!

  5. How much does it cost on average at a pro shop to have your ball baked?

  6. Too much, what i do is put my bowling balls in the dish washer and run a cycle with abit of Dawn Dish Soap to break up the oil. Been doing this for 2 years now and havent had a problem.

  7. We use a food dehydrator (dorm fridge size) where you can set the digital temp to 100 to 120 degrees for an hour and it turns off when done. It is warm air and not direct heat from an element. works really well!!

  8. after cleaning the ball do u half to have it resander or is it ok to bowl as is thks

  9. Thanks for the info, Mr. James Goulding III. My Aunt gave me a bowling ball, bag and shoes about a year ago, cause I use to bowl on a league,
    I had surgery on my left hand and elbow 9 months ago and my hand Dr. said there wont be any more bowling for me. The ball my aunt gave me is actually a right hand ball, and the shoes are to big for me (I think the ball and shoes are men’s not women’s). My aunt told me someone gave the ball, bag & shoes to her, cause they didn’t want them any more and she took them to give to me (She’s such a caring woman), but now I’m going to have to sell them cause I can’t use them and I’m moving soon. It’s all in excellent condition with the exception of a few tiny scratches on the ball, and it needs to be cleaned, which I will do now that I read your article. How do I figure out what kind of price to put on it all though? I’ve not ever sold Bowling equipment before. Any advise will help. Thank you, M.

  10. Hi James that’s a great help thank you. I’m really not sure if I should be posting this here my name is shaun and i am visually impaired and I Do Tenpin Bowling for the British Blind Sport. I have used a polyester ball for a while and I’ve just purchased my first reactive Ball a Brunswick Slingshot I’ve yet to mster how to hook it but I’m really not sure how close to stand near the foul line before i start to release the ball to hook it can you help?

  11. Hi James. In your post you Mention Simple Green Cleaner iv had a good look on-line and what Simple Green Cleaner would be best to use? The all purpose Cleaner?

  12. I was just thinking of baking my ball in the KitchenAid. Noy now, forget about it. The dishwasher sound like a better alternative.
    Good advice from all.

  13. Put your ball on a cookie sheet in the middle of the over at 190 degrees…..wipe the oil off every 10 minutes with a towel with 91% rubbing alcohol. Don’t leave in for more than 30 minutes.

    • Bill thats a good way to be able to get a new ball. It will be ruined ifbit gets over 140. Please dont

      • James Goulding III

        I agree with Ricky, DO NOT get your ball over 140 degrees ever. Please only bake the bowling ball with an approved revivor oven from your local pro shop.

  14. Thanks a lot. But, unfortunately, I don’t have a ball spinner to sand my ball. I think it’s not possible to sand it properly by hand, isn’t it? Is sanding so necessary?
    And I’m worried about one more thing. I’ve never clean the ball such way. I just clean it after each session. And I’ve been playing my ball for a year. It’s about 300-400 games. Is this method suitable for cleaning ball after that?

    Thanks in advance!

  15. How about using “good ole California Sun” to bake the oil free? Seems like it would be a lot safer than an amature’s oven. The hot water sysstem sounds good too.

    • James Goulding III

      The hot water and dish soap system works ok for surface oil, but the deep down oil needs to be removed safely with a revivor oven from your local pro shop. It’s properly temperature controlled and will not damage your bowling ball.

  16. William P Newcomb Jr

    You mentioned in your article:” 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.” Just how do you go about doing this?


    • James Goulding III

      William, you can use Abralon pads and polish, and apply both by hand and with a microfiber towel to get the ball back to the desired surface. Check the manufacturer website of the specific ball you are using to get the exact surface spec’s for your ball and go from there. Good luck, and good bowling!

  17. What about leaving your ball to sit in the sun to get the oil out?

    • James Goulding III

      It’s not a good idea, the ball will get hot spots on it, and if those get above 140 degrees you run the risk of hardening the resin and bleeding out plastisizer from the bowling ball instead of lane oil.Use an approved revivor oven from your local pro shop, it’s the best way to remove only lane oil from the ball without harmful side effects. Thank you for reading!

  18. Note about the legality of the Simple Green/Alcohol mixer: While both of those are legal to use individually during competition, The mixture of the two technically is not approved. It’s never been submitted to the USBC for testing and approval. So at most it should only be considered for use before or after competition.

  19. No one mentioned using good ole California SUN for removing most of the oil. I let it set for about 2 hours and then go through the wipe and clean routine. BALL TEMP RARILY GOES OVER 90 DEGREES. Works for me!

    • James Goulding III

      John, if that works for you that’s great. Be careful though, as the ball temp.may exceed that 90 degree amount, and you do not want the ball to get over 140 degrees as it starts to harden and removed plasticizer from the resin. The best way to bake a ball to remove oil is a temperature controlled revivor oven found at your local pro shop to remove oil properly. Thank you for reading!

  20. Great informative article! I am probably over due for a deep cleaning however, I have plans to bowl that doesn’t allow the time for that. As far as just a normal cleaning goes, besides the simple Green, are there any other cleaners that can be cut with alcohol that will suffice? I’ll have to pick a bottle up on the next grocery run. Thanks​!

  21. I used the hot water method. Made sure that my inserts were covered and water tight. A couple drops of Dawn soap and timed it for 15 minutes. I could see the oil in the water. Pulled it out, dried it off with a micro fiber towel…looked beautiful. Put my fingers in the holes and was stuck for almost 5 minutes. I think the heat of the water softened the inserts and made them swell. I was panicked thinking of how I was going to get this ball off my hand. LOL

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