The bong, also known as a water pipe, is one of the oldest and most commonly used tools for smoking cannabis. Using water to cool and filter smoke, the basic bong mounts a bowl of packed cannabis on top of a downstem, which directs the smoke through water at the base then up the neck of the bong and through the mouthpiece.
One of the reasons glass bongs have remained a popular way to smoke for so long is that they're easy to use. They require less prep work than a joint and are generally easier to learn to use than other smoking devices or methods. Unfortunately, they can also be exceptionally difficult to clean due to the immense amount of resin buildup, particularly when they have more complex filtration features.
Part of knowing how to use a bong properly is knowing how to clean your bong. Below you'll find a step-by-step guide to cleaning and maintaining a bong, along with a quick explanation of why it's so important to clean your bong in the first place.
Why you need to clean your bong
Learning how to clean a bong properly has benefits beyond making it nicer to look at. Stagnant bong water, just like water in a puddle, can be a home to all kinds of bacteria and fungi. Yeasts and other microorganisms can also fester in dirty bong water. You do not want to inadvertently ingest or inhale any of these substances.
You'll know that the water needs to be changed when it develops a top layer known as biofilm. Forming across the surface of the water, the biofilm could harbor any number of nasty pathogens, from Strep and E. coli to black mildew. When inhaled, these substances can lead to serious illness, so be vigilant about changing that bong water. One of the benefits of bongs is that they filter out harmful materials, but they can only accomplish that feat with clean water.
Ideally, you should use clean, fresh water for every bong session. If you don't change the water frequently enough, the bong will be challenging to clean. It's also important to change the bong water regularly to remove any potentially carcinogenic materials that the filtration system has released.
We can't believe we have to mention this but do not attempt to drink bong water. Ever. It's not even advisable to water plants with bong water, as it can contain toxic levels of mold. Even if the used bong water looks clean, you're best off pouring it down the drain and starting fresh.
Related: Why drinking bong water is a bad idea
What you'll need
Before you begin the process of cleaning your bong, you'll need to gather the following materials:
- Coarse sea salt
- 99% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
- Two large zipper storage bags
- Rubber stoppers or bong plugs
Cleaning your bong step-by-step
Now that you have what you need to adequately clean your water pipe, follow the steps below. You can also use this same cleaning method to clean bubblers as well.
Time needed: 1 hour.
- Remove the bowl and downstem
Carefully remove the bowl and downstem from the bong and place them in two separate sealable storage bags. Placing the bowl and downstem in separate bags ensures that the two small pieces won't be damaged or broken, and affords them a more thorough cleaning.
- Place in zipper storage bags with alcohol
You can buy a bong-specific cleaning solution, but isopropyl alcohol and salt are your best (and cheapest) bet. Pour a handful of coarse salt into the bag and add rubbing alcohol (99% isopropyl alcohol) until the bowl and downstem are fully submerged.
- Pour out old bong water
Before you begin cleaning your bong, you'll need to pour out the old water in your bong into a sink or drain.
Note: If you use a bong often, it's a good idea to change out the water daily. Doing so will help prevent excessive resin buildup and help preserve the flavor and cleanliness of the smoke.
- Add salt and alcohol
Start by pouring coarse salt into the bong. Use enough to coat the bottom surface of the base. Then pour about ¼ cup, or 60 milliliters, of rubbing alcohol into the bong and let it sit.
- Plug holes
Plug the openings of the bong mouthpiece and downstem areas. Standard rubber stoppers will be sufficient. You can also order standard-size plugs and caps from Amazon or your local head shop. Make sure you know the size of your mouthpiece and downstem openings before you buy plugs.
- Shake bong
Shaking your bong, as well as your downstem and bowl inside the storage bags, is the best way to remove heavy resin buildup. Shake well until you can see the resin starting to come off. Once a satisfactory amount of resin has come loose, pour out the alcohol and sea salt.
- Rinse the bong, downstem, and bowl
Once you've cleared most of the resin from your bong, downstem, and bowl, use hot water to rinse them off. Lightly shake the bong as you rinse to wash away the remaining resin.
Before you reassemble the bong, rinse each piece thoroughly to make sure you don't have any alcohol left over. If you find any residual resin after rinsing, repeat each step until it is flushed out. If you have a bong with extra filters or other features that make some areas harder to reach, try using pipe cleaners or cotton swabs.
- Let air dry
If you need to use your bong right away, you can wipe down the outside with a paper towel or clean dish towel. Otherwise, let it air dry.
Alternative - How to Clean a Bong with Baking Soda and Vinegar
No one likes a dirty bong. Thankfully, a little patience, baking soda, vinegar, and hot water will solve this problem.
Note: These instructions are for bongs 18 inches or smaller
- 4 cups (about 1 liter) white or apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups (460 grams) baking soda, plus an additional ½ cup (115 grams) baking soda in reserve
- Tap water
- 19 ½-inch tall (50 centimeters) 40 quart/10 gallon (37.9 liters) stock pot
- Bottle brush or toothbrush
- Measuring cup
- Metal tongs with rubber pads
- 2 towels
- Place the bong into the stock pot. Pour in 1/2 cup (115 grams) baking soda down the bong stem. Pour the remaining 1 1/2 cups (345 grams) of baking soda into the bottom of the pot. Set the ½ cup baking soda in reserve to the side.
- Slowly pour 1 cup (250 milliliters) of vinegar down the bong stem. This will cause an instant fizzy reaction creating carbonic acid. This will quickly dissipate into carbon dioxide gas and fizzle out.
- Add the remaining vinegar to the pot. Let this sit for 5 minutes.
- Add enough water to fully cover the bong. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
- Watch the water level and do not let the bong become exposed to air, or else the bong will crack. Add more water if needed to keep it waterlogged.
- Simmer the water for 1-2 hours, depending on resin buildup.
- After the time is up, turn off the heat. Gently pull out the bong with the tongs and drain the liquid. Place onto a towel. Carefully pour the remaining reserve baking soda into the bong. Add a few tablespoons of the vinegar water to make a paste.
- Gently scrub the inside of the bong with a bottle brush or toothbrush.
- Rinse the bong out with warm tap water and place onto the second towel. Air dry fully before use.
Learn how to clean your bong well and you'll protect both your health and your bong. Remember, a well-made bong can last a lifetime, but it needs regular maintenance to fully function. The more you clean your bong, the less frequently you'll have to deep-clean it.