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:

      -Powder
      -Rosin
      -Marker
      -Paint

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.

Discussion
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57 Responses to “Dry Towel Rule Change”
  1. Steven

    I think the inability to change the surface of a ball during competition is dumb. A bowler can have the exact same model ball with the same exact drilling but each ball can have a different progressive surface grit and he can at any time switch between them to get the best read of the lane. But it is illegal to just have one ball and adjust its surface during play to stay matched up to the lane. Wow, that’s dumb. It almost seems like a rule made up by the ball manufacturers to assure more balls would be purchased.

    Reply
    • Paul Lyden

      Hey Steven I see where you are coming from I’m not one that can afford 2-3 or more of the same bowling balls to have a different surface on each of them.

      I look at it like this though when a bowler sands cleans or polishes the ball in the middle of a game this introduces a foreign element to the lane, the grit from sanding down the ball can dry the oil, the polish could rub off at the breakpoint creating a skid zone and cleaner could potentially soak up the oil. All of these change the lane conditions rapidly and make it unfair for the bowlers not having issues.

      Reply
    • Janee Babbitt

      Steven. That’s why you have balls with a different surface and layout. Why would want to have 1 ball and keep changing the surface. A golfer doesn’t use 1 club when he golfs. If you are a serious bowler, you need to have 2 or 3 balls with different layouts and surface. Not all lane conditions are the same.

      Reply
    • Pete

      Can you clean your ball between games or do you have wait till the complete set is finished?

      Reply
      • Customer Service

        Dear Pete,

        This is what the experts had to say:

        Hello and thanks for the question.

        You can no longer clean the bowling ball between games.

        You can clean it before/after competition including practice time. You can also alter the surface of the bowling before/after and during practice time.

        Competition occurs when bowling for score begins.

        Thanks for watching!

        Jason
        National Bowling Academy

        Reply
  2. John

    Who is going to enforce this in a league-League Officers?
    what is the penalty if the bowler refuses to remove ball from play?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi John,

      Thank you for being patient while I asked the experts, here is the response:

      League officers generally enforce rules.

      Disqualification will be enforced in the case of a bowler that refuses to remove a ball upon the request of league officers.

      Thanks for watching.

      Jason
      National Bowling Academy

      Reply
    • Jon C

      The new rule on cleaning of a ball during competition if you in between games you should be aloud to clean the surface at that point your not in competition your prepping for competition

      Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Bob,
      Thank you for contacting us.

      The ‘Ask an Expert’ section is currently for members to our online community. We do have a promotional offer if you are interested. This would include access to expert advice (like this), plus discounts, hours of Premium videos, etc. Please feel free to take a look. You can email us right back with your question if you decide to become a member and you will have a response within 1-2 business days from our experts!
      Please follow the steps below to receive the annual membership at the introductory rate of $2.99:
      1. Click on the email link: https://go.nationalbowlingacademy.com/c18166
      2. Click on the Premium Membership offer.
      3. The Checkout page will display your Premium Membership purchase.
      4. Fill in your Billing Details and create an account password.
      5. Fill in your debit/credit card information.
      6. Finish by clicking Complete Order.
      If you have any further questions, please contact Customer Service at 1-855-208-7395, at your earliest convenience, or chat with us on our site.
      We greatly appreciate your business!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  3. Kevin

    One of the places I bowl at is notorious for having gummy residue coming back on the bowling balls that can only be removed with alcohol or something similar. According to this rule, approval will have to be obtained for cleaning the substance off. That shouldn’t add more than an hour or so to our league play time! Ridiculous rule!

    Reply
    • Tim

      In my one league we delegated it to the team captains to allow on their pair. to avoid chasing down a League Officer.

      Reply
  4. Ron Ristau

    Does this pertain to any USBC sanctioned league, or just in “high end” competition?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Ron,

      Thank you for your patience while I reached out to the experts on this, here is the response:

      Hello and thanks for the question.

      This rule change pertains to all USBC sanctioned leagues and tournaments.

      Thanks for watching.

      Jason
      National Bowling Academy

      Reply
  5. Roger Guard

    I am OK with the dry towel rule. Since that is all I have ever used(Old School). But riddle me this. What happens if you pull tape out of your thumb hole and some of the adhesive stays in the hole. What can you do since I don’t use switch grips. Remember old school. Thank you

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Roger,
      Thank you for contacting us.

      The ‘Ask an Expert’ section is currently for members to our online community. We do have a promotional offer if you are interested. This would include access to expert advice (like this), plus discounts, hours of Premium videos, etc. Please feel free to take a look. You can email us right back with your question if you decide to become a member and you will have a response within 1-2 business days from our experts!

      Please follow the steps below to receive the annual membership at the introductory rate $2.99:
      1. Click on the email link: https://go.nationalbowlingacademy.com/c18166
      2. Click on the Premium Membership offer.
      3. The Checkout page will display your Premium Membership purchase.
      4. Fill in your Billing Details and create an account password.
      5. Fill in your debit/credit card information.
      6. Finish by clicking Complete Order.
      If you have any further questions, please contact Customer Service at 1-855-208-7395, at your earliest convenience, or chat with us on our site.
      We greatly appreciate your business!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply
    • KEN SIMMONS

      Unless your thumb hole is subject to “prolapse” when going down the lane, you shouldn’t worry about “tape glue” INSIDE the thumb hole “migrating, etc.” to the ball and/or lane surfaces.

      Reply
    • epickett

      That wouldn’t be affected by the new rule. You wouldn’t be affecting the SURFACE of the ball, just the thumb hole. You can add/remove tape, sand the thumb/finger hole, and that won’t run afoul of that rule.

      Reply
    • Robert Kokrda

      Roger, the rule applies to the surface of the ball, not the internals of the drilled holes. You may clean residual adhesive, remove tape, or add tape to your thumb hole as needed during competition without penalty.

      Reply
    • J. J. Nemec

      Adhesive IN the thumb hole is NOT on the surface of the ball. It would have no affect on the ball or the lane. If you want to clean the thumb hole with alcohol…you can. Just be careful not to touch the surface of the ball 😁

      Reply
    • Mary

      Cleaners labeled (can use anytime) are no longer allowed, only before or after bowling.

      Reply
    • epickett

      Those substances are now illegal DURING competition. Sounds like somebody didn’t pay their licensing fee or something…

      Reply
      • Joe

        Not so. The rule’s effective date happened well after major ball
        Cleaner companies had already produced large quantities of approved cleaner. These companies are not going to recall thousands of bottles of cleaner from pro shops all across the USA, just to relabel them “approved for use before or after competition only.”

        Reply
        • Craig

          By the NEW Rule even if it says “can be use any time” it is still not allowed if used the ball used on is now out of play.

          Reply
  6. Neil Allen

    I like the rule. There were bowlers who used the old “during play” rule to dramatically change the lane conditions. Just play the game.

    Reply
  7. Warren

    Steven makes an excellent point. There are league bowlers who have 5 or 6 different balls they bring into the center for league play. While most are not the same ball drilled the same way with slightly different surfaces, the rule has the potential to create issues with those bowlers who have 1 or 2 balls, vs those who have a larger cache to choose from.

    As to the cleaning issue, I don’t have an issue with it for the most part. Except, the ball return machinery will leave a big grease spot on your ball if it gets stuck somewhere along the way. That has happened more than once to me over the course of a league night. It is very very annoying and disruptive when said grease spot appears on the ball track.

    Reply
    • jim gordon

      It has always been illegal to alter the surface of the ball during play, so those with several balls of differing surfaces have always held that advantage – that did not change. The thing that changed was not allowing any surface substances such as cleaners to be used except under the previously stated special circumstances.

      Reply
      • Customer Service

        Dear Jim,

        Thank you for contacting us.

        Here is the answer form the experts.

        Hello and thanks for the question.

        You can no longer clean the bowling ball between games.

        You can clean it before/after competition including practice time. You can also alter the surface of the bowling before/after and during practice time.

        Competition occurs when bowling for score begins.

        Thanks for watching!

        Jason
        National Bowling Academy

        Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Dick,

      Thank you for contacting us.

      Here is what another member had to say on it:

      That wouldn’t be affected by the new rule. You wouldn’t be affecting the SURFACE of the ball, just the thumb hole. You can add/remove tape, sand the thumb/finger hole, and that won’t run afoul of that rule.

      If you have any other concerns, please contact us at 1-855-208-7395, or chat with us on our site.

      We greatly appreciate your business!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply
      • Kurt Wagner

        When is a ball considered to be in “competition? After it has been thrown down a lane during league play? If so, then before it is used in league play, you should be allowed to do whatever you want to that ball. Once you have rolled a ball during league play nothing should be allowed to alter the surface of the ball.

        Reply
        • Customer Service

          HI Kurt,

          Thank you for your patience while I got the answer form the experts, here is the answer:

          Hello and thanks for the question.

          You can no longer clean the bowling ball between games.

          You can clean it before/after competition including practice time. You can also alter the surface of the bowling before/after and during practice time.

          Competition occurs when bowling for score begins.

          Thanks for watching!

          Jason
          National Bowling Academy

          Reply
      • Lynd

        A clarification please?
        Typically, getting rosin into the finger holes involves patting the rosin bag on the ball over the holes, then wiping the excess off the surface of the ball. Wouldn’t that violate the rule since rosin is put onto the surface of the ball?

        Reply
        • Customer Service

          Dear Lynd,

          Thank you for contacting us.

          Here is what I have learned about the new rule:

          You can no longer clean the bowling ball between games.
          You can clean it before/after competition including practice time. You can also alter the surface of the bowling ball before/after and during practice time. So I would be very careful while using the rosin.
          Competition occurs when bowling for score begins.

          If you have any other concerns, please contact us at 1-855-208-7395, or chat with us on our site.

          We greatly appreciate your business!

          Sincerely,

          Joan
          National Bowling Academy Video Membership

          Reply
      • John Mitch

        How do you justify this response based on the USBC Rule 18 Q&A number 9 which asks:

        Can I pat my ball with rosin or powder if I wipe the ball before it is delivered? No. Wiping
        the ball with a towel does not make the ball compliant to the rule. Patting a ball with a product is adding
        a foreign substance to the ball and cannot be done during competition. A product can only be applied to
        a bowler’s hand and not leave residue on the surface of the ball.

        Reply
  8. David Stakston

    I still see the PBA bowlers sticking their fingers into a powder bag and the powder eventually ends up on the alleys or approaches. Some PBA bowlers have a big powder bag to dry their hands. I like when the recent PBA winner who gets the personnel hygiene award for putting spit on his shoes soles which eventually ends up on the approaches.

    Reply
  9. Laura

    Is putting powder on my fingers legal? Sometimes my fingers swell so I use powder to help release the ball smoothly.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Laura,

      Thank you for contacting us.

      My understanding is that if it does not affect the ball surface it is ok.

      If you have any other concerns, please contact us at 1-855-208-7395, or chat with us on our site.

      We greatly appreciate your business!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  10. William Beard

    I started a new league last week and by the end of the first game my ball turned from black to gray from all the crude it was picking up. If the house isn’t going to keep the lanes and ball returns clean why should we have to suffer because of this rule? I understand there are bowlers that cheat the system so what’s next?

    Reply
  11. Douglas P. Tice

    It is about time for this rule change. I would like to see it go to also putting such items also in the ball return. If this is on a towel or something else. Does this also alter the change to my bowling ball. This is going to be a new rule to enforce, but it needs to be done!!!!

    Reply
    • Clustelle Henry

      League members and tournament participants are being held to comply with the dry towel rule which I’m okay with. What rule is there to make sure the centers are keeping the ciurtains and ball returns

      Reply
  12. Al Ahlm

    Their should be NO changes of the surface at anytime on the lanes practice or NOT!! Reason behind that is you can sand the crap out your ball during practice session and alter the pattern to your liking and or burn up and spot. At the same time you are leaving particals on the lane because no one is checking to see the ball has been wiped really well after sanding!! Play the pattern as it was meant to be played!!! They did not take this rule far enough…

    Reply
  13. Dale Reichert

    League play results in bowling lane equipment belt marks on my equipment all the time. Do you really mean that I cannot use a USBC approved cleaner to take the marks off? I really think league officers have better things to do than to be bothered about this issue. 90% of these marks are usually in the ball roll line and will affect the ball motion on the lane. Maybe USBC should monitor bowling houses more often to make sure they keep up their equipment. I know of no house that keeps up belt equipment and with new ball surface changes by manufacturers, the problem has gotten out of control.

    Reply
  14. Billy Bob

    Rules do not mention ball that have not been put into competition. Can I pull a ball out of my bag and alter the surface before I put it into play on the lanes?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi Billy,

      Thank you for your patience while I got the answer from the expert, here is what he had to say:

      Hello and thanks for the question.

      You can no longer clean the bowling ball between games.

      You can clean it before/after competition including practice time. You can also alter the surface of the bowling before/after and during practice time.

      Competition occurs when bowling for score begins.

      Thanks for watching!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  15. Tom

    During competition, can a ball that has not been used yet be sanded and/or cleaned before using that ball? So if you’re using one ball and want to switch to another ball that you have not used yet, but want to add some surface to it first, is that allowed?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Tom,

      Thank you for contacting us.

      I have had this question a few times since the rule change, here is what I have found out:

      You can no longer clean the bowling ball between games.

      You can clean it before/after competition including practice time. You can also alter the surface of the bowling before/after and during practice time.

      Competition occurs when bowling for score begins.

      Thanks for watching!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  16. Bob

    IMO it is a silly rule and all of the people using the leaving particles on the lanes as a reason are not thinking things through. If you sand a ball before league you will have particles on the ball and you will leave them on the lanes. A fresh clean ball will absorb oil off the lane. Urethane moves oil down the lane. Lanes change during the session, sometimes they get “faster” and sometimes the get “slower” hence the ball change. People that can afford several balls have an advantage. Again, IMO if they want to try and do what the World Bowling does they limit the number of balls and that makes it very interesting. Need to pick several different layouts and surfaces. Need to educate yourself on the different reactions etc..

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Harry,

      Thank you for contacting us.

      Tape in the thumb hole does nothing to the surface of the ball. My understanding is that it is still allowed.

      We greatly appreciate your business!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply
  17. 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.

    Reply
  18. 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.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Dear Ron,

      Thank you for contacting us.

      Here is what I have learned since the new rule.

      You can no longer clean the bowling ball between games.
      You can clean it before/after competition including practice time. You can also alter the surface of the bowling before/after and during practice time.
      Competition occurs when bowling for score begins.

      If you have any other concerns, please contact us at 1-855-208-7395, or chat with us on our site.

      We greatly appreciate your business!

      Sincerely,

      Joan
      National Bowling Academy Video Membership

      Reply