Bottom half of a glass bong with smoke swirling in the background

What is a Water Pipe? How Do You Use It?

There’s no question: Bongs have a reputation. They grace some hilarious cannabis-related movies, and you know instantly when you see one get pulled out of a smoking kit. While that might be a first impression, the truth is that water pipes stand as iconic symbols of elevated experiences and smooth inhalations. Known for their efficiency and unique designs, these devices have become staples for enthusiasts seeking a refreshing twist to their smoking rituals.

In this guide, we’ll give you a deep dive into one of our favorite smoking tools, including:

  • What is a Bong?
  • How is a Bong Different from a Water Pipe?
  • How Does a Bong Work?
  • Anatomy of a Bong
  • How To Use a Bong
  • How to Clean a Bong
  • Answering FAQs About Bongs

What is a Bong?

At its core, a water pipe, commonly referred to as a bong, is a specialized pipe designed to use water to filter the smoke, delivering a unique smoking experience that many cannabis enthusiasts find to be less harsh than other pipes. Bongs come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, some contributing to the overall smoking experience and many just designed with an artistic eye.

How is a Bong Different from a Water Pipe?

You might be noticing we’re using the term “bong” and “water pipe” interchangeably. That’s because all bongs are water pipes. That said, not all water pipes are bongs. There are cannabis tools available, like dab rigs and bubblers, that also use water and would therefore qualify as a water pipe. You can also find a wide variety of different styles of bongs, so don’t be afraid to use the wrong term when you walk into a dispensary. Your budtender will likely know exactly what you’re talking about.

How Does a Bong Work?

Understanding the inner workings of a bong can help you understand the technical details behind its reputation for delivering cool and flavorful hits. The basic principle involves passing the smoke through water, which serves as a filtration medium. This process not only cools down the smoke but also filters out some of the impurities. Some cannabis enthusiasts feel that it’s easier to smoke from a bong than it is to smoke from a pipe because of the water filtration.

Anatomy of a Bong

So then, what is a bong made of? While there are a lot of parts, if you’ve used a pipe, you likely know most of them. And if you’re new to pipes, be it a hand pipe or water pipe, don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of the terminology quickly.


The main chamber through which smoke travels when you inhale.

Looking down at the mouthpiece of a marijuana bongLooking down at the mouthpiece of a marijuana bong


The bowl is where the ground cannabis is placed.

Cannabis flower in the bowl of a marijuana bongCannabis flower in the bowl of a marijuana bong


A small hole that regulates airflow. Your carb can help you control how much smoke enters the tube, and therefore, how much smoke you inhale.


A tube extending from the bowl into the water, facilitating smoke diffusion.


The bottom part of the bong, or base, holds water and is usually shaped to provide stability if you set your bong down.

Bottom half of a clear glass marijuana bongBottom half of a clear glass marijuana bong

How To Use a Bong

Many cannabis enthusiasts who are new to the scene worry that using a bong is complicated. It’s really not—once you know what you’re doing. If you follow these steps, your chances are high that you will be able to create a successful first toke:

Step 1: Prepare Your Water Pipe

Place clean water into the bottom of your water pipe. Ensure that the downstem is halfway submerged.

Step 2: Grind & Pack

Place your cannabis in a grinder and grind it to the right consistency. Then, pack the ground marijuana flower into the water pipe’s bowl. Some people also choose to top off their flower with kief.

Step 3: Light the Flower

Place your lips at the top of the water pipe’s tube and light the flower in the bowl. Inhale gently and slowly. You’ll hear the water start to bubble or percolate, and you may be able to see vapor start to fill the water pipe’s tube.

Step 4: Remove the Bowl & Inhale

Carefully remove the bowl from the carb to allow air to flow into the water pipe’s base and up into the tube. Now, all you have to do is inhale.

If you’re a beginner, you may not want to wait too long between inhaling slowly and pulling the bowl. The longer you wait, the more vapor will fill the tube and the larger amount of marijuana you’ll consume.

How to Clean a Bong

Maintaining the cleanliness of your bong is crucial for an optimal smoking experience. Regular cleaning prevents residue buildup and ensures the water pipe functions at its best. A mixture of isopropyl alcohol and salt is an effective cleaning solution. Simply shake the mixture within the bong, rinse thoroughly, and voila—a clean, ready-to-use device.

Looking for some more detailed instructions? Check out our guide on how to clean a bong.

Answering FAQs About Bongs

Because bongs seem complex, we get a lot of questions about them. Here are a few of the answers to hopefully help demystify water pipes for you, too.

Why do people put ice in their bongs?
Placing ice in the bong's neck cools the smoke further, resulting in a cooler hit. It can also serve as an additional method of filtration. There are some bongs designed with an ice catcher—a few little prongs midway up the neck—but if yours doesn’t have those, don’t worry. You can add ice to the main chamber, too.

How much does a water pipe cost?
Water pipe prices vary based on design, material, and brand. An entry level water pipe can start at $50 for basic models, but the price can soar from there. It would not be uncommon to see a price tag of $500 for high-end, intricately designed bongs.

Are bongs the same as dab rigs?
While both involve water filtration, bongs are designed for smoking cannabis flower, whereas dab rigs are optimized for vaporizing concentrates.

Should you put hot or cold water in a bong?
You should put whatever temperature of water into your bong that you prefer. That said, some cannabis enthusiasts opt for hot water. While the hot water will still cool the smoke because it’s not as hot as the burning cannabis flower, it will also add moisture to the smoke, doing away with that harsh, dry hit you get from cold water pulls.

Learn More About Bongs

If you enjoy smoking your cannabis, bongs can be a great option to try. They provide a unique smoking experience without being overcomplicated. If you’re still on the fence, it might be a good idea to swing into your local dispensary. There, you can talk to a budtender about the bongs they have available and what they would recommend you start with. You can even ask them to show you how to operate it, so you know what to do when you get home and add your herb. 

Recreational cannabis is not available in all states. Cannabis is for medical use only and may only be used by certified patients in Pennsylvania. State laws impact what dispensaries can and can’t sell to recreational customers and certified patients. Not every type of product, consumption method, dosage form, or potency mentioned on this blog will be permitted in all locations.