Dry Towel Rule Change

The dry towel rule, Rule 18, went into effect August 1, 2019. The rule states:

While bowling in USBC Competition, a bowling ball cannot:

    1. Have the surface altered by an abrasive.
    2. Be cleaned with any liquid substance or cleaning agent.
    3. Have any foreign material on it including, but not limited to:


All bowling balls so altered or cleaned must be removed from the competition.

NOTE: Should a foreign substance appear on the outer surface of a bowling ball which cannot be removed with a dry towel, an approved cleaner may be used with the consent from a league or tournament officer.

Change inherently is met with resistance, but as you continue to read this article you’ll learn the do’s and don’ts involved in changing a bowling ball’s surface and cleaning it.

Surface Changes

Practice time is not considered competition. It is completely acceptable to change your bowling ball’s surface during practice time.

National Bowling Academy coaches urge every bowler to get sanding pads and change the bowling ball’s surface. It plays a large role in matching up to today’s lane conditions.

The rule reminds bowlers that altering the surface while score is being kept during league or competition is illegal.

If you are unfamiliar or would like a refresher on changing your bowling ball’s surface check out this video: Making Adjustments to the Surface of Your Bowling Ball. The video includes a demonstration illustrating the differences between high and low grit sanding pads and how they perform on the lanes.

Liquid Substance or Cleaning Agent

Remember, practice is not part of competition, there is a theme here. When you are in the settee you can clean your bowling ball before and/or after competition without concern that your ball will be removed because of a violation.

The key to the rule change is that you cannot have any foreign material on the bowling ball and you can not clean your ball when score is being kept.

Everytime a bowling ball goes down the lane it is collecting oil into its pores. While bowling, you should remove the oil collected after every shot with a dry shammy or dry microfiber towel.

The best time to clean your bowling ball is after you are done bowling. The last thing you want is your ball continuing to absorb oil that you hadn’t removed from the last time you bowled.

National Bowling Academy offers a free video on How to Clean a Bowling Ball for Peak Performance that every bowler should watch to help keep their bowling ball’s performance at its best. Even if you ritually wipe off your ball in between shots and clean it after every time you bowl, the ball will need resurfacing around 50 – 60 games of use.

Your local pro shop can help you out with this or if you are more of a do it your selfer, Creating the Difference offers “The Clear Basic Package Ball Restoration.

The dry towel rule is designed to keep the integrity of the sport intact. Following the tips outlined in this article will keep you compliant in USBC Certified Leagues and Tournaments.

Share tips, start a discussion or ask one of our experts or other students a question.

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32 Responses to “Dry Towel Rule Change”

  1. stephan

    i was cleaning my ball before practice a bowler went crazy on me told me i aim not allowed to clean my ball i did not even throw a ball or even have my bowling shoes on this guy went nuts what is the proper rule

  2. Warren Jung

    During league or competition play, does the dry towel rule change also apply to any ball that is in your bag and not been used. In other words do the balls in your bag are also under this rule? The reason for the questions, during league play a person was cleaning a ball from his bag and said that is was allowed because it hadn’t been used yet. I disagreed, but he was adamant that I was wrong. Please provide a clarification. Thanks!

  3. Stark Thomas

    Can a bowler in competition hold a rag in bowling hand under the ball while bowling?


    I had a bowler last night through their first ball and leave a 10 pin, the bowler then picked up their spare ball to throw at the 10 pin but cleaned the ball before throwing (ball had not been used in competition yet). Was this bowler allowed to clean their spare ball before throwing?

  5. Poll

    During League Play If I go out to the car and get a extra ball can I put that ball into play

  6. Poll

    If I switch balls during leagur Play and I clean that ball can I still use it

  7. Ben Surles

    If I bring a new ball into play from my locker and clean it before I use it on the lanes..can I use it..

  8. Ron

    So i literally like my fingers everything i pick up the ball before wiping it off while in the settee area. Is this illegal as well.

  9. Edward

    This rule needs adjusting. Last week in league play the lane machinery put crap on my ball the could not be removed by only a towel. I had to change to a completely different ball for half the game.

  10. Harry Ebach

    A dry bag, can that be tapped on thumb hole?