Synthetic Approach Maintenance

Let’s face it; approach maintenance can be a sticky, or slippery, business. There is a fine line to walk when trying to keep the approaches as consistent as possible. Some products offer too much slide causing bowlers to slip while other products can leave behind films and tacky residues that could cause bowlers to stick. Both scenarios are a recipe for disaster that could lead a bowler to an unplanned “Machuga Flop”. And while a flop can be funny, we all know it can hurt and it’s uber embarrassing. But, what is a bowling center to do? How can you maintain the delicate balance of not too slick and not too sticky? We’ve got the answers to your approach maintenance questions.

Some history

Before there were synthetic approaches, all approaches were made of wood and coated with a finish that allowed for proper slide. The only real maintenance to be done to these approaches was the occasional spot cleaning for spills and sticky marks and daily dusting. Then, once every year or so, the approach needed to be sanded and recoated to “refresh” the finish. Wooden approaches have a fairly even slide as long as the finish isn’t worn down. Once the finish started to wear, the approach could be spotty. Generally though, this was just an indication that it was time to refinish the approaches.

Synthetic approaches were introduced when synthetic lanes were introduced. Synthetic approaches were virtually maintenance-free since they eliminated the need for refinishing - or so it was thought. Synthetic approaches came with their own set of problems.

Think of synthetic approaches like your kitchen countertops; not the granite, marble, Corian, and fancy varietals, but the Formica and laminate variety. Layers of materials are pressed or bonded together and an outer layer with the approach image is pressed or bonded to the top. The top layer on which a bowler will slide is often textured and porous. This means dirt and residues can get into those tiny pores and cause build-up. It also means that repeated sliding in the middle of the approach can wear down the texture and cause inconsistencies in the slide-ability of the approach from the middle to the sides.

Because of these issues, a variety of different products and procedures have been developed to help bowling centers maintain their approaches. And what was once billed as an approach that was basically maintenance-free has now become even higher maintenance.

So what’s the right way to maintain synthetic approaches?

If I were to ask 50 different people the proper way to maintain the approach, I’d likely get many different answers. There would be variations of cleaning techniques that used various cleaners and solutions and even just hot water. There would be dust mops, wet mops, buffers, and spot cleaners. The only consistent thing would be that bowlers still complain and the approaches are inconsistent. It’s a vicious and never-ending cycle.

Synthetic approaches require temperature and humidity control. I did some digging, well, Googling, and I found that humidity over 50% can cause approaches to be tacky. We all know tacky isn’t good when trying to slide. To combat this, having some temperature control in the bowling center is absolutely necessary. Additionally, having circulation that pulls or pushes moist air away from the lanes/approaches can help keep moisture from the air from settling onto the approach. The optimal humidity is around 40%.

Dusting the approaches is a necessary task. Dust can settle on the approach and get embedded in the pores. Aside from just causing the approach to look dirty, dust can cause inconsistent slide-ability as well. Dust can cause approaches to be slick and, well, too slick is just as bad as too tacky.

Spills happen

It’s important to clean the spills and wipe away residues. Lane conditioner, soda, beer, and an infinite number of other materials can be spilled on the approaches and every one of them can cause sliding issues. When something is spilled on the approach, wipe it up as soon as possible with a clean, dry cloth. Use a weak dilution of cleaner to remove any sticky liquids. Go back over the area with another clean towel and some IPA (isopropyl alcohol). IPA is very good for removing sticky residues and leaves no residue behind of its own. It isn’t a “cleaner” but it will help remove sticky residues.

Clean those carpets and floors!

The carpets and flooring areas around the bowler’s circles must be kept clean as well. Wax from tiles and residues from carpets and carpet treatments can stick to shoes and can easily be tracked onto the approach. It’s just as important to keep the non-bowling areas clean as it is to keep the bowling areas clean. And, be careful what products you choose for cleaning. Many cleaning products leave behind residues and, as I said before, the residues can easily be tracked onto the approach.

The quest for consistency...

When all of this is done, sometimes you still need some help getting consistent slide on your approaches. There are many products on the market designed to help you with this. Unfortunately, so many of the products available have their own sets of issues. When sprayed, they can get on the lane surface and cause issues with the lane conditioner and pattern.

Dust type products can leave dust residue on the lane and the residue can settle in nearby areas. Some products have to be used very sparingly or the approach can end up being too slick. Some products work great when you first use them, but then after a couple of games, the approach is inconsistent again because the product has “worn off” in the slide area leaving the outsides slick and the slide area tacky.

All of this can be a big frustration. And, it’s one of the common complaints that we hear when dealing with approach questions. People just want a process that is simple and they just want the approaches to be consistent. In fact, I’ve heard from many bowlers that they wouldn’t mind the approaches being a little on the slick side or even a little on the tacky side as long as the approaches could be consistent from the ten pin side to the seven pin side. Bowlers can adjust for a little more slide or a little more stick. But, it’s nearly impossible to adjust when there isn’t any consistency across the approach.

To sum it up, synthetic approach maintenance can be tricky. It can be time consuming and tedious. And, with all of the approach maintenance products available, it can be downright overwhelming. But, the good news is, it doesn’t have to be. Giving your bowlers consistent approaches doesn’t have to be such a mind-boggling task. You can give your bowlers the left-to-right consistency they want on a day-to-day basis with Balance, Kegel’s new synthetic approach maintenance product. To learn more about Balance, click here.