Bowling balls, like most everything else, wear out after long periods of use despite high levels of care and maintenance. Good maintenance does help prolong a ball’s shelf life, but there’ll eventually come a time when investing in a new ball is the better option.
Slacking off or simply not paying attention to the maintenance of your bowling ball causes it to start deteriorating ahead of time. This almost always starts with the ball accumulating oil on the surface – so much so that rubbing the ball with a micro fiber towel won’t do it any good.
It’s not the worst possible scenario, but it’s something you need to take care of as soon as possible. A well-known way to tackle this is to bake your bowling ball.
The procedure is most effective when done at your local pro shop, but you can do it yourself if you want to save some money or are good at DIY.
What It Means to Bake a Bowling Ball
Let’s start with what got us here in the first place. Where does this oil come from?
If you’ve been bowling for a long time, you might already know the answer to that question. If you haven’t, the slippery substance on a bowling lane is the culprit that accumulates on your bowling ball after a long time, or when not properly maintained.
Oil has a purpose in the game in that it helps create a surface that ensures proper speed and direction of the bowling balls. It also helps protect the lane if it’s made out of wood, though most lanes today are synthetic.
The main disadvantage is that the lane oil gets absorbed into the ball. Baking the bowling ball, in this case, requires you to use some form of heat to remove oil and restore the bowling ball to a usable state.
The reason for the term “bake” is because you’ll use dry (but not direct) heat for this, similar to what happens when you bake food in an oven. And because doing it at a pro shop is the most recommended solution, there must be a catch when doing it at home, right?
Make sure not to use excessive heat when removing the lane oil. Don’t go over 140°F or 60°C.
To release oil, you should also not turn up the temperature too quickly. This is why baking a ball in the oven isn’t recommended as you’ll need to be on your toes to ensure that the temperature doesn’t exceed the stated limit.
Not adhering to the above precautions will risk damaging your bowling ball. So make sure that you’re doing it in the right conditions.
Methods of Baking a Bowling Ball
There are several options for you to bake your bowling ball at home. A simple search on YouTube generates several different tutorials.
You can’t go through all of them, so here’s a list of five of the most common (and effective) ways for you to bake your bowling ball at home:
- use a hot-water bath;
- use a hair dryer;
- use a heater;
- use a dishwasher; and
- place the ball inside a hot car.
1. Hot-Water Bath/The Immersion Method
This is not a short process because of the amount of time you’ll need to let your ball dry (about two days), but it’s the simplest and poses the least risk to your bowling ball.
Because you’ll use tap water for this, you’re likely to not exceed the temperature limit. To start, fill a normal, no-frills bucket with hot water – make sure that it’s only filled halfway.
Tape the finger holes of your bowling ball and carefully dunk the ball into the water. Make sure that most of the cover stock is covered with water.
Let the ball sit in the water for about 15 to 20 minutes before pulling it out and giving the ball a thorough cleaning. You can choose to use some Dawn dish soap as wee, although it’s unnecessary work.
Afterward, drain the warm water and fill the bucket with hot water once again.
Take your bowling ball and resubmerge it into the water in the bucket for another 15 to 20 minutes. Repeat this process four times, and make sure to give the ball a good final clean after the final soak.
Finally, let your fresh ball sit for about 24–48 hours until completely dry.
2. Using a Hair Dryer
This method is straightforward, but unlike the water bath, you’ll have to keep an eye on the heat coming from the dryer. It’s not as easy as with the water, but you can tell when the air is getting too hot.
Start by placing your bowling ball on a towel. With your hair dryer, blow the air onto the surface of the ball – you won’t need to tape the finger holes for this.
The oil will rise to the resin surface in the form of a shiny substance. Take some paper towels, or a microfiber towel, and wipe it off the ball.
This break is also perfect for the hair dryer as it’ll cool down in case the temperature rises too fast.
Repeat the process until you see no oil rising to the surface of the ball. Give it one final scrub and let the ball cool down.
3. Using a Space Heater
The process is similar to the above. Place the ball in front of the heater and as the hot air blows, keep an eye on the oil accumulating on the surface.
Clean the ball before placing it back under the heater. Rotate the ball while doing so until there’s no more oil covering the ball surface.
It’s an easy process, but one major problem here is the high temperature. Your ball is also likely to not receive uniform heat.
A heater is prone to blow air that is above the recommended temperature limit of 140°F. So, while it’s an easy method, go through the other methods on this list before settling on it.
4. Using an Automatic Dishwasher
Open your tap and check the water temperature when it’s hot – ensure that it’s below 140°F. Aside from your normal wash cycle, if you use this process, make sure to have the dry function turned off along with every other cycle.
If the above conditions are all set, cover the finger holes of your ball with some waterproof tape and place the bowling ball on the bottom rack. Run the dishwashing cycle only once to de-oil the ball.
If you repeatedly run the cycle, the constant hot water might cause your ball to crack.
If you want to run it again, let your bowling ball sit and gradually cool down. You won’t need a second cycle, however.
Let your bowling ball rest inside the dishwasher. You can clean the ball with some rubbing alcohol after it cools down.
5. A Hot Car
We all know how hot the inside of a car gets when the windows are all rolled shut on a scorching day. You can take advantage of this by baking your bowling ball inside the car.
The only caveat to this is you can’t control the temperature of the sun. If, however, you feel the warmth is appropriate, get a towel and place your ball on the floor of the car.
As with most of the above processes, the constant exposure to heat causes the oil to rise to the ball’s surface. If there’s enough oil, get inside the car, wipe the ball clean, and set the ball back in its initial position.
Opening the doors also helps regulate the temperature inside. When little to no oil is showing on the surface of the ball, take out your bowling ball and clean it one last time.
Maintaining Your Bowling Ball
Though already mentioned, this point is worth repeating—don’t bake your ball in the oven. It’s the easiest way to crack your bowling ball because of the high temperatures of a regular oven.
Even switching it to the lowest setting and placing the bowling ball on the wire rack farthest from the heat (or fixing the second rack before the first) sometimes won’t be enough.
Rubbing alcohol is great for cleaning bowling balls under normal situations, but not when you need to deep clean your ball. To remove oil, you’re better off using the above methods.
To prevent the accumulation of lane oil from occurring too frequently (because your ball will still absorb oil anyway), wipe your ball with a microfiber towel after every bowl. And after each game, clean your bowling equipment with a US Bowling Congress-accepted cleaner e.g., the aforementioned rubbing alcohol.
Take a spray bottle and store a cleaner of equal parts water, rubbing alcohol, and simple green for use when you need to keep your ball surface polished.
If you can afford it, make the occasional trip to your local pro shop and use the high-speed ball spinners and screening pads to remove oil when your ball begins to drop response. It costs about $20 and when compared to the above DIY methods, it ensures maximum effectiveness.
You’ll need to do this after at least every six games to achieve the preferred end result. This also depends on how frequently you bowl.
You can also buy a baking machine if you want to play the long game. The Salmon Creek NuBall is a good one and is easy to use.
A final thing to note here is that plastic balls don’t absorb as much oil. This is because they’re made of polyester.
Proper maintenance of your ball gets you to around 200 games at the very least. This is about five years of playing, which is not at all bad considering we’re looking at the least possible time frame.
Moisture and excessive temperatures are the biggest killers of bowling balls. This is why it’s advisable to not store them in a place that’s too hot or too cold.
If you’re going to store it in an environment that causes the accumulation of moisture on the surface (the garage, for example), cover it with a towel to soak up some of the moisture.
Proper care of your bowling ball is sure to pay off in the long run. If you can keep it away from the above conditions, you’re sure to have a quality bowling ball that lasts you a good number of years.