Why Do Bowling Alleys Smell?

Why Do Bowling Alleys Smell

When you walk into a bowling alley, it’s like taking a trip through a time machine back to the 70s or 80s. The carpeting is a blend of fuzzy felt-like fabrics combining some shade of magenta with lime green and puce. The curtains are thick, yellowed and match the same pattern on the carpet. And then there’s that smell.

There’s something oddly comforting about the aromatics of a bowling alley that combines all the beauty of disinfectant spray synergized with the smell of musty, ancient cigarette smoke. Bowling alleys smell because they are decades-old with hundreds of thousands of people frequenting the place throughout the years.

No matter where you go in a bowling alley, there is always a faint odor of it throughout the place; even in the bathroom. After leaving a bowling alley, this smell follows you home and you may even get a whiff of it in your hair, clothing and other items.

Why Do Bowling Alleys Smell?

Let’s be honest here. It’s not a real bowling alley if it doesn’t have that classic smell of a vaguely intriguing fart with a hint of comforting petrol and a musty undertone. In the case you’ve never been to bowling alley, the odor prospects may seem off-putting.  What comprises this synergistic smell is:

  • bowling alley wax
  • bowling ball polisher chemicals
  • chalk
  • chemicals from bowling shoe sprays
  • fresh cigarette butts and ashes 
  • greasy fried food
  • old chewing gum
  • other disinfectant sprays and cleaners
  • popcorn
  • someone’s cheap perfume
  • spilled soft drinks, alcohol, food and other substances
  • stale beer
  • stale cigarette smoke (which is different from fresh cigarette butts and ashes)
  • sweat 

Not all bowling alleys will have everything from the list above. But there will be (or at least there should be) a combination of at least five of these; most distinct of which will be bowling alley wax, disinfectants and stale cigarette smoke.

Is It Weird to Like the Smell of a Bowling Alley?

For some people, the smell of a bowling alley is one of the most comforting things. There are many reasons for this. Some people grew up in a bowling alley while others love playing the game. In these cases it can bring on a sensation of confidence, reminiscence and peace.

As a matter of fact, some people love the smell so much there are actually scented candles and car fresheners advertised as smelling like a bowling alley. You can use these in aromatic applications to bring on a sense of overall tranquility. There are even some people who sparingly wash their bowling shirts and other gear so that the smell of a bowling alley is always with them.

So no, it’s not “weird” to like the smell of a bowling alley per se. If you’re one of these special kinds of people, it’s fine; just don’t expect everyone to share your sentiments in regards to smell.

Can You Do Anything to Mitigate the Smell While at a Bowling Alley?

In the case you’re a person who loves to play the game but you can’t stand the smell of a bowling alley, there are a couple of things you can do.

First, though, don’t spray fragrances or air fresheners and don’t throw powder all over the place. Not only may you offend someone else’s allergies but you can also present a danger to people who might play after you. Powders tend to obstruct the lane and can make it difficult for others to maneuver on.

Plus, not everyone in the vicinity may share the same aromatherapeutic tastes that you have. With that in mind, you can attempt to mitigate the smell for yourself with a variety of methods. But, remember, you are submersed in this environment, so it will seep into your olfactory system from time to time. 

  • Clothing: Apply your favorite scent, perfume or essential oil on the sleeves of your shirt or on wristbands before entering the bowling alley. When the smell of the alley wafts into your nostrils, put your nose over it and breathe in.
  • Essential Oils: There are some essential oils you can use that will overpower the odor of your immediate environment. You can put these onto your clothing, a handkerchief, a tissue or on your wrist brace. Things like clove, eucalyptus, tea tree and orange are good. Lavender, rose or chamomile, although pleasant, may not be strong enough.
  • Scented Salts: You can create your own jar of smelling salts if it suits you. Simply take Epsom salts or coarse sea salt, put it in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid and add several drops of your favorite scent. The moment the bowling alley’s odor irks you, open this baby and breathe deep.
  • Drink Strong Coffee: Professional perfumers have a small dish of coffee beans at their counters for a reason: it clears the nasal palette of odors so you can smell other things. So, having a hot cup of pungent coffee while you play will go a long way in mitigating the smell of a bowling alley.

Final Thoughts

Bowling alleys are shrines of antiquated glory echoing the days of yesteryear. So, they’re going to have an unmistakable, amalgamated and unavoidable stench. Bowling alleys smell from years of use combined with the accumulation of cigarette smoke, disinfectant sprays and other odors.

Since the widespread ban on smoking in public places, this isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be. However, stale cigarette smoke often lingers heavily in the air. For some people this is an aroma of endearment while to others it’s the most disgusting thing they can hardly tolerate.

In the case you’re in the latter group, there are some things you can do to help eliminate the smell for yourself. But, please be mindful of others around you who may not share your sense of smell. However, if you love the smell of a bowling alley, consider getting a scented candle or air freshener so you can have it with you always.

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