What is a Bong

What is a Bong? Plus FAQs About How to Use a Bong & How to Clean a Bong

What is a Bong

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

Marijuana smoking has never been more popular, with legalization taking hold. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cannabis is the most commonly used federally prohibited drug in the country today.

Many people like to smoke their weed using a bong, but what is a bong, and what do you need to do to smoke one? This guide answers questions like “How does a bong work?” and “What is the purpose of a bong?”

What are Bongs?

A bong is a type of water pipe associated with pot smoking, but it’s also been used across history for smoking other substances. So, what is the point of a bong when you can get your usual THC hit from rolling a joint instead?

Due to how bongs are designed, the water inside lets you rip on your bong without getting a harsh weed hit. In other words, you can enjoy a comfortable bong high at your leisure by cooling the smoke.

But what is a bong made from?

Modern bongs have a tube coming from a glass base. A bong’s base acts as the water chamber and includes a hole angled to fit in a downstem. With a bowl, smoke is channeled into the downstem and the base. The smoke subsequently becomes cooled by the water and re-emerges into the tube and the mouthpiece.

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But before discussing how to smoke a bong and the benefits of using a bong, where do they come from?

In short, this is where things get murky. While most agree that the bong could originate from modern-day locations like Thailand and India, it’s clear that this device has been used for thousands of years.

According to a National Geographic article, excavations in Russia in 2013 revealed that tribal chiefs used golden bong vessels at least 2,400 years ago to smoke cannabis and opium. And even though bongs have become associated with cannabis smoking, they can accommodate everything from cannabis to tobacco.

So, now that you know what is a bong, where does the term come from? Most historians believe the word is an adaption of the Thai word “baung,” meaning cylindrical wooden tube. It’s said that the word was introduced to the U.S. by Vietnam War veterans in the 1960s, who encountered the device during their deployments.

What is a Bong Used For?

Anyone who knows how to use a bong opts for this smoking method because it delivers a mellower hit than a joint. Not everyone can handle the harsh hit of cannabis, so the bong is a favorite among young and old alike.

Why do you need water in a bong? It’s the water that’s core to how your bong works. Without any water, there would be no way to create a cooling effect that results in a smoother bong rip.

What is a Bong Used For

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk

What is the Difference Between a Bong and a Bubbler?

What is a bubbler vs. bong?

Bongs and bubblers aren’t the same thing, even though they’re both types of water pipes. However, they differ in terms of functionality and design.

Here are the primary differences between the two:

  • Size – Bubblers are much smaller than bongs.
  • Design – Bongs have a straight or beaker-shaped design with a long neck or tube, and they may even include features like ice catchers. Bubblers are far simpler in design, consisting of a stem, base, bowl, and mouthpiece.
  • Water Chamber – Bongs come with a larger water chamber in the base, which supports superior filtering and cooling.
  • Percolation – A bong contains a percolator or even multiple percolators for breaking down the smoke and increasing surface area exposure to cooling. On the other hand, bubblers may not contain a percolator at all.
  • Portability – Bubblers are far more portable than their larger counterparts, making bongs unsuitable for use on the go.

These devices provide the same function: to decrease harshness and increase smoothness. Typically, the choice comes down to personal preference.

What is a gravity bong?

Gravity bongs are homemade bongs that combine water and pressure to push smoke into your lungs. The whole point is to use gravity to pull smoke into a bottle using water to create a suction effect.

Otherwise known as a bucket or waterfall bong, these homemade contraptions are famous for causing a more intense hit. One of the benefits of a bong of this type is that you are guaranteed to get higher.

What is a percolator bong?

Percolators or perc bongs are another popular type of water pipe. This bong enhances the experience with additional filtration and cooling. Inside these bongs, a percolator rests in the water chamber, breaking the smoke into smaller bubbles.

If you’re learning how to use a water bong and the standard bong is still too harsh, a percolator bong could be the answer.

Benefits of Using a Bong

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Benefits of Using a Bong

One study revealed that 23% of cannabis users smoked via a water pipe without tobacco use. These numbers show that bong use is increasing in prevalence. Now that you know what is a bong for and how bongs work, are there any benefits to choosing this smoking method?

Smoother Hit

Get a smoother hit from your bong every time. The water in the bong cools the smoke before it enters your lungs, making inhalation smoother and less harsh on your throat and lungs.

Enhanced Filtration

With more than 100 million globally estimated to use water pipes, it’s proven that bong use can filter out some impurities. Generally, if this is a concern for you, look for a bong with a diffused downstem or percolator.

Better Flavor

Did you know that combustion can lose much of that natural flavor from cannabis? Many bong users choose to consume weed this way because it helps preserve each strain’s natural flavors.

Stronger Potency

While researching “What is a bong?” you may have come across information on potency. If your usual joint isn’t getting the job done, a bong can provide more potent hits by increasing the concentration of smoke.

Cooler Smoke

According to Medical News Today, marijuana smoking can increase your risk of developing a chronic cough. If this worries you, bongs cool down the smoke and reduce irritation in your throat. This can also limit your coughing as long as you know how to properly hit a bong.

How to Use a Bong

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How to Use a Bong

To the uninitiated, bongs can seem complex and intimidating, but learning how to use bong products is easier than it looks.

This guide will show you how to light a bong and how to rip a bong like a master.

Step One

Begin by grinding down your cannabis flower. Try not to grind it too much, or you’ll find yourself with fine particles capable of being sucked into the water chamber and subsequently into your lungs.

Step Two

Set up your bong. Each bong should come with instructions on how to set it up correctly and how to use a bong. However, you may consider adding a metal screen to the bowl to stop the weed from getting into the water.

Step Three

Fill your bong with enough water to cover the downstem. Feel free to use cold or warm water. If done correctly, the water shouldn’t reach your lips when using the mouthpiece.

Once you’ve attached your downstem and the bowl, recheck the water level by inhaling on the mouthpiece. The bubbles should slide up the sides of the glass while inhaling.

Step Four

Add your herb to the bowl. It should be packed loosely with some dried bud. If you pack it too tightly, you won’t have enough airflow. If you can inhale easily, position the bowl in the downstem.

Step Five

Use your non-dominant hand to hold the bong by the neck. The base should remain on a flat surface, such as a desk or the floor.

Place your lips inside the mouthpiece to create a seal. Simultaneously, burn the flower with a lighter and inhale. Keep inhaling when the herb starts to burn until you lose your breath.

Don’t hold the smoke in your mouth because the active compounds are absorbed immediately into your bloodstream when the smoke has entered your lungs. Also, blow lightly into the downstem to ensure any remaining smoke remains in the bong for your next hit.

How to Clean a Bong

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How to Clean a Bong

Everyone has a system for cleaning their bong, but if you’re wondering how to clean a bong, this guide works well with beginners.

Note that there may be some differences if using a plastic or acrylic bong, so look up specific instructions for how to use a bong made from these materials.

Step One

Disassemble your bong and throw out any dirty water. Rinse it through with normal clean water from your faucet.

Step Two

Fill up the chamber with some isopropyl alcohol. Ensure you leave some space too. Add three tablespoons of coarse salt. With this combination, the alcohol disinfects your bong while the salt is abrasive.

With your hand covering the top of the bong, shake vigorously and allow the solution to soak for ten minutes before discarding the solution. Use a paper towel to wipe away any remaining residue.

Step Three

Rinse the inside of your bong with some clean water, shake again, and repeat as necessary. For the exterior, you can use a sponge and some dish soap.

Regarding any loose pieces, repeat the above process but place these smaller pieces in a Ziplock bag and seal.

Rinse until clean, reassemble your bong, and you’re ready to go again.

Difference Between a Bong and a Bubbler

Photo by Kindel Media

FAQs About How to Use Bongs

Are bongs healthy?

Technically speaking, inhaling smoke into your lungs isn’t healthy. Many people asking, “What is a water bong?” assume that because impurities and toxins are removed, they’re safe and healthy, but this isn’t true.

No type of smoking is healthy for your lungs. However, using a top-quality bong is unlikely to lead to serious health concerns.

What is a bong rip?

A bong rip is nothing more than inhaling large quantities of smoke. Bong rips are popular among cannabis smokers because the cooling effect allows them to take far greater hits than they could with an ordinary joint.

What is a percolator in a bong?

Percolators are added features located in the water chamber of your bong. These devices are designed to break the smoke into smaller bubbles to increase exposure to the water, thus increasing the cooling effect and leading to a smoother smoke.

What is a downstem on a bong?

The downstem is one of the core components of a bong. It delivers smoke from the bowl into the water chamber for cooling. A downstem is usually removable and consists of a long, thin tube.


Dr. Anand DugarThis article has been reviewed by Dr. Anand Dugar, an anesthesiologist, pain medicine physician and the founder of Green Health Docs. Graduating from medical school in 2004 and residency in 2008, Dr. Dugar has been a licensed physician for almost 20 years and has been leading the push for medical cannabis nationwide.