Compared to whole flower vaporizers and intricately designed bongs, pipes may seem like ancient smoking devices, in large part because they are. But pipes are also a perennial favorite thanks to their widespread availability, affordability, ease of use, and range of styles. Pipes are equal parts old school and new school and no smoker's arsenal is complete without one.
The most important and, let's face it, annoying part of pipe ownership is cleaning it. Without regular cleaning, pipes build up residue that leads to clogging and negatively affects smoke flavor. For an optimal smoking experience, it's important to clean your pipe regularly.
Below you'll learn how to clean a glass or ceramic pipe for better performance, smoke purity, and longevity. If you have a corn cob pipe you're looking to clean, this isn't the guide for you.
What you'll need
Before you begin cleaning your pipe, gather the following materials:
- A sealable plastic bag
- Paper clip
- 99% Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
- Table salt (sodium chloride) or epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)
- Dish soap
How to clean a pipe step-by-step
Time needed: 12 hours and 10 minutes.
Now that you have what you need to adequately clean a pipe, follow the steps below and know that practice makes perfect.
- Place the pipe in a sealable plastic bag with alcohol
Shake out any remaining bits of flower from the bowl of the pipe. Then carefully place the pipe in a sealable plastic bag and fill it with rubbing alcohol until the entire pipe is submerged. If you don't have a baggie on hand, you can also use a small sealable container. Just be aware you'll have to let it soak for longer in a sealed container since you won't be able to shake the pipe in the cleaning solution like you can with a bag.
- Add a teaspoon of salt
Add a teaspoon of coarse salt. The salt will act as a scrubber or sponge on resin in areas where an actual sponge or brush can't reach. Work the salt into the pipe as much as possible to ensure it's fully doing the work of deep cleaning.
- Let the pipe soak
Leave the pipe to soak in the bag or container for about 12 hours. This will give the alcohol enough time to dissolve most of the resin.
- Shake the bag
Once the pipe has had a chance to soak, shake the bag vigorously to loosen residual resin. Again, if you're using a rigid container, you'll want to skip this step to avoid breaking your pipe.
- Remove the pipe from the bag and wash
After you've soaked and shaken your pipe, remove your pipe from the bag and wash it with hot water and dish soap. If there is any stubborn resin still clinging to your pipe, try removing it with a paperclip or pipe cleaner, but be careful not to scratch the pipe. You can also try using a cotton swab to be extra careful. After you've washed the pipe, give it a final rinse with warm or hot water.
- Let the pipe dry
Give your pipe ample time to dry before using it again. If your pipe isn't as clean as you'd like, repeat the process, making sure to add fresh salt. The salt from the first round of cleaning will have been largely dissolved in the rubbing alcohol.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is clean your pipe frequently. The more you clean, the easier it'll be and help ensure your pipe lasts a lifetime.
Frequently asked questions
If you don't have any rubbing alcohol on hand or would rather not use it, you can experiment with boiling your pipe in water. You'll want to submerge the pipe completely and slowly heat up the water since extreme temperature differences could cause the glass to crack and break. After boiling the pipe for 30 minutes, let it cool enough to handle and carefully scrape off any remaining resin with a pipe cleaner or cotton swab.
The cleaner the pipe, the faster and easier it'll be to clean. An alcohol and salt solution is the most effective and widely available method, but the speed at which you shake and scrape your pipe may vary.
Mix one part vinegar and one part water in a container big enough to submerge the glass pipe. Let it soak for 12 hours and scrape off any remaining bits of resin.
The experience of smoking a dirty pipe is bad because resin buildup adds a charred flavor to the smoke you inhale. In terms of negative health consequences, dirty pipes pose some of the same risks as dirty bongs, which can harbor toxic substances in the bong water. Dirty bong water traps some of the same toxic chemicals found inside pipes, but thanks to a lack of water, pipes do not have the same ability to breed microorganisms.
That said, a Scientific Reports paper published in 2020 describing all the known toxic compounds in cannabis smoke shows there are at least 110 known toxins that could settle onto the interior surface of the pipe. While we don't know exactly what happens when those substances are reheated, it certainly can't hurt to remove them from your pipe via regular cleaning. And just like bongs, you'll want to avoid sharing your pipe with other people to prevent the spread of illnesses and harmful bacteria.