guy smoking a bong
Illustration: Cath Virginia / Images: via Getty Images

A Beginner’s Guide to Buying and Using a Bong

The VICE guide to smoking weed from big glass pipes.
Katie Way
Brooklyn, US
Cathryn Virginia
illustrated by Cathryn Virginia
You want to learn. The VICE Guide can teach you.

You never forget your first bong rip. The flick of a lighter that feels like it’s thousands of miles away from your face. The bubbling water. The smoke surging up the neck of the pipe. Jerking your head away, body wracked by a coughing fit caused by that inevitable too-big hit. 

For some people, smoking out of a real bong—not a plastic water bottle, an apple, or an Arizona Iced Tea can—is the beginning of the end of their relationship with weed. The whole ritual proves too intense, too involved, and too reminiscent of getting trapped in some guy’s basement watching terrible music videos. 


But for others, that first big hit is the start of a beautiful relationship with kicking back and relaxing at home. If you find yourself in this camp, then this is a guide for you. 

It’s very “old man yelling at a cloud” to admit, but when I was a teenage dirtbag, we were smoking weed not “consuming cannabis.” These days, you can smoke, vape, eat gummies, drizzle some infused olive oil, slip a sublingual under your tongue, pop THC tablets, drink a seltzer, squeeze a syrup into your beer, slather on some lube, and probably like 20 other things I’m not plugged in enough to know about. 

Still, there’s something irreplaceable about a bong, whether you’re passing it around a group of friends during a Lord of the Rings marathon or hitting it before you melt into bed after the world’s longest work day. Bongs are a relic of an era before anyone was entwining weed and “wellness.” They’re a little impractical, a little obnoxious, and liable to get you uncomfortably stoned. That’s exactly why owning one is so much fun.

Before you buy a bong

It’s easy to get caught up in the details when making any big purchase, and duh, a bong is no exception. Before you start browsing, it’s worth ironing out a few basic details. Think about how often you’re going to use your bong, how many people in your household will be partaking, and whether you live somewhere exhaling a big rip won’t set off the fire alarm.

For something new and relatively high-quality, budget at least $80 to $150. If that price tag makes your eyes bug out, or you’re pretty new to smoking weed and don’t see yourself using a bong frequently, something smaller like a bubbler, a handheld pipe with a water chamber, would probably be a better investment.

A collage of a variety of bongs overlayed with a macro shot of a weed plant

Collage: Cath Virginia

What to look for in a bong

The main things to consider are size and material, and size-wise, it’s pretty intuitive. If you’re a one-stoner household, you’re probably good to stick with a bong that’s less than a foot tall. If you’re planning on sharing with a bunch of friends or housemates, a bigger bong is a better bet for weed efficiency purposes.

Borosilicate or “scientific” glass and ceramic bongs are the gold standard because they’re durable, respond well to heat, and—most importantly—are safe to smoke out of. I’d recommend getting a clear or translucent one because it’s obvious when they get dirty and need a good scrub (more on that later). 

Silicone bongs are another option—they’re lower quality but significantly cheaper. These can also be easier to clean because they’re squishy and malleable, so you can work your product of choice into all the nooks and crannies. They only work if the bowl itself is glass, ceramic, or a specific metal like stainless steel, titanium, or pure brass. 

Do not get a plastic bong: Heating plastic produces carcinogenic chemicals that can seriously fuck up your health in the long run.

Where to buy a bong

If you’re shopping online, websites like GrassCity, Smoke Cartel, and Hemper all stock a wide variety of options. I’ve also heard great things about Session bongs, although I’ve never had the pleasure of taking one for a spin myself.  

If you want to pick out your new bong in person, know that even if the price is attractive, the options at your local gas station just aren’t going to be high quality, no matter how good they look. You’re better off browsing at a licensed dispensary or at a head shop that specializes in bongs, pipes, and other weed-smoking gear. 


If you are at a dispensary or head shop, take some time to chat up the attendant or budtender and ask them for some help with picking out the right bong for you. It feels safe to say that most people working in cannabis retail aren’t in it for the money—they’re doing it because they fucking love weed and want to talk about it. Don’t be shy! Help them help you.

You can also make your own bong if you’re feeling frisky. Obviously, we’ve got some great tutorials here at VICE, if you have a spare watermelon or banana lying around.

How to use a bong

It helps to understand how a bong works. The bowl is where you place your flower, which generally detaches from the bong to allow the airflow you need to actually take a hit. The bowl will rest in the bong’s downstem, the tube that dips into the bong water and pulls the smoke through it. The chamber is where you pour in the water that cools the smoke as you inhale, making the hit less harsh than a regular pipe. You want the bottom of the downstem to be fully submerged in water, but it doesn’t need much more than that. Then there’s the neck of the bong, which fills up with smoke as you inhale, and the mouthpiece, which is pretty self-explanatory—that’s where you suck in. In fancier models, the neck of a bong may also house an ice-catcher, where you can add a few ice cubes, or a percolator for additional smoke filtration. Both of these modifications help produce a smoother hit that’s easier to inhale. 

To actually use a bong, you light the bowl while inhaling to fill the neck of the bong with smoke. Then you remove the bowl and continue to inhale, ideally until you “clear” the neck of smoke.


A few technical tips: 

  • The right amount of weed depends on the size of your bowl and your tolerance. If you overfill or overpack, you risk clogging the bowl, and underfilling could lead to a disappointing hit. 
  • Don't hold the lighter too close to the bowl unless you want to look like a human dragon.
  • Be careful about overfilling the bong with water, unless you want a mouthful of fermented weed liquid—which I promise you do not. 
  • On the same note, don’t inhale too hard, or you’ll find yourself in the same nasty boat even if your bong’s water level isn’t too high.
  • If you can’t clear all the smoke, place your hand over the mouth of the bong to trap it in there. You can either try to clear it on the second go-around or pass it to a friend with bigger lung capacity.
  • When sharing a bong with friends, it’s a puff, pass situation—one hit is enough, trust me.

How to maintain a bong

Change the bong water: Do this at least every two or three days for bare minimum hygiene purposes, so you don’t find yourself taking a hit filtered through moldy water. If you want to be extra meticulous, dump out the water after every use. 

Clean out the gunk: Inevitably, your bong is going to get gross. If you’re using it on a daily basis, experts say you should clean your bong at least once a week—but, let’s be honest, that probably isn’t realistic, so you can skate by doing it every couple of weeks if absolutely necessary. What you use to clean your bong is going to vary based on the material it’s made from. 


For a glass or ceramic bong, you’re going to use a simple mix of isopropyl alcohol (anywhere between 91 to 99 percent) and a coarse salt, like rock salt or epsom salt. Remove any detachable pieces, like the bowl and downstem, and dump the isopropyl alcohol and salt into the chamber. Place the detachable pieces in Ziploc baggies with the same mixture. Seal off any open holes with your hands or some plastic wrap and rubber bands, then shake that bad boy up for a few minutes—the salt will help remove the gunk and the alcohol will sanitize the whole shebang. This video is a pretty good demonstration of the whole bong-cleaning process. Dump the resulting dirty liquid down the drain of your sink, and then rinse the clean bong and additional pieces off with soap and water, making sure you clear off any residue so you don’t get a mouth full of suds next time you fire it up. 

Isopropyl alcohol will corrode a silicone bong, so if you’re cleaning one of those, stick to dish soap and water instead—fill it up, let it soak for a few minutes, and then rinse it out and tackle any remaining gunk with a Q-tip or pipe cleaner.

Don’t drop your bong: You’re going to be using your bong to become your clumsiest, most carefree self. You don’t need to treat your bong like it’s Grandma’s antique vase, but if you do the right thing and invest in a bong made out of glass or ceramic, it’s going to be as breakable as… well, anything else made out of glass or ceramic. With that in mind, keep the bong in one location as much as possible—in the middle of your coffee table or up on a shelf that’s too high to bump into—and avoid transporting it unless absolutely necessary. Nobody wants to deal with a backpack or carpet full of broken glass.

Hopefully, this guide gave you the tools you need to embark on a beautiful, hazy journey. Good luck, and happy ripping!

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