Keeping Equipment Clean: One Key to Success
by James Goulding III
Getting good coaching, watching video, and working in a pro shop have all been valuable tools that have helped me become a successful bowler. But, there is also another part of my game that is important on a weekly basis, and that is taking care of my bowling equipment so that it takes care of me on the lanes when I need it. What I mean is, I can’t expect to bowling balls to perform at their peak all the time if I am not willing to put in some time of my own to make sure factors such as lane oil, rubber marks, track grooves, and such don’t take away from the balls performance. A little bit of extra time spent on cleaning and maintaining your bowling equipment goes a long way to not only keeping your bowling balls working at their optimum level, but also extends their life so that it saves you money on buying new equipment in the long run. I am going to discuss a few areas where bowlers need to pay attention to, which is daily maintenance, bi-monthly maintenance, and annual maintenance.
When I write this, I don’t mean go in your bowling bag every day and do the following steps, but rather after each time you bowl a league set, tournament, etc. before the next time you bowl. First off, I recommend all bowlers use a microfiber towel to wipe the bowling ball off. This type of towel gets the oil off of the surface of the ball, without scratching the coverstock or leaving marks.
Secondly, you should take a USBC approved bowling ball cleaner with you in your bowling bag, and use it to thoroughly clean your bowling equipment IMMEDIATELY after you are done bowling, before you get home. I can not stress enough the importance of getting the lane oil and dirt out of the coverstock as soon as possible, as with the porous coverstocks on resin bowling equipment, it takes no time at all for the oil to “soak” into the cover and stay in the ball. This causes loss of hooking action, and possibly premature ball death due to it being contaminated with lane oil deep in the coverstock. By simply cleaning the ball as soon as you are done, you have a very good chance of removing most of the oil from the outer surface of the ball, before it has a chance to soak in and cause long-term damage to your bowling equipment.
Lastly, invest in a ball carrier to put each of your bowling balls in before you put them in your bowling bag. These carriers are fairly cheap (in the $10 range) but by putting your ball in them, you are protecting it against anything sticking out of your bowling bag that could damage it, as well as protecting it from getting cracked in case you accidently drop it. Also, if you have a locker, it prevents the ball from rolling around and getting scratched up from any rocks or debris in the locker.
Calling it bi-monthly maintenance is a “loose” term, what I mean is the following steps should be taken every 50 games or so (which would be bi-monthly if you bowl twice a week). What I am referring to is giving your ball a hot water bath so that you remove any lane oil that has been soaked into the deeper parts of the coverstock. Using the towel and cleaners works good to get MOST of the oil out of your ball night in and night out, but to get the oil that is missed, you need to do something that can extract the oil out where the cleaner and towel can’t reach. This is where the hot water bath comes in.
First, I recommend you sand your ball down to about a 400 grit surface before putting the ball in any water bath. This can be done with regular 400 grit sandpaper, or a maroon scotch brite pad, or even a 500 abralon pad will suffice. What this does is it opens up the pores of the ball, allowing the oil to escape out when the ball is submerged in the water bath. If you do not have any sandpaper, doing the bath is technically “better than nothing”, but you can always go to your local pro shop and ask them to sand it for you before you do the bath, so doing that would be an option as well.
As far as the actual bath goes, the biggest thing to remember is to make sure the water temp. does not exceed 140 degrees. If your water is hotter than 140 degrees, you run the risk or removing plasticisers in the ball, which will harden the resin and ruin the bowling ball. If you are not sure how hot your water temp. runs, as long as the water is not too hot to put your hand in for an extended period of time, that should suffice for the water bath. Using an actual thermometer is best, but use you head, don’t just “drop” the ball in the water if it is too hot to handle.
When you start running the water, put in a few drops of liquid dish soap (DAWN or equivalent) that will be used ot help break up the lane oil and grease in the coverstock. Fill a bucket up enough so that the ball will be completely submerged below the surface and then place the ball gently in the bucket. Some people like to tape over the finger and thumb holes, but I do not recommend doing this. You are blocking a route of escape for oil and dirt, and the bath does not hurt finger or thumb inserts since it is just water and dish soap. At this point, you let the ball soak for approximately 15 minutes and place on the counter on a towel ot let the remainder of the water drip off of the ball. You will notice an oily/water type mixture on the surface of the ball, especially if it has been a very long time since this process has been done (if ever). Wipe the surface clean using a microfiber towel (or equivalent) until it is dry. If you are seeing this oily mixture on the surface, you need to perform the water bath again, until you no longer see any oil come to the surface of the bowling ball. I would recommend changing the water each time to start fresh, and not have any oil floating around in the water when you re-submerge the ball. Once the ball has only water on the surface (and on oil or dirt), you are done. It may take 2-3 15 minute sessions to get all the oil out, but it is well worth it. Give the ball ample time to dry before use again, I would recommend 24 hours to make sure all the water has gotten out of the coverstock.
Now, once the water bath is complete, you need to take the coverstock of the ball back to whatever the factory finish was on the ball. This will ensure you get the same type of reaction you are used to out of your bowling ball. If you do not have the tools at home to do this, take it to your local pro shop and have them complete the process.
This section is going to deal with a few of the things bowlers should do once a season to their bowling balls to make sure they last long, and perform well. I have covered ways to keep oil out of the ball, but now I will get into what to do when the ball becomes “tracked up” with all the marks from the lanes. When a bowling ball has more than 80-100 games on it, it loses its polish (if it is a polished ball), and also gets a series of grooves in the coverstock form the places that the ball touches the lane consistently. This has an adverse effect on your ball motion, and causes it to not perform at a peak level. The only way to get these grooves out (an re-polish the ball) is with a resurfacing. This will remove the scratches and gouges and get the ball back to like-new performance.
When I resurface bowling balls, I like to take them down to a 220 grit surface, sanding the ball in (4) different directions in a ball spinner. The first two directions are having the finger holes and thumb holes both sit horizontally, parallel with the top of the ball spinner. Once you sand that side of the ball, flip it over 180 degrees to do the other side. Then when you’re done on both of those sides of the bowling ball, position the ball so that the fingers and thumb are on top, pretty much horizontal (perpindicular) to the ball spinner. Sand the ball with the fingers and thumb up, and then turn the ball 180 degrees to sand the other side of the ball. At this point, you are done with the 220 grit (or whatever other grit you might be using). Sand the ball this way for each grit, until you reach the final grit that the ball came in at from the factory. Refer to the bowling ball companies website or sheet that came with the ball to make sure you get the correct final surface for your bowling ball.
Also, if the ball requires a polishing process, polish it in the same (4) directions you sanded the ball in to ensure you are doing things the same way all the time. Refer to the company recommendations for what type of polish to use on your bowling ball to achieve the correct reaction on your bowling ball. If you do not feel comfortable doing this process, which can be very time-consuming, take the ball to your local pro shop and have them complete the process for you. Usually this costs in the $25-40 range, varying from shop to shop and how bad the ball was to begin with for the cost of resurfacing. That is still much cheaper than having to buy a new ball because your old one “died” from lack of proper maintenance.
The last thing I will recommend for yearly maintenance is to change your finger inserts (if you use them) in your ball. Over the course of a season, the inserts become worn out, causing them to feel big or slippery since there is a good chance there is some lane oil and dirt mixed into the rubber inserts. It costs between $5-10 for a new pair from your local pro shop, and should be done at least once a season (probably more if you bowl more than twice per week). When it comes to your thumb, also make sure you change out your thumb tape regularly, because the sweat from your thumb, as well as the oil and dirt from the lane, causes the tape to lose its grip. Those two simple steps can go a long way to making you feel comfortable all the time in your bowling ball.
Well, that is all I have for tips to keep your bowling equipment in tip-top shape. Today’s bowling balls are more aggressive and condition specific than ever, and hopefully with the methods I discussed earlier, you can keep those bowling balls running at peak performance, and able to be used for the right conditions they were intended for. The opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and do not reflect the opinion of the MSUSBC. Thank you for reading, and feel free to comment on anything you see here, I will try and respond as quickly as possible. Good luck, and good bowling!