How Do Bongs Work

Maybe you’re looking to purchase your first bong or you just tried your friend’s glass and don’t really understand what’s going on. What does the water do? Why do you need to pull out the bowl? What are all the cool looking glass features inside the bong for? How do bongs work? What are variety bongs for sale? These are all reasonable questions that most novice smokers will ask when first learning about the world of water pipes. While they may look complicated, bongs are actually very simple devices that are quick to get the hang of after a few tries. By the end of this article, you won’t just know how water pipes work, you’ll also be prepared to pack a bowl and light up on your own with our step by step guide.

Bong meaning

A bong, also called a water pipe, refers to any non-electric smoking device that uses a removable bowl and water. Bongs are most commonly made from heat-resistant borosilicate glass, however ceramic wood, metal, and portable silicone bongs are also very popular materials. Mini bongs can be as small as just a few inches tall, while big bongs are considered anything 1.5-feet and up. The “world’s biggest bong” located in Las Vegas measures a whopping 24-feet tall! Just like cannabis lovers, bongs come in all shapes and sizes. The most common bong styles are:

  • Straight shooters – This is the most common bong shape and the easiest to clear. The design features a straight water chamber that turns into the neck, all of which sits on a base.
  • Beaker bongs – Beakers are liked for their wide and stable base that makes them more difficult to tip over. Resembling a science beaker, this type of bong is very popular since it has a larger chamber that can accumulate more smoke.
  • Zig zag bong (zong) – A zong is essentially a straight shooter with a zig zag shaped neck. This design assures no dirty bong water is inhaled, plus it gives the smoke more area to travel and cool down before it reaches your lips.
  • Percolator bongs – Percolators are interior features that create more bubbling action and filtration for less harsh bong rips. There are many types of percolators including tree percs, matrix percs, showerhead percs, inline percs, and more, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Recycler bongs – Recyclers can be an interior or exterior bong feature. They are tubes that force the smoke to be “recycled” back around and filtered for a second time.

What is a bong used for?

It’s very straight forward, bongs are a smoking device that utilizes water. Today, they are associated with smoking cannabis flower, however due to U.S. regulations that categorize bongs as “drug paraphernalia,” smoke shops often state that their bongs are for tobacco use or therapeutic use only. Water pipes are not made to smoke cannabis concentrates (dabs). Dabs need higher temperatures for the concentrate to vaporize and require a different setup. While bongs have been around since ancient times, the glass pipe and glass bong as we know it today is credited to Bob Snodgrass, called as the godfather of modern-day glassware. Snodgrass was experimenting with various bong designs throughout the 1960s and 70s and even developed the fuming glass blowing technique to create psychedelic swirling colors that was all the rage and are still sold today.

Anatomy of a bong

To answer the question, “how do water pipes work,” you need to first understand the anatomy of a bong. Below is a brief overview of the different parts of a bong and how they function and relate to one another:

  • Base – The very bottom of the bong is called the base. Water bongs with a small base, especially those that are tall, are easier to tip over. Accident prone stoners should look for a water pipe with a large base compared to its height.
  • Chamber – The chamber is the area that holds the water and where any percolators are located if your bong has one. The bigger the chamber, the more smoke can accumulate.
  • Downstem – Downstems connect the bowl to the rest of the bong and are either removable and replaceable or fixed depending on the style of the bong. Downstems come with a male or female joint that should fit snugly with the bowl, but is still easy to remove. In very basic water pipes, the downstem sits directly in the water and creates bubbles similar to a straw in a cup.
  • Bowl – The bong bowl holds your smoking material and should be able to easily be removed and replaced in the downstem joint. Bowls can be deep for sharing or just enough for one and come in various shapes and styles. Having a cool bong bowl can be a statement in itself and a cheap way to show off your personality.
  • Carb – Some water bongs use carbs, just like a pipe. This allows smokers to control the airflow.
  • Neck – Just before the mouthpiece is the neck of the bong. This area is often long and can be curved or straight. Either way, there should only be smoke passing through this area.
  • Mouthpiece – The mouthpiece of a bong is a raised area at the top of the neck to make smoking more comfortable. When smoking, your lips should be inside the mouthpiece, not over it (yuck).
  • Splashguard – Some bongs have built-in splashguards either at the beginning of the neck or where the neck connects to the chamber. Splashguards help to keep dirty bong water down where it belongs so you never accidentally inhale it.
  • Ice catcher – This optional feature doesn’t come standard on all bongs, but it’s perfect for icy cold rips. Located in the neck, you can stack ice cubes on top of the ice catcher without it interference.
  • Percolator – There are lots of types of percolators, all designed to add more bubbles to the water for additional filtration, cooling, and aeration of the smoke. Percs don’t come standard, so choose a percolator bong if you want super smooth and comfortable tokes.
  • Recycler – Recyclers not only look cool, they also force the smoke to do another cycle of water filtration before it can be inhaled.

How do bongs work

Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t able to get a good bong rip on your first try. It’s not difficult to learn, but the process can take some trial and error to perfect. If you’re a beginner, start out with a mini bong or medium-sized bong that’s around 10 to 12 inches. Start by getting together the required equipment and prepping your bong. You will need:


  • Bong
  • Water (or other liquid)
  • Herb grinder (scissors or your fingers will also work)
  • Dry herb
  • Lighter or hemp wick

How to use a bong step-by-step

  1. Fill it with water – If your water pipe is brand new, you’ll want to give it a good rinse inside and out before filling it up with water. Fill the chamber with water by pouring it through the mouthpiece from the top. Add enough water to just cover any percolators or the end of the downstem. Give your bong a good, hard inhale. There should be lots of bubbles and a little resistance. If you feel any water reaching your lips, you’ve added too much water and will need to dump some out.
  2. Pack the bowl – Grind your dry herb as usual. The more even the grind, the better. Remove the bong bowl and fill it with the ground flower. Use your finger to tamp down gently. A bowl that’s too tightly packed will have airflow problems.
  3. Light up – Using a lighter or hemp wick, ignite just the corner or side of the bowl. This is just a courtesy to the next user since lighting the entire bowl at once or lighting from the middle wastes herb. As you light the bowl, simultaneously take a hit from the mouthpiece. Each bong rip should be a slow, steady draw. You’ll start to see the bowl glow, smoke travel down, and lots of bubbles.
  4. Clearing – Once the bong is filled with smoke, clear the chamber by pulling out the bowl from the downstem joint while continuing to inhale. Removing the bowl allows air to flow straight through the piece and into your lungs.
  5. Repeat – Replace the bowl and hand it off to the next person or light up again! After the bowl is burnt to ash, simply tap it out into the trash and pack a new bowl. After a session or two, it’s a good idea to give your water bong a good cleaning. Cleaning is an important step, not just because a dirty water pipe looks gross, but to assure that each rip will be fresh and flavorful. A very dirty pipe can also affect the airflow through the piece. Clean your bong using alcohol and salt, which melts away sticky resin, or a special bong cleaning solution.

Do bongs get you less high?

Cannabis enthusiasts are always on the lookout for ways to get as high as possible as fast as possible. So, the big question is, “do bongs get you less high or more high than smoking from a pipe or joint?” If you’ve ever used a bong before, you know that each hit feels more intense than smoking a pipe. This is because bong rips actually are bigger and take effect faster than many other smoking methods. One thing to keep in mind is that the bigger the bong, the bigger the hit, and a bigger hit means a stronger high. Water bongs are designed to filter out contaminants like hot ash and tar, while cooling down each rip so the user can take giant inhales without feeling like they need to cough. This is just one of the many reasons that smoking from a bong will get you higher than a pipe or joint.

What does the water do for bongs?

Whether it’s a bubbler or bong, water is the key to a tasty, comfortable rip. When you inhale through the mouthpiece, the smoke is pulled down into the main chamber and forced through the water to create bubbles. Once the hot smoke hits the cold water, the temperature instantly drops. This is why some people like to add ice to their bong so the smoke gets even more chilled. The more times the smoke is pulled through the water, the more it’s cooled, aerated, and filtered. All that ash you see in the dirty bong water was captured during the bubbling stage and removed so it’s not inhaled. Water is the reason that a bong rip is so much smoother than smoking from a pipe and won’t give you that scratchy throat feeling.

Stoners like to get creative with their smoke sesh and sometimes opt to use other liquids instead of water inside a bong to add a second kick of flavor. Obviously, water is the go-to for a fresh, clean, and flavorful rip, but if that gets monotonous, try another type of liquid. Some of the most common things you can put inside your bong besides water are:

  • Sparkling water or clear soda (don’t use Coke!)
  • Mouthwash (a very popular choice for minty fresh hits)
  • Warm tea or water (works great to soothe a sore throat)
  • Cold fruit juice (cranberry is a pothead favorite)
  • Wine

What can you smoke in a bong

While cannabis is the first thing that comes to mind when someone says to pack a bong bowl, it’s also possible to use your glassware with other types of smoking material. Other smokable herbs like mugwort, skullcap, mint, sage, and others have been used for centuries due to their medicinal properties and flavor. Many types of herbs or tobacco can be mixed with cannabis flower for a customized smoking experience.

Bongs for sale

Now that you know how bongs work, it’s time to pick up some glassware of your own! Check out the online smoke shop, Everything For 420 for a wide selection of bongs for sale including mini bongs, silicone bongs, cheap bongs, big bongs, bowls, percolator bongs, heady glass bongs, replacement downstems, and more great smoking accessories.

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