Bongs 101—For Beginners

If you’re new to water pipes, or curious about upgrading your smoking experience with one, you’re in good company. Water pipes have been around for thousands of years, including hookah styled pipes from the Middle East and primitive versions found in several parts of Asia and Africa. While water pipes are nothing new, the modern bells and whistles you can add to your pipe are surely more advanced than ever before.

How does a water pipe work?

For the most basic pipes, the function is quite simple. A water pipe includes a bowl, a downstem, a base, and a mouthpiece in its construction. The base is first filled with a shallow amount of water—at least enough to cover the slits in the downstem. Next, the user places their product in the bowl and lights it. The smoke from the lit product will travel through the downstem and into the water where it will cool. With the mouthpiece, the user pulls the vapor up into the neck of the pipe and then takes the hit.

While water pipes are designed to lessen the harshness of the hit, users may still want to practice caution when inhaling to protect their throats from damage. If users are used to smoking with rolled cigarettes or dry hand pipes, they should immediately notice a difference in smoothness between those devices and a water pipe.

What are the functions of the various attachments?

Percolators—Also known as “percs”, these can be found inside the base of a water pipe or as an added attachment combined with ashcatchers. Percs come in all different styles, including “showerheads”, “tree”, and “honeycomb”. The more complex the perc sometimes means the drags will be more resistant. However, for users who prefer the smoothest hits, a quality perc is a necessity.

Ashcatchers—These function just how they sound like they should. Ashcatchers prevent debris from falling into the base of your water pipe and dirtying up the water. Instead of having to deep clean your entire pipe after each use, you can just clean the ashcatcher. Some ashcatchers are basic, while others include single chamber or double chamber percs as added filtration.

Nails—If you want to transform your water pipe into a dabbing rig for concentrates, some designs allow you to switch the bowl out for a dabbing nail. Nails come in several different types, including domed and domeless. All nails are constructed of glass, ceramic, or titanium. There are e-nails available as well for ultra-precise dabbers.

Drop-downs and Adapters—These two attachments give users more room to work with on their current pipes. Drop-downs place the bowl further away from the body of the pipe, and adapters help differently sized, gendered, or angled attachments fit onto your pipe.  For instance, adapters can help a male attachment fit onto a male joint, or a 90-degree attachment fit on a 45-degree joint.

Downstems—Removable downstems can be replaced with an upgraded downstem with more advanced filtration features if the user desires. Not all downstems are removable on water pipes, however. When shopping for a pipe, make sure you either select a design with a removable downstem if you plan on swapping it out every once and awhile, or choose a design with the right filtration features already built-in.

How do I clean my water pipe?

After a few sessions, or even a single session, water pipes can start to look grungy. Water pipes should be rinsed out after each use to ensure quality sessions—no one wants to use dirty bong water! Depending on how often you use your pipe, a deep cleaning should happen at least once a week. There are certain solutions on the market that are made specifically for cleaning water pipes, or you can use a simple alcohol solution. First, rinse out your pipe with clean water. Next, either submerge your pipe into the cleaning solution or pour it into the pipe, cover the holes, and shake. Rinse the pipe with clean water again until all cleaning solution has been rinsed away. Let it dry before using again.

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