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Do Bowling Balls Go Bad? The Surprising Truth About Ball Performance

  • Reading time:9 mins read

As any serious bowler knows, a good bowling ball is an investment. From the precise weights and coverstocks to the meticulously designed cores, a quality ball can cost hundreds of dollars.

But just like any piece of sports equipment, bowling balls don’t last forever. Over time and with repeated use, even the best balls can start to show signs of wear and tear that impact their performance on the lanes.

So do bowling balls actually “go bad”? The short answer is yes, they can degrade to the point where they no longer perform at their peak potential.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key factors that cause bowling balls to go bad, the telltale signs you need a new one, tips for extending your ball’s life, and when it’s time to replace your trusty arsenal.

What Causes Bowling Balls to Go Bad

While a well-made bowling ball won’t simply expire on a set date, several issues can arise that hamper its performance over time. Here are the main culprits behind bowling balls going bad:

Wear and Tear

Even with diligent care, the act of rolling and impacting the lane necessarily causes gradual surface wear on a bowling ball’s coverstock material.

As games and frames add up, small grooves get carved into the coverstock from the friction against the lane. The ball can also pick up nicks, cracks, or flat spots from dropping or impacts against gutters and ball returns.

All this wear exposes and erodes the coverstock over time. Since different coverstocks are designed to provide specific traction and motion characteristics, any degradation in this outer layer will throw off a ball’s intended performance.

Chemical Breakdown

In addition to physical wear, the chemicals in a bowling ball’s coverstock can also break down from repeated use and environmental exposure. This is especially true for highly aggressive “reactive resin” coverstocks frequently used on today’s high-performance balls.

As a ball repeatedly comes into contact and absorbs different oils on the lane, the coverstock can become oversoked. This causes the ball to lose its intended reaction and backend motion. Heat and friction can also cause the resin itself to start cracking and losing its factory grit and traction.

Loss of Traction

Speaking of traction, this is another key factor that causes balls to go bad over time. Whether from microscopic wear, chemical breakdown, or oil/dirt buildup, coverstocks naturally lose their gritty surface texture through repeated use. As the coverstock smooths out, it has less grip in the oil and less overall traction to create the desired backend hook and motion.

While resurfacing can temporarily restore some traction, this loss of friction is an inevitable issue that even the stickiest coverstocks can’t avoid forever.

Signs That Your Bowling Ball Has Gone Bad

With the main culprits identified, here are the typical signs and symptoms to watch out for that indicate your bowling ball’s performance is starting to suffer:

  • Physical Damage – This one is the most obvious red flag. If you notice any major cracks, flat spots, gouges, or other surface deformations on your ball, it’s a surefire indicator that it has taken too much abuse and trauma. Trying to keep using a physically damaged ball with major covervector issues is a recipe for unpredictable, inconsistent motion.
  • Dull or Oily Appearance – Another clear visual cue is if your ball looks duller than normal or has taken on an oily, greasy appearance and feel. This is a sign that the coverstock has become oversoked from too much oil absorption or the resin has started breaking down internally. You may also notice uneven rings or cloudy patches in the coverstock material.
  • Decreased Hook Potential – If you’ve been consistently hitting your mark and lines but notice your ball is not revving up or transitioning in the back end as expected, it’s likely suffering from diminished traction and coverstock life. You’ll see a general decrease in backend driver motion, hit pockets flatter, and have a hard time maximizing entry angles.
  • Inconsistent Reactions – When the ball seemingly overreacts or underreacts on different shots despite your release being consistent, it’s a sign that something is off with the coverstock and the ball is no longer able to read the lane patterns predictably. You may also experience lots of random splits and writes.

If any of those issues persist, it’s time to start looking into resurfacing or replacement options.

How to Extend the Life of Your Bowling Ball

Of course, just because bowling balls inevitably go bad over time doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to maximize their usable life. Proper bowling ball care and maintenance is key to preventing premature degradation. Here are some top tips:

Proper Ball Care and Cleaning

Using a ball cleaner like Monster Trac Renew or MOTIV Reactor Cleaner after each session is crucial for removing oil, dirt, and buildup that can soak into and dull the coverstock over time. Always wipe gently with a clean micro-fiber towel as well.

You should also store your balls in a closed ball cup or box rather than an open surface where dust and debris can settle. For balls in your bowling bag, use polishing balls or individual ball cups to protect them in transit.

Resurfacing to Restore Coverstock Reaction

Eventually, no matter how well you clean, the microscopic pores in the coverstock will become saturated and smoothed from wear. At this point, you’ll need to have your ball resurfaced (often called “re-soling”) to roughen up the surface.

Using specialized pads and compounds, a pro shop operator can remove that thin outer layer of contaminated coverstock material to restore the fresh “grit.” This brings back the traction and motion specs. While not a permanent fix, resurfacing can extend your ball’s life substantially.

When to Consider Ball Retirement

Despite your best care and occasional resurfacing, there will come a point when a ball has degraded too far to keep restoring. If a ball has taken a lot of abuse, developed severe damage, or shows internal signs of deterioration, it’s time to permanently retire it.

No amount of resurfacing will restore the ball’s integrity if the chemical makeup has broken down completely. Similarly, if you’ve resurfaced a ball multiple times and the performance never returns, replacement is likely needed. Be honest with yourself about when enough is enough before wasting money.

When to Replace Your Bowling Ball

On that note, let’s look at the main scenarios when replacing an old bowling ball makes sense:

  • Significant Physical Damage – We touched on this earlier, but balls that develop hairline fractures, gouges, flat spots, or other physical damage that affects the shape and reaction can’t be realistically fixed. These structural issues will only get worse with continued use and the ball should be replaced.
  • Unrestorable Loss of Performance – There comes a point where coverstock revival can no longer overcome a ball’s performance degradation. If you’ve had it resurfaced multiple times yet notice little to no performance gain, the coverstock may be maxed out and no longer restoring properly. Time for a new ball.
  • New Ball Technology Advances – Even if your older ball is performing fine, new bowling ball technology is frequently released that improves performance in ways your current balls can’t match. If you want to take advantage of the newest cores, coverstock blends, and performance boost, it’s wise to upgrade periodically.

Most bowling experts recommend rotating in new balls every 1-3 years to take advantage of the latest tech while retiring ones that are no longer cutting it. How aggressive you bowl and your ball’s condition will determine its replacement timeline.


While a well-maintained bowling ball can remain in your arsenal for many years, no ball lasts forever at peak performance. Repeated use on the lanes, oil absorption, coverstock breakdown, and minor physical wear all inevitably cause every bowling ball to degrade.

The key is closely monitoring for the telltale signs like decreased hook, inconsistent reactions, and visible damage that signal declining ball life.

When these issues start cropping up, techniques like resurfacing can restore some traction and performance for a while. But there will eventually come a time to retire old equipment and upgrade to a new bowling ball that takes advantage of the latest coverstock technology.

Ultimately, being proactive about ball care and maintenance, getting coverstocks resurfaced at the right times, and replacing older models when degradation can’t be fixed are all essential for keeping your game at its peak. With this comprehensive guide, you now know exactly how bowling balls go bad and what to do to keep yours rolling at their best.