Back in the 80s and 90s, when urethane balls came into bowling, they comprised a combination of isocyanates and polyol resins. This created a very dense and near-indestructible molecular structure that made it easy to maintain and clean.
But, today, bowling balls are reactive urethane. Even though this has increased performance, there are some drawbacks. There are resinous compounds that reduce mass, increase brittleness and make the ball more porous.
So, regular and frequent maintenance is essential. Bowling balls get dirty, oily, nicked, scratched and gouged throughout the course of its life. Knowing how to clean your bowling ball will keep it in prime condition.
How Do You Clean Urethane Bowling Balls?
There are a few ways you can clean a urethane bowling ball and prevent oil from accumulating on the coverstock (or coating).
To keep oil from seeping into the ball, devise a plan of preventative measures.
Always wipe your ball before and after a game along with wiping it down between shots. Only use a microfiber towel and store your ball in a durable bag.
About ever six to nine games, lightly sand the ball with abrasive bowling pads designed for this purpose. Do not use actual sandpaper.
Every 60 games or so, resurface your ball. For around $10 at a proshop, this procedure will remove a thin layer from the surface of the ball and give it a clean finish. It helps with chips, nicks, little cracks and other minor damage.
You should not use any cleaner you have on hand. The following is a list of recommended cleaners to use:
- Dish Soap
- Mineral Spirits
- Window Cleaner (like Simple Green or Windex)
You can mix your own DIY Ball Cleaner. In a spray bottle, blend Isopropyl Alcohol, Simple Green in equal parts with water. You can use this after each game and for regular cleaning.
When using anything like turpentine or mineral spirits, pour a small amount onto a clean microfiber towel. Rub the surface until all oil, grease and filth disappears. For ammonia, dish soap or window cleaner, always mix with water and use a soft sponge. Follow this with a microfiber towel for drying.
Hot Water Bath
You can give your ball a Hot Water Bath once in a blue moon. But, do this at your own risk as many people report mixed results, some with everlasting regret. Follow these steps for reliability:
- Seal the finger holes with cotton and waterproof tape so no water gets in.
- Put gentle dish soap and water no warmer than 140°F in a large and durable bucket to hold your ball.
- Let the ball soak for 15 to 20 minutes and spin it once and awhile.
- Wipe it down with a soft sponge, paying close attention to difficult areas.
- Take it out of the bucket and then wipe it dry with a microfiber towel.
- Allow the ball to dry and inspect it for residual oil and dirt.
- Repeat this process until all the dirt is clean and then put it into the bag for safe keeping.
Sometimes, schmaltz gets stuck in a spot. Apply a wet towel or sponge on the area for several minutes before cleaning.
Regardless of your care, you will have to get the ball deep cleaned on occassion at a proshop or sporting goods store. You’ll know it needs a deep clean by the way the ball moves and handles.
Proshops use a specialized oven engineered to maintain a temperature of 110°F. This oven has a continuous spinning motion via rollers with hot air.
What Shouldn’t You Do When Maintaining Urethane Bowling Balls at Home?
There are a few things to guard against doing to avoid ruining your ball by accident:
- Never heat your ball in an oven or with any other heating contraption. You will weaken the urethane structure and reduce the resin.
- Never soak your ball in any liquid for more than 20 minutes or your ball could warp.
- Do not use strong solvents, hydrocarbons, corrosive chemicals or abrasive cleaners. Although effective, these substances will degrade the urethane which increases cracking or splitting.
- Rubbing alcohol can breakdown the structure of the coverstock overtime. If you opt for acetone, be cautious and careful.
- For balls with a sanded finish, apply cleaner with a kitchen scouring pad and scrub vigorously in circular motions. This not only deep cleans the pores of the ball but it will also keep the surface texture gritty.
Storm Bowling has created “Pitch Black”, a solid urethane ball that is part of their Thunder line. It’s an overall great ball for lighter and shorter oil conditions.
Can You Polish a Urethane Bowling Ball?
Polishing a urethane bowling ball is possible. Use a spray cleaner and wipe it down with a clean microfiber towel. There are ball cleaners that are liquid, gel or alcohol-based called “ball polishers.”
But these are simply cleaners, not necessarily “polishers.” They contain degreasers or surfectants to remove stubborn grease from the coverstock. Always follow these with rubbing alcohol to remove excess dirt.
When using a manufactured product, read the label to see the ingredients. Some less expensive brands will include things like hydrocarbons or abrasive chemicals that will destroy a ball’s urethane matrix.
We recommend this bowling ball cleaner spray kit by Lane Ghost. It Removes oil buildup, dirt, dust, and belt marks from your bowling ball while bringing back the natural tack to the balls surface.
To restore polish, take your ball to a local proshop. Some sporting goods stores and bowling alleys will have a polishing machine you can use too.
Note, though, polishing machines apply a soft wax to the coverstock. This can inhibit a ball’s migration of resin into the surface and can reduce the ball’s hooking ability. For some people, this is desirable.
But, if you like the hooking action, take the ball to a proshop for polishing. They have non-wax options like 3M Finesse, Ultimate Plus, Ebonite or RCS. These will make your ball sparkle while keeping its sleek performance down the lane.
How Long Do Urethane Bowling Balls Last?
Although modern reactive urethane balls provide more length and better performance than conventional ones, there’s a trade off. Reactive balls don’t have the same lifespan as conventional ones and there’s a marked reduction in durability. Traditional balls could last for several decades so long as it didn’t suffer any serious damage.
Reactive urethane bowling balls can last five to 10 years with medium maintenance. For the average player, this equates to 150 to 300 games. Proper care and maintenance of the ball can stretch that out to 15 or 20 years.
Cleaning and maintaining your bowling ball is crucial. It not only helps keep its value but also increases its lifespan and retains its hooking action like new. If you’re meticulous about this, your urethane ball can last for many years.
When in doubt about what cleaners to use on your bowling ball, refer to the American Bowling Congress. They have further tips, tricks and methods for prolonged care and maintenance to ensure your bowling ball stays in great shape for as long as possible.
Remember, be smart about maintenance and avoid any harsh cleaners, chemicals and degreasers. If you have little faith in your ability to do this, go to your local proshop or sporting goods store. This will ensure the best possible results without any risk of damage, warping and leaching of resin.