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How Do Bongs Work, and How Do You Use One?

man smoking marijuana using bongs

Bongs are water pipes used to smoke cannabis. The word “bong” is believed to come from the Thai word “bong” or “baung,” which refers to a cylindrical wooden tube or pipe cut from bamboo trees.

Historically, the bong can be traced back to Thailand, Africa, and some parts of Russia, where it was used to smoke marijuana, tobacco, and other dry herbs.

Today, these smoking devices are primarily used for consuming weed.

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The Anatomy of a Bong

Bongs have come a long way since they were small tubes made from bamboo and other hollow materials. Today, bongs are incredibly well-designed and have numerous features and parts to ensure smooth smoke.

Bowl Piece

The bowl piece is an essential part of your bong. This almost funnel-like glass piece holds the dry herb you’re smoking. Bowls come in different shapes and sizes depending on your bong’s design, complexity, price, and shape. The typical bowl is an indented glass with an opening at the bottom.

Many modern bongs come with in-built glass screens to ensure the flower is not sucked into the bong. This does away with the need for metal screens that don’t last long. Moreover, you can choose the size of the holes in your bowl’s glass screen. The smaller the holes are, the harder it is for stuff to get past the small bowl.

Ash Catcher

The ash catcher does precisely what its name suggests. It is another glass attachment that helps you catch the ash from your weed. This way, ash doesn’t get into your bong water, keeping the smoking experience fresh and enjoyable.

That said, ash catchers do more than catch the ash. Some are designed to help cool the smoke and filter it even further. Inhaling cool smoke is better because it protects your throat from dehydration due to heat.

Ash catchers also regularly collect most of the dark, sticky tar that comes with using a bong. They are also relatively easy to clean.

Down Stem

The down stem is another essential feature of a bong. This piece of the water pipe connects the bowl to the main chamber. The down stem directs all the smoke into the water before you inhale it.

This feature is typically a long piece of glass that can either be fixed or replaced depending on the design of your bong.

Some down stems have a diffuser towards the end to help cool the smoke even more. Others with a more functional design provide suction and pull the smoke into the water chamber.

We recommend buying a bong with a removable down stem. This will make it easier for you to clean all the gunk off or even throw it out and put in another one.


The joint is an extension found on bongs that holds the down stem. Down stems also have a joint at their ends. If you have a bong with a down stem you cannot remove, the bowl piece goes right into the bong’s joint.

There are three standard sizes of joints: 10 mm, 14 mm, and 18 mm. They are classified as either male or female. Female joints are perfect for smoking weed, while male joints are popularly used in dab rigs.

If you have a bong with a removable down stem and joint, make sure the replacements you buy match the size of your bong. Otherwise, they may not fit.


The percolator is a feature of the modern-day bong that filters the smoke even more after it goes through the water in your stem. Different bongs have different percolators, and the designs become even more complex.

The type of percolator you choose will depend on your individual needs: what you’re smoking, how much you smoke, etc. Be careful because bongs with complex percolators may be more challenging to clean than regular bongs.

Ice Pinch

An ice pinch is a feature found close to the mouthpiece of a bong. An ice pinch comprises three spikes of glass, and its function is to hold ice cubes.

The ice cools the hot smoke as it reaches the mouthpiece, making it smoother. This contributes significantly to the overall smoking experience.


The mouthpiece is the part of your bong through which the smoke comes out. Traditionally, this was simply the highest point of the bong, meaning one would have to hunch over the bong to smoke. These days, some of the best bongs have bent necks and angled mouthpieces, making it easy for you to take a big hit comfortably and conveniently.

How Do Bongs Work?

Although there are different designs of bongs, they all generally work the same way and do the same thing. They filter and cool the cannabis smoke before it goes into your lungs.

As we’ve already seen, bongs have bowls for holding dry marijuana flower. When you light the cannabis, it burns and produces smoke. As you inhale, the water bubbles and the smoke rises through the chamber and into your mouth and lungs.

Essentially, bongs allow you to smoke a lot of weed at once and thus get bigger hits of THC at one time.

Download Our Free Guide to THC

Bongs vs. Joints

Many people who use bongs do so because they believe they’re safer than smoking pre-rolled joints. This is because bongs do away with the need for rolling papers and thus prevent you from taking in carbon.

Bongs also give off a cooler and smoother hit, making them less irritating to your throat and lungs. But are bongs better than joints?

Joints are many people’s preferred way of consuming cannabis. Joints are quick to roll, very portable, and light. And even though you can easily find a small bong that’s easy to pack, a lot goes into maintaining a bong. Joints, however, go straight to the bin once you smoke them to the filter tips.

That said, there’s no definitive answer as to which of these smoking methods is best. It’s ultimately subjective and will depend on one’s unique needs.

If you’re having friends over and looking to take big hits and get very high quickly, a bong will come in handy. But if you’re hiking with the dogs, it would make more sense to pack a couple of pre-rolls.

Bongs vs. Pipes

When choosing between a pipe or a bong, the decision lies in convenience, ease of use, smoking habits, and user preference. The main differences between pipes and bongs are size and portability, though both are popular and effective tools for consuming cannabis flower.

Users who prefer a smaller tool or something that works on the go may opt for a pipe, whereas those who need more flower per session or want cleaner smoke may benefit from using a bong.

What Are Pipes?

Pipes are a small, handheld device and a quintessential tool for smoking marijuana. They are one of the best choices for consuming cannabis for convenience and user-friendliness. Generally more affordable and budget-friendly (in case they break), you can purchase a pipe in most dispensaries and any smoke shop.

How Pipes Work

Pipes work by packing a bowl with ground cannabis, lighting the bud with a lighter or hemp wick, and inhaling the resulting smoke through the mouthpiece. There are different types of pipes with various shapes, such as hand pipes or one-hitters (chillums), but they all follow the same basic steps.

How To Use a Pipe

It only takes a few simple steps to smoke out of a pipe, though there are a few handy tips to know when starting:

  1. First, take a small amount of flower and grind it into smaller pieces, or pick it apart with your hands.
  2. Pack the flower into the pipe’s bowl, careful not to overstuff and accidentally restrict airflow.
  3. Holding the pipe in your non-dominant hand, place your thumb over the carb — the small hole on the side of the bowl — and hold a lighter in your dominant hand. If using a hemp wick, use the lighter to light the wick before getting ready to inhale.
  4. Spark the lighter close to the bowl and inhale while keeping your finger on the carb. This will lead smoke into the neck of the pipe and get it ready to inhale.
  5. Once the flower starts to combust, move the flame away from the bowl. Keep the cherry going by inhaling the smoke and adjusting your thumb on and off the carb.
  6. Exhale the smoke and repeat until you’ve finished all the flower in the bowl.

Potential Benefits

Pipes are smaller and more portable smoking devices with many potential benefits to the average consumer. They are made of durable materials, usually thicker glass, so they can last a long time with proper care. They’re typically a lower-cost investment upfront, meaning there’s a lower barrier to entry, or if you lose or break one, it’s less of a loss.

Pipes are more discreet than bongs and more convenient to put away in a drawer or tuck away in a bag than a larger piece of glassware.

Risks and Drawbacks

There aren’t too many risks in purchasing and using a pipe; many are affordable and not too much of a loss if they break. However, buying the cheapest pipe on the shelf can impact the flavor of the smoke, adding a taste of plastic or too-hot smoke if the materials aren’t of the highest quality.

Using a pipe also carries the general risks associated with smoking cannabis, which come part and parcel with smoking combusted plant matter. When flower combusts, the flame’s heat burns off some cannabinoids and terpenes and converts some of the plant into harmful carcinogens. These toxins can harm the throat and lungs, potentially dangerous to those who are immunocompromised or have lung issues.

How to Use a Bong

The smoking process of using a bong is relatively simple. After you’ve done it a couple of times, it will become second nature and almost methodical. But if you’re looking to try using a bong for the first time, here are the steps you should follow:

  • Step 1: Grind or break down your cannabis flower, but remember not to grind it down too much. Make sure the particles aren’t too fine. Otherwise, they may be sucked into the water chamber.
  • Step 2: Prepare your bong. Set it up so that all the pieces go where they need to. You can place a metal screen on the bowl to prevent the weed from going through the down stem into the water.
  • Step 3: Fill your bong with water right to the point where it just covers the down stem. You can use cold water or warm water. Ensure the water never rises to your lips when inhaling through the mouthpiece. If your bong has ice pinches, you can add an ice cube or two to your bong.
  • Step 4: Slide in the down stem, add a clean bowl, and take another drag to ensure the water level is perfect and that water bubbles rise up the sides of the glass when you inhale.
  • Step 5: Remove the bowl from the bong and pack it loosely with dried herbs. Packing it loosely ensures enough airflow for the smoke to easily go through the down stem and into the water chamber.
  • Step 6: Put the bowl back in the down stem of the bong.
  • Step 7: Hold the bong firmly by the neck with your non-dominant hand. The bong’s base should be on a flat surface, such as on a table or desk. You may also place the bottom of the bong on your lap. However, if you’re new to using a bong, ensure it’s securely placed on a firm surface to keep it from slipping from your hands and breaking.
  • Step 8: Put your lips inside the mouthpiece and seal the opening.
  • Step 9: Strike the lighter and hold it to the bowl, burning the flower. Inhale simultaneously. You can also use a hemp wick to avoid inhaling butane from your lighter.
  • Step 10: Remove the lighter once the cannabis in the bowl is lit and burning consistently. However, keep inhaling.
  • Step 11: Stop inhaling once you start losing your breath.
  • Step 12: Remove the bowl and inhale the cannabis or tobacco smoke deeply.
  • Step 13: Exhale immediately. Don’t hold the marijuana smoke in your lungs for too long. The active compounds found in weed are absorbed almost immediately after the smoke enters your lungs.
  • Step 14: Blow lightly into the down stem to force any remaining smoke that may still be in the bong before taking your next hit.

How to Clean a Bong: Step-by-Step Guide

What You’ll Need

You’ll need to gather a few supplies — many of which you can find around the house — to prepare to clean your bong:

  • 99% isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Two large plastic zip bags
  • Rubber stoppers or bong plugs
  • A cloth or paper towel

Bong-Cleaning Guide

Once you’ve gathered the necessary materials, you’re ready to clean your bong. The following steps will give your dirty bong a thorough cleanse and allow you to enjoy your next smoke session with peace of mind. The following method also works to clean bubblers.

1. Dump Old Bong Water

Before cleaning, you must remove the old water in your bong and pour it into the sink or drain. Changing your water daily is always a good idea to prevent resin buildup and ensure the smoke you inhale is clean.

2. Disassemble Your Bong

Remove all removable parts from the bong, including the bowl and down stem, and place them in separate zipping storage bags. You could technically put both pieces in the same storage bag, but separating them helps prevent damage and gives them a more thorough clean.

3. Place Removable Pieces in a Zipper Storage Bag with Rubbing Alcohol and Salt

Toss a handful of sea salt into the zipper bags and pour rubbing alcohol until the parts are completely submerged. Place them aside and allow them to sit. Alternatively, you can use a bong cleaning solution for this and the following step.

4. Add Salt and Rubbing Alcohol Mixture to the Bong

Pour a handful of coarse salt into the emptied bong to coat the bottom of the base. Then, add about ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol into the bong and let it sit.

5. Plug Any Holes

Using rubber stoppers or bong-sized plugs, plug up the openings of the mouthpiece and down stem of the bong to trap the alcohol inside. It’s essential to know the size of these holes and order the right-sized plugs when purchasing.

6. Shake the Bong and Pieces

Once sealed, shake your bong and make sure the alcohol-salt solution reaches every corner of the device. Shake your down stem and bowl inside their storage bags as well.

Keep shaking the three components until the resin starts to come off, and once enough is gone, pour out the alcohol and salt and remove the pieces from the zip bags.

7. Rinse Everything

After the resin has successfully been cleared, use warm-to-hot water to rinse them off. Add hot water to the bong and lightly shake to rinse the remaining plant matter. Be sure to thoroughly rinse every piece to remove alcohol or residual resin traces.

If there’s still resin after rinsing, repeat steps 3-6 until your bong is clean. Pipe cleaners and cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol can also help clean hard-to-reach spots.

8. Allow to Dry

If you need to use your bong after cleaning, wipe everything down with a paper or cloth towel. Otherwise, allow your bong to air dry in the sun to melt away sticky residue.

How Often Should You Clean Your Bong?

A dirty bong is never a pretty sight, especially with tar, smoke buildup, and old plant matter sticking to the device. Neglecting to clean your bong is both a health threat and socially uncouth if you’re in a group smoking session.

Many consumers anecdotally recommend cleaning your bong approximately once a week, if not more, if you’re a frequent smoker. Further, you should replace your bong water at least once daily, ideally after every session, to avoid mold buildup. Mold can grow as quickly as 24 hours of sitting, and you certainly don’t want to inhale it unintentionally, which can cause lung infections or even pneumonia.

A quick visual inspection will tell you when to clean your bong. If your glass device is anything besides clear, such as a dark brown or black, it’s time for deep scrubbing.

Cleaning Plastic or Acrylic Bongs

In the case of plastic or acrylic bongs, you want to avoid alcohol, which can potentially strip down certain latex or acrylic materials. Instead, opt to scrub the different pieces of your bong with a pipe cleaner and hot water, scrubbing well to remove resin and rinsing away the removed plant matter.

Baking soda, vinegar, and hot water will also do in a pinch. The vinegar helps remove flower buildup, while baking soda is a water softener. Together, the two make an abrasive solution that helps to scrub leftover resin from every corner of your plastic or acrylic bong.

The Bottom Line

Smoking marijuana using a bong has become one of the most popular ways of consuming the herb, especially among young adults.

Bongs offer a fast and convenient way of getting high, making them perfect for a quick top-off before leaving the house. They’re also excellent for smoking one-hitters or using budder and other concentrates.

Learning how to clean your bong will go a long way to protect your health and keep your device in top shape for years. A well-made bong can last a lifetime with proper care and maintenance, so don’t forget to clean it regularly and replace your bong water daily. The more you clean it, the less often you’ll need to do a deep clean.

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Originally Published: December 2022

Last Updated: April 2024

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you clean a bong?

Take out the bowl, the down stem, and other removable parts. Pour isopropyl alcohol into the bong, add coarse salt, and shake your glass piece for 5-7 minutes. Soak the down stem and bowl in alcohol, too.

Rinse it out with soap and water. This should help eliminate all the gunk and tar on the bong. Remember to rinse all the alcohol out before using the bong.

How much do bongs cost?

The price of a modern bong will depend on its design, size, material, and complexity. Smaller silicon bongs may cost anywhere from $20 to $40, but glass bongs may be a bit pricier.

A good glass bong will set you back anywhere from $20 to $80. If you’re looking for something a bit more high-end, be prepared to spend anywhere between $100 to more than $300. At this price range, however, you’ll get a fancy bong with numerous accessories and additives.