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Everything You Need to Know About Glass Bongs

Posted by Angelica Sorauf on

Glass bongs are more than the iconic devices through which you smoke. They’re intricately crafted works of art, available in a variety of colors, styles, and textures. Some are simple and resemble exaggerated pipes or hookahs while others are complex, worthy of sitting on podiums in museums. Produced by professional artisans for the purpose of smoking, bongs are elegant yet useful. You can stash them out of sight or proudly display them, even as centerpieces, when you’re not using them. 

Modern bongs evolved from hookahs, which are said to have originated sometime in the 16th century. As tobacco use spread, so too did hookahs. Like their ancestor, bongs spread as the use of herbs spread. Some might even argue that bongs surpassed their predecessors as a variety of herbs and tobacco conquered the globe. 

Of all the ways to smoke—from paper to pipes to one-hitters—bongs remain the most iconic way to smoke a variety of naturally occurring products. As imagery, they’re as ubiquitous as any soft drink or comic book logo. From movies to cartoons, from books to video games, it’s hard to escape encountering glass bongs in this day and age. 

The History of Bongs

While modern bongs are derived from hookahs, evidence has emerged that they earlier versions used by people in the ancient world. Archaeologists in Russia uncovered little known ancestors to bongs that were in use more than 2,400 years ago. It’s likely that these ancient bongs, used by certain members of the Scythian culture, were employed as ceremonial or ritualistic devices by shamans or tribal leaders. 

Although the word “bong” is derived from a Thai word, “bong” or “baung,” evidence of these smoking vessels have been found in 16th China, India, Vietnam, Laos, and several countries in Africa. They don’t seem to originate at any single point. In fact, you could say that they’re as much a part of our shared cultural history as coin bags, shoes, or bow and arrows. 

How Do Bongs Work? 

Glass bongs contain several parts, including a stem, a bowl, a downstem, and a base into which water is stored. After you pack tobacco or herbs into the bowl and light up, a deep inhalation will draw the smoke through the stem or downstem, through the water, and up the tube—the trunk, if you will—and into your mouth. This may seem unnecessary or curious, but in fact it acts as an ingenious filtration device.

As smoke travels through the water, certain kinds of molecules and particles get trapped in the water, or filtered out, thereby reducing the harshness of the hit. Compared to other means of smoking—paper or a wooden pipe, for example—bongs are less likely to burn or otherwise negatively affect your throat. Have you ever lit a cigarette and inhaled too deeply or pulled from a pipe and found yourself coughing, throat cramping and burning? It’s those sensations and experiences that bongs are designed to minimize, which is not to say it’s foolproof: take a big enough hit of tobacco or the herb of your choice in a bong and you’ll likely wrestle with a coughing fit. A little wisdom goes a long way here. Bongs are designed to reduce harshness, but they don’t eliminate it, and no one should take hits too big to reasonably manage or enjoy. 

Appreciating Your Bong

Like anything made out of glass, bongs are susceptible to cracking, breaking, or shattering if mistreated. You should consider a bong an investment, the way you’d consider a car or a nice television an investment. These are nice, and, in some cases, luxury items. Since they’re manufactured out of glass, you should handle them with the utmost care. 

You should also consider the labor professional glass blowers put into crafting them. In many cases these are labors of love, and they deserve respect, especially when you consider the years of training and apprenticeship required for the artisan to learn the craft well enough to make these works of art. Come to think of it, that’s the best way to approach glass bongs: as works of art. 

Taking Care of Your Bong

Now that you’ve learned to appreciate bongs, and have handled them carefully and long enough to smoke more than a few times, it’s a good idea to clean them. Cleaning glass bongs minimizes stains, reduces the chance for mold to form or accumulate, and improves the effectiveness of the device to filter particles and deliver smooth hits.

As anyone who’s ever owned one will know, used bong water can get nasty and muddy, dirty and stinky. The glass can become cloudy or stained. If neglected or not properly taken care of, these works of art can transform into hideous, even hazardous, junk. 

First things first: when cleaning a bong, make sure to dump the used water. This may seem like a no-brainer, but more than a few people have been known to dump a cleaning solution into the water and slosh it around. Doing so won’t clean the bong. Instead, it’ll turn nasty bong water into soapy, nasty bong water. 

After you’ve dumped the bong, replace the water with a cleaning solution. You can use alcohol, salt water, dish soap, or solutions specifically designed to clean pipes. Be warned, however, that using soap might leave streaks or make the glass cloudy. It will clean the glass but it won’t make it pretty. 

The next step is to plug all the holes in the bong and shake it. Repeat this process several times to ensure that your preferred solution hits every point in the bong. If the glass is particularly nasty, you can use a pipe brush to clean those hard to reach places. Finally, after you’re certain the entire bong is spotless, rinse it by filling it with clean water, preferably filtered or purified water, although tap water will do. Then dump that water, re-fill it, and smoke away. 

Smoke Away

You’ve bought a glass bong, you’ve used it a few times, and you’ve learned to properly clean it. Respecting, even pampering, your bong will ensure both a long life and a smooth smoking experience. If you develop these habits early on and maintain them, then you’ll get a lot of mileage out of your glass bong. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy your tobacco or preferred herb.

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