10 Things That Everyone Should Know About Lane Conditioners

There has been a lot of scuttlebutt written about the bowling ball evolution. The dramatic changes in cover-stocks, weight blocks, drilling techniques, ball reaction, you name it. What about lane conditioners? Bowlers are quick to take credit for when they bowl well and in some cases rightfully so, but we all know that when they have an off night it's seldom the bowlers fault…..it's the LANE CONDITIONS! Believe me, I'm a long-time bowler myself and I am just as guilty as the next guy. So why isn't there more information explaining the TRUTH about lane conditioners?

Today's products have numerous additives, varying viscosities, different levels of surface tension, and many other components to give oil companies reasons to proclaim that their product "Holds Up Longer", and "Doesn't Carry Down." This is all fine and dandy, but what does it all mean. The following is a list of ten very important things that everyone should know about lane conditioners. We will talk about what everything really is and why it is important when choosing or applying a particular lane conditioner. Hopefully this will help clear up some of the confusion that surrounds this mysterious invisible substance.

1. Solvent Based / 100% Solids / High Performance

Solvent Based conditioners were developed in the 40's and used primarily during the rubber and plastic bowling ball era. Some are still being manufactured and used in bowling centers today. The basic idea was that solvents would be added to the mineral oil base which would help break down dirt and aid in the cleaning process. This was very important at that time because most centers were only cleaning anywhere from once a week, once a month, or never, but who can blame them really when they were doing it by hand.

100% Solid conditioners were simply a progression to having no solvents in the formula. This was brought upon by the urethane bowling ball era and technically can be used to define most lane conditioners in production today. From the mid 80's to the mid 90's, products contained anywhere from 4-8 components with mineral oil being the main one usually accounting for about 98% of most formulas.

High Performance conditioners are becoming more popular and necessary in centers now to help combat the aggressive bowling balls. The ultimate goal of these products is to minimize change in ball reaction and maximize application consistency. The percentage of mineral oil can be as low as 75% in some formulas with the total number of components reaching the 14-16 range. These new components or additives (which we will explain later) are items such as friction modifiers and lubricity agents.

One important thing to note here is that conditioners have evolved as well. Most of our bowlers are not throwing the same bowling balls they did when older conditioners were made so it is imperative that we "Maintain Par" and move towards using products that are designed specifically for today's environment.

2. Viscosity

Definition - The measure of the internal friction of a fluid. This friction becomes apparent when a layer of a fluid is made to move in relation to another. The greater the friction, the greater amount of force required to cause this movement, which is called "shear." Highly viscous fluids therefore, require more force to move than less viscous materials. Also, the unit of measurement for viscosity is the centipoise (cps).

Importance – There are some very important things to know about viscosity. With older conditioner technology, higher viscosity generally equated to a “hookier” conditioner while lower viscosity generally equated to a “slicker” conditioner. Fancy lubricity additives and friction modifiers (which we’ll discuss later) have made this old generality untrue. Viscosity isn’t nearly as important as it once was. It still has value though; higher viscosity conditioners won’t work well; if at all; in a wick machine. And, higher viscosity conditioners may require some adjustments to pressure regulating tubing in some lane machines.

Viscosity & Lane conditioners

  • Second Most Important component of a lane conditioner

  • Lower viscosity conditioners flow better and more consistently through wicks

  • New additives lower the importance of viscosity

3. Surface Tension

Definition - Surface tension is a study of how well a liquid wets a solid. This is a pretty technical section so I'll do my best to keep it simple.

Most manufacturers check surface tension in relation to air. That is the number that is given on the certificate of analysis.

It can also be measured by internal liquid/solid interaction. What that means to you and me is how well a conditioner recovers, or "Self Healing", when a ball rolls through it. The goal being that the conditioner will flow back together once the ball travels through the conditioner.

Surface Tension is also directly related to surface energy. All lane surfaces have a surface energy that can be different from surface to surface and by the conditioners and cleaners applied to it. Let me give you an example:

If you apply wax to the surface of your car the water will bead up and not "wet" your hood. The energy of the hood was changed and you will protect the paint because the water will not penetrate.

Our goal with lane conditioner is the exact opposite. We don't want the conditioner to bead up, we want it to lye down and form a bond to the surface. This helps create durability and also helps enhance the self-healing characteristics.

Importance - Studies are being done now on this topic that will help us gain some valuable ground on today's bowling balls. There are also complimentary studies testing the relationship with conditioners and bowling ball cover-stocks. The perfect lane conditioner is one that likes the lane and not the ball giving us ultimate durability. I hear the Trojan horse is on its way.

4. Temperature

Effects on Lane Conditioner - I can't say enough of how important temperature is to lane conditioners. Many people have their theories about how lane conditions change when the weather changes so we decided to get some hard facts.

In early 1997, we conducted several tests to see how much conditioners changed when the temperature was raised or lowered. What we found was eye-opening. The viscosity of some conditioners changed 2 cps (centipoises) for every 1ºF of temperature change. That means if you start with a 20cps (viscosity) conditioner and the temperature drops from 80 ºF to 70ºF, the viscosity of that conditioner would be 40cps. This is not true for all lane conditioners. Some only change 1cp for every 2º F of temperature change. That is only 25% the change as some of the others, BUT regardless of how much they change it's important to know that all of them do.

  • Temperature affects the molecules of lane conditioners by causing them to slow down when cold or speed up when hot. Think of water turning to ice and water boiling.

  • Temperature will affect the viscosity, which in turn also changes the flow rate through wicks.

  • When the viscosity of the conditioner is changed the ball reaction will also be different as a result.

  • The capillaries in most wicks will shrink up when it gets colder restricting flow.


  • Keep the lane conditioner in a temperature controlled environment. (Office, Front Desk, or wherever the temperature is constant)

  • Keep the lane machine in a temperature controlled environment so the machine functions properly as well. We understand that this may not be possible in all situations so you can look for other solutions like an electric blanket or a space heater to keep the machine warm.

5. Order of Addition

Definition - The order of which ingredients are combined in a formula to create a desired result.

This is just a little inside information to share about the sensitivity of lane conditioners. If I was given the ingredients to one of today's conditioners, not only what was in the formula, but also how much of each, I still would have no shot at making the product.

The order and timing in which the components are added together is equally as important as the components themselves. When mixing a cocktail the order is always: ice, liquor, and then mixer. If we poured the liquor in a drink last what would happen? The liquor would float on the mixer. This is simply because the density of the mixer is usually greater than the liquor.

The main thing to understand is that there is more actual "chemistry", not just "mixing" taking place with today's products.

Tip: Leave the mixing to the chemists. Some centers are mixing different conditioners with some success, BUT we do not advise doing so based on the technical make-up of conditioners today.

6. Additives

Definition - The components added to a lane conditioner formula to enhance performance and to create desirable changes to the physical properties.

There are many things that we expect from our chosen lane conditioner. We expect it to be slick, but not too slick because of ball calls. We expect durability, but some breakdown for the lanes to open up. We also expect the infamous, "NO CARRY DOWN." Trust me, if you see a company's ad saying their oil does not carry down, don't believe it. If it's liquid, it moves. ALL OILS CARRY DOWN.

However, different additives are used to minimize the carry down and create an illusion so the ball doesn't see what the eyes do. That means some conditioners use a tacky mineral oil so ball reaction doesn't change when oil is carried down.

Some of the additives used are:

  • Friction Modifiers - Designed to reduce friction

  • Viscosity Modifiers - Designed to change the viscosity

  • Flow Agents - Used to enhance the flow properties of a conditioner through wicks.

  • Lubricity Agents - A spin-off of the friction modifier to enhance the lubricity of a conditioner

  • Surfactants - Short for "Surface Active Agents." These additives change how a conditioner "wets" or spreads out on the lane. They also control how well a lane conditioner flows back together when a ball rolls through.

7. Quality Assurance

Definition - Quality procedures that aim to PREVENT non-conformities.

I think every mechanic will raise their hand when asked the question, "Have you ever had a bad jug of Oil?" Unfortunately, this job continues to get more difficult by the day.

All lane conditioners are made with raw materials and various additives. Mineral Oil is a true Raw Material whereas most additives are made by chemical manufacturers by other raw materials.

Here's the process when lane conditioner is different:

  • The bowler complains to the mechanic or manager.

  • The mechanic or manager complains to the distributor.

  • The distributor complains to the manufacturer.

  • The manufacturer complains to the raw material manufacturer.

  • The raw material manufacturer complains to the ground.

Who's to Blame? Manufacturers today are forced to test all raw materials before they are used in production. Adjustments are commonly made to the overall formula to compensate for any changes in the materials.

Think about manufacturing lane conditioner like making your favorite recipe. Let's say that favorite dish is Lasagna. One of the main ingredients in lasagna is meat. If the meat you purchased last time had more salt in it than the meat you purchased for this batch of Lasagna you would be forced to add more salt so the dish tastes the same.

I know this example may seem like a stretch, and making lane conditioner is much harder than making lasagna, but in many ways they are the same. Chemists and Cooks are constantly trying different ingredients in search for the magic recipe. In relation to Quality Assurance, they both have to test and make sure that all the ingredients are the same before using and make adjustments to compensate for inconsistencies.

8. Quality Control

Definition - Quality procedures that aim to "DETECT" non-conformities.

Quality Control is an equally important procedure as Quality Assurance. Its role is to detect any non-conformities or changes in the product after it has been manufactured. These include a series of tests to check the viscosity, weight, surface tension, UV additive, and flow rate.

Some manufactures also use a variety of on-lane tests that ensure ball reaction and breakdown is the same as well. This is basically a big giant "DOUBLE CHECKING" of the finished product before it is shipped.

Continuing on the food theme this can be viewed as the taste test before a meal is served. Together QA and QC perform a specific and very important role. They guarantee that a finished product is exactly what it's supposed to be.

Tip: Find out what procedures your manufacturer uses for QA and QC. Make sure that you feel confident that your chosen brand is doing everything it takes to ensure product consistency.

9. Shelf Life

Definition - The amount of time determined by a manufacturer that their product must be used by in order to guarantee satisfaction and consistency.

We've already explained that mineral oil is the main component in lane conditioners. Mineral oil alone has a very long shelf life. Because the newer conditioners use less mineral oil to make room for other components the shelf life is not as long, ranging from 12 to 18 months.

Think about the shelf life of common food items such as milk and bread. When the ingredients are exposed to air they will deteriorate and lose their originality at a faster rate.

When raw materials are used for lane conditioners, they too are taken out of their natural state and exposed to air. This simple fact has forced the manufactures to advertise a shelf life in order to guarantee product consistency.

Tip: Find out what the published shelf life is on whatever conditioner you are using and follow that recommendation. Usually you can find the manufactured date somewhere on the container or packaging. If you're unable to locate it, or can't understand the numbers contact the manufacturer for assistance.

10. Environment

Definition - The set of circumstances that exist in your bowling center(s).

Finally we get to the big question; how do you know what conditioner is right for you or how do you properly apply the one you are currently using? The answer is…..Understand the circumstances that make up the ENVIRONMENT in your center. Here is a checklist of the items that determine conditioner selection and application:

  • Lane Machine Type

  • Lane Conditioner Type (Existing)

  • Lane Cleaner Type (Existing)

  • Dilution Ratio

  • Pattern and Cleaner Settings

  • Type of Surface

  • Condition of Surface (Be Honest!)

  • Topography (If Known)

  • What type of bowlers do you have in your center?

  • Where are your bowlers used to playing?

  • What are you looking to achieve by changing conditioner or your pattern?

These criteria will help guide you towards the solution. I wish I could tell you that there is a magic lane conditioner, but there isn't. I wish I could tell you that there is a magic lane pattern, but there isn't.

The best advice I can give would be to call the experts for help. Most manufacturers have one or more trained technicians on staff to help with this problem. For years, bowling centers have struggled with lane conditions independently trying to figure out this complicated problem with limited information.

Now there are places that are collecting data about many different situations to help bowling centers not make the same mistakes that another center has already made.

In conclusion, I don't think that the natural tendency of bowlers to look elsewhere for poor performance will ever change. But by gaining more knowledge on your part you can feel more comfortable when you say;