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What Do Bowling Alleys Use to Disinfect Shoes? The Shocking Disinfectants Used on Rental Shoes

  • Reading time:11 mins read

Bowling is a beloved sport and recreational activity for many people. There’s just something special about stepping up to the smooth wooden lane, ball in hand, ready to knock down those ten pins. However, there is one unsavory aspect of bowling that can ruin the fun – smelly, dirty rental shoes.

Bowling alleys take thousands of pairs of shoes in and out of service each week. All those feet sweating and shedding germs into the shoes can create an unpleasant odor and unhealthy environment if the shoes aren’t properly disinfected. So what exactly do bowling centers use to clean and sanitize rental footwear?

The Problem of Bowling Shoe Germs

Bowling shoes see a lot of action. According to the United States Bowling Congress, over 78 million people go bowling each year in the U.S. alone. Considering there are only about 4,500 bowling centers in the country, that’s over 17,000 pairs of rental shoes per facility used each year!

With all those feet constantly being slipped in and out of bowling shoes, you can imagine how much bacteria builds up inside them. Fungi like athlete’s foot and plantar warts, odor-causing microbes, and even staph can lurk in bowling shoes if they aren’t properly disinfected.

Some of the most common germs found in bowling shoes include:

  • Escherichia coli – a bacteria that commonly causes food poisoning, urinary tract infections, and other illnesses.
  • Staphylococcus aureus – causes numerous skin infections and respiratory illnesses. Responsible for the difficult-to-treat infection MRSA.
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa – linked to infections in the blood, lungs, and other areas.
  • Salmonella enterica – a bacteria that infects the intestines and causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
  • Trichophyton mentagrophytes – the fungus responsible for athlete’s foot, a contagious infection of the feet.

Many bowling centers now display disinfectant information to reassure customers their shoes have been cleaned. However, some establishments may not follow through with proper disinfecting protocols.

To avoid picking up any nasty foot infections or odors, bowlers should inspect their shoes before sliding them on and request freshly disinfected ones if needed.

Now let’s look at the main disinfecting methods bowling alleys use to combat germs and odors in their rental shoes.

Disinfectant Sprays

The simplest and most common way bowling centers sanitize shoes is by spraying them with disinfectant after each use. These disinfectants contain special chemical formulations designed to kill harmful microbes.

Some common active ingredients found in bowling shoe disinfectant sprays include:

  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds: Quats work by disrupting the cell membrane of bacteria. The nitrogen atoms bind to the cell wall, breaking down the exterior and causing the bacteria to die. Quats are effective against a broad range of microorganisms. They are also safe for most bowling shoe materials when used properly.
  • Sodium Hypochlorite: This is a fancy name for bleach! The chlorine in bleach acts as an oxidizing agent that can “burn” through cell membranes and destroy microbes. A diluted bleach solution can disinfect shoes without damaging them from over-exposure.
  • Hydrogen Peroxide: At high concentrations, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) releases free oxygen radicals that oxidize and induce cellular damage in microorganisms. It works quickly against common germs.
  • Isopropyl Alcohol: Also known as rubbing alcohol, this disrupts the cellular membranes of bacteria cells, causing them to break down through protein denaturation and lipoid disorganization.

Some key benefits of disinfectant sprays for bowling shoes:

  • Broad-spectrum – kill a wide array of viruses, bacteria, and fungi when used properly. Not just limited to certain microbes.
  • Fast-acting – can sanitize shoes quickly between uses.
  • Cost-effective – sprays are an economical way to disinfect many pairs of shoes.
  • Simple to use – just point and spray to apply disinfectant.

However, there are a few downsides:

  • Doesn’t remove dirt or debris – sprays only kill microbes but don’t actually clean the shoes.
  • Can damage shoes – bleach and peroxide solutions may break down glue or stitching if overused.
  • Lingering odors – spray disinfectants may leave a chemical smell.

Overall, disinfectant sprays provide a ubiquitous, straightforward way for bowling centers to sanitize their rental shoes. Just be sure to use the proper formulations approved for use on bowling footwear. Rotate shoes out of service regularly for deeper cleanings. And consider using additional disinfecting methods too.

UV Light Sanitizing Machines

A more high-tech way bowling alleys can disinfect shoes is by using UV-C sanitizing machines. These devices harness the germ-killing power of ultraviolet light.

UV-C radiation from 200-280 nanometers penetrates the cell walls of microorganisms. It damages the DNA and RNA inside, making the bacteria or virus unable to function or reproduce. This quickly neutralizes contaminants without the use of any chemicals.

Special UV shoe sanitizers designed for bowling centers feature chambers that accommodate multiple pairs of shoes at once. Rental shoes are placed inside, and short-duration UV exposure kills 99.9% of microbes, including bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungus.

UV shoe sanitizers provide powerful disinfection without liquids or sprays. They can reach into small nooks and crevices of shoes that liquids may miss. The process only takes a couple of minutes, allowing for quick shoe turnover. No heat or moisture is involved, so it won’t harm shoes like extreme heat can.

However, UV light can only sanitize the exterior shoe surfaces it directly reaches. It does not provide full deodorizing of the shoe interior. The high upfront equipment cost may be prohibitive for some bowling centers as well. Proper maintenance like replacing bulbs is required.

For optimal results, UV shoe sanitizers are great to use along with spray disinfectants. The UV treatment can quickly kill surface microbes, then sprays can penetrate inside the shoes for further disinfection.

Ozone Sterilization

A third disinfecting method growing in popularity for bowling shoes is ozone gas treatment. Ozone generators are devices that produce ozone (O3) – oxygen molecules with three atoms instead of two.

Ozone is a potent antimicrobial agent. As an unstable molecule, it is eager to give up its extra oxygen atom to other substances. This oxidizing reaction destroys cell membranes in pathogens, inactivating viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

Specialized ozone generators for bowling shoes use adapters that circulate ozone gas through the interior of shoes. The ozone penetrates all around the insides, sanitizing even the deepest corners that other methods may not reach.

In addition to eliminating foul odors and microbes, ozone gas treatment has several advantages:

  • No chemical residues left behind – ozone naturally converts back to regular oxygen shortly after the process.
  • Non-damaging to equipment – does not degrade bowling shoe materials like repeated bleach use can.
  • Also oxidizes airborne organic contaminants – and removes musty smells that linger around equipment.
  • More effective at reducing odors – oxidizes the source chemicals that cause odors.

The main drawback of ozone is it can irritate airways if breathed in significant concentrations. Proper ventilation and safety protocols are a must when using ozone generators.

For bowling centers, ozone disinfection works best overnight when shoes are out of service. The equipment can run safely while staff isn’t present and thoroughly treat all shoes by morning. It’s not a quick option between uses, but provides a deep periodic sanitizing of entire shoe inventory.


Today’s bowling centers have several excellent options to keep their rental shoes clean, germ-free, and odor-free for customers. Regular disinfecting is a must to provide a safe, enjoyable bowling environment.

Common disinfecting solutions used by bowling alleys include:

  • Disinfectant sprays contain chemicals like quaternary ammonium, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and alcohol to kill bacteria on contact.
  • UV-C light machines destroy viruses, mold, and bacteria that shoes are exposed to.
  • Ozone gas generators penetrate deep inside shoes to oxidize microbes and organic contaminants.

By incorporating a combination of techniques, bowling centers can be confident their shoes are fully sanitized. However, it never hurts for bowlers to give their shoes a quick inspection and request freshly disinfected ones for peace of mind.

With modern disinfecting methods, people can enjoy getting out on the lanes without worrying about rental shoe germs and odors.

Bowling alleys can provide a clean and welcoming environment that keeps customers coming back for strikes, spares, and good times. So next time you lace up a pair of those funky-looking bowling shoes, remember they’ve been thoroughly sanitized for your feet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do they use to disinfect bowling shoes?

Bowling alleys commonly use disinfectant sprays, UV light machines, and ozone gas to fully sanitize rental bowling shoes. The sprays quickly kill surface germs, while UV and ozone penetrate deeper inside the shoes.

How sanitary are bowling shoes?

With proper disinfecting protocols, bowling shoes can be very sanitary and safe for customers to wear. However, some bowling centers may fall short of proper disinfecting, especially during busy times. Inspect your shoes and request freshly sanitized ones if concerned.

What can you spray in shoes to disinfect them?

Disinfectant sprays made specifically for use on bowling shoes are ideal. The active ingredients quaternary ammonium, sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol-based formulas are common and effective choices.

Are bowling alley shoes clean?

With frequent disinfecting, bowling shoes can stay clean of odors, fungi, and bacteria in between customers. But the cleanliness depends on how diligently the bowling alley staff sanitizes the shoes after each use. It’s smart to give shoes a quick inspection beforehand.

Does Lysol disinfect shoes?

Yes, Lysol spray can safely disinfect the outside material of bowling shoes when used properly. It should not be sprayed directly into shoe interiors, as it may linger and irritate feet. Use disinfectants made for shoes when possible.

Can I use Lysol to disinfect my shoes?

Lysol can be used to spot and disinfect visible areas on shoe exteriors. But for full shoe interior disinfection, products specifically made for shoes are better choices and won’t leave chemical residue on feet.

Why can’t you wear your own shoes when bowling?

Bowling alleys require rental shoes to protect the wood lanes from damage. Street shoes can track in pebbles, dirt, and other debris that scratches and mars the polished lane surface. The soft rubber soles on bowling shoes protect the lanes.

Why can’t you wear street shoes in bowling alley?

The hard, abrasive soles of street shoes would track in dirt and pebbles that could ruin the delicate wood of bowling lanes. Rental shoes have a soft sole that protects the lanes from damage while sliding smoothly.

Why do pro bowlers wipe their shoes?

Pro bowlers vigorously wipe their bowling shoes to remove any oil or dust on the soles before each throw. This helps them slide across the lane consistently and gain maximum traction when they step forward to release the ball. Keeping shoes very clean prevents sticking or slipping.