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Why Do You Have to Wear Bowling Shoes to Bowl? Is It Mandatory?

This image is of a pair of tri-colored bowling shoes with one shoe sitting on top of the other at an angle. As it relates to why do you have to wear bowling shoes, bowling centers require it for safety.

When you head to a bowling center, one of the first things you’ll have to do is rent a pair of bowling shoes. Wearing street shoes are prohibited on the bowling lanes. To many, they’re ugly, uncomfortable, and super slippery, but pretty much every bowling alley makes you wear them.

Have you ever wondered why that is? If you’re curious about bowling shoes and what they do, read until the end. In this article, we’ll dive into why do you have to wear bowling shoes and tell you a little more about them.

Why Do You Have to Wear Bowling Shoes

Bowling shoes keep you safe and prevent scuff marks and debris on the bowling floor and approach area. In addition to keeping things clean, bowling shoes help stave off wear and tear and keep the alley in good condition.

They prevent customers from transferring dirt and mud onto the lane, minimizing how often it needs to be cleaned.

Another reason for wearing bowling shoes is that they help prevent falling and injuring your ankles, feet, knees, and back. When you wear regular shoes, there’s a chance that they will stick to the floor.

When your shoes get stuck while you’re propelling your ball forward, there’s a chance you will trip over your feet and drop the ball or stumble across the foul line. You can injure yourself and the people nearby if you lose control of the heavy bowling ball.

Bowling tip #11 Why wear bowling shoes?

Can You Wear Regular Shoes for Bowling?

Unfortunately, you can’t wear your regular shoes for bowling. If everyone wore their street shoes onto the bowling lanes, they would track in all kinds of debris.

The lanes would get sticky, slippery, or overrun with minor tripping hazards.

Some shoes can also create small chips and dents on the floor. While you can’t wear regular shoes when you go bowling, you can bring your pair of bowling shoes and wear those. All bowling alleys have rental shoes available if you don’t have your own.

It’s easy to overlook, but bowling in bowling shoes rather than your shoes helps keep you and the bowling alley safe and helps to improve your bowling performance.

This image indicates a tripping hazard that is yellow with black trimming. As it relates to bowling, bowling alleys require special shoes to prevent tripping hazards from abruptly stopping with the plant leg and needing to slide into the release to prevent injuries. If extra slide is needed, you can wear a shoe covers.

Are Bowling Shoes Safe?

One of the biggest questions is whether or not bowling shoes are safe. Although it’s rare, picking up a bacterial or viral disease from a pair of bowling shoes is possible.

However, the shoes would first have to be worn by someone with an active infection on their foot with no socks. The shoes would then have to make their way to you without being sanitized, and you’d have to wear them without socks.

Lastly, you’d probably need an open cut on your foot for the bacteria or virus to be able to enter your body.

Most people can use bowling shoes without any issues. Make sure you either wear socks or bring a fresh pair and wash them as soon as you get home. You can also bring a travel-sized bottle of disinfectant spray with you to put your mind at ease.

If you’re a frequent or dedicated bowler, you might even want to consider buying your bowling shoes!

How Do Bowling Alleys Disinfect Shoes?

You’ll be happy to find out that bowling alleys sanitize bowling shoes in between uses. Most bowling alleys spray your shoes with disinfectant immediately after you return them to the front desk.

It’s the quickest and least expensive option, although some bowling alleys disinfect shoes using other means. Some bowling alleys even shine a UV light onto the shoes to look for evidence of bacteria.

However, this is rare due to time constraints. Regardless of your bowling alley’s methods, be assured knowing rented bowling shoes are regularly disinfected.

What Are Bowling Shoes Made Of?

Bowling shoes are completely flat on the bottom, with no heel. They are typically made of leather and rubber and have synthetic laces.

The leather is exceptionally durable, and the rubber soles are meant to recreate the slickness of the bowling lane. Unlike most other shoes, the underpad of bowling shoes have a slide sole that helps you bowl with a fluid gliding motion.

This image shows underneath my own bowling shoes - a brunswick bowling shoe with a slide sole and a rubber bottom.

Do Bowling Shoes Make a Difference?

You might be surprised that bowling shoes affect your game tremendously and can improve your bowling average! Bowling shoes enhance your performance by providing the perfect amount of slip for your game.

They allow you to follow through with your release rather than tripping or getting caught on the floor. The high slip creates a smoother overall motion, which helps you better control the direction of your ball.

Why Are Bowling Shoes Slippery?

When many people wear bowling shoes for the first time, they are surprised to find out how slippery the soles are. Although a slippery sole feels like a falling hazard, the smooth, slick surface is mandatory if you want a smooth release. That fluid range of motion ensures you can propel your bowling ball with the control and power you want.  

Have trouble picturing it? You’re supposed to follow through with the motion when you swing your arm forward to roll your bowling ball. Your arm should keep moving forward even after your ball is on its way down the lane.

By following through, you maintain your balance and avoid the slight trajectory changes that can occur if your arm suddenly stops. The slip bowling shoes allow your entire body to follow through with the motion of your roll.

Pros and Cons of Wearing Bowling Shoes

Not convinced that bowling shoes are all they are cracked up to be? Well, we’ve got some more information to consider. Keep reading to learn the advantages and disadvantages of wearing bowling shoes.


Though they can be a bummer, bowling shoes carry some benefits you may not have considered. The following is a list of all the benefits of wearing bowling shoes.

  • You don’t have to worry about damaging, stretching, or ruining your street shoes. The bowling shoes take all the wear and tear.   
  • Wearing bowling shoes can help you play better by allowing a smoother follow-through or glide.
  • Because bowling shoes are specially made for use on the surface of the bowling lane, you’re less like to trip over your feet when you roll the ball. 
  • Most bowling alleys have a sanitation protocol for cleaning bowling shoes. Sanitizing the shoes helps to minimize the risk of disease transmission. 


While bowling shoes provide many benefits, they aren’t without drawbacks. We want to give you a balanced perspective, so here are some of the worst aspects of wearing bowling shoes.

  • Bowling shoes don’t always come in the width that you need. The wrong shoe width can make for an uncomfortable shoe-wearing experience. 
  • You have to pay to use bowling shoes, which adds to your overall bowling expense. Most of the time, bowling shoe rentals are inexpensive, but if you’re strapped for cash, this may be an issue. 
  • Bowling shoes have slippery soles, so you might have difficulty maintaining your balance at first. Though, you will get used to it over time. 
  • Shared bowling shoes can be unsanitary, depending on how well your bowling alley cleans them. Not every bowling alley shoe attendant is diligent about keeping the shoes clean. 
Why you should check your bowling shoes and the approach before bowling.

Can I Bowl in Socks?

You should wear socks during bowling

No, you can bowl in socks.

Wearing socks only is strictly prohibited on the lane. It may be entertaining for all of 40 seconds but it’s not worth it.

Bowling with socks 🙁

Can You Bowl Barefoot?

What is a torn anterior cruciate ligament acl

No, you can not bowl barefoot in tenpin bowling.

You should always bowl in bowling shoes with socks. Barefoot bowlers may come to an abrupt stop in their approach due to the grip of their feet on the slick floor, resulting in injury and a pricey ambulance ride.

Live Rescue: The Barefoot Bowler (Season 2) | A&E

What Is The USBC Bowling Shoes Rule?

Improve your bowling score by improving your stance, approach and release

According to the USBC Playing Rule Book 22-23, Rule 12: “Approaches must not be defaced detracting from the possibility of other players having normal conditions is prohibited.”

Including the application of any foreign substances on the approach.

Improperly applying talcum powder, pumice, soapstone, rosin, or any other foreign substance on the shoes causing the substance to be transferred to the approach.

Soft rubber soles or heels that rub off on the approach changes its normal conditions.

So, what exactly does this mean?

Bowlers’ Expectation: The approach area has a purpose for bowlers. This is the area a bowler sets themselves, align with their target, walk, balance themselves on one leg, plant their feet and/or slide while they swing/release the bowling ball. A bowler does this with a high and trusting level of expectation that the approach area conditions will remain consistent throughout the bowling game.

So, bowlers must not put any foreign substances on the approach. How would this happen? Easily by the shoes.

How can applying something to the bottom of a shoe affect the approach area? If a bowler made the approach extra slippery (putting powder on the bottom of their shoes) or now the approach has more grip (leaving scuff marks or scratches due to something improperly applied to the bottom of the shoes) the approach conditions are now defaced. because of a previous bowler.

Scuff marks from outdoor sneakers and soft bottom shoes and scrapes from heels leave marks on the approach and are prohibited per USBC Rule 12.

The common denominator in Rule 12 is the shoes. To control the conditions of the approach, keeping it consistent and safe for all bowlers, the type of shoes allowed on the approach must be consistent. Hence, bowling shoes are required for the safety of everyone, the person who bowls after you and the person who bowls before you.

Slippery bowling lane

Related Articles

Your local bowling alley is the perfect setting for a fun night out. A clean bowling area and approach and the need to wear shoes specific to bowling lanes are just part of the experience!

Even though they aren’t great to look at, bowling shoes are safe, effective, and can help prevent injury. They might even help to elevate your game to the next level.

We hope this article has explained everything you wanted to know about bowling shoes and why you have to wear them.