How Does a Bong Work? Water Pipes Explained

By Last updated on January 4, 2021Last updated on January 4, 2021No Comments

Bongs are water pipes used to smoke cannabis. They have been around for centuries and are one of the most common ways to smoke cannabis.

The bong is so ingrained in weed culture that many connoisseurs go so far as to name their pieces, turning the otherwise inanimate object into a personality within their smoke circle.

How Does a Bong Work?

The history of bongs

The word “bong” is said to have been derived from the Thai word “baung,” which traditionally refers to a round wooden tube of bamboo and has also taken on the modern definition of a cylindrical smoking pipe.

Some have traced the use of a water pipe to filter and cool smoke back to China’s Ming Dynasty. Other reports show a history of use in Africa, where tribes would build earthen bongs into the ground using the same principles behind modern bongs. There are even accounts of ancient bongs made of pure gold being used by a nomadic warrior race in what is now Russia.

Bongs are also closely related to the hookah, a type of water pipe generally used to smoke flavored tobacco. Hookahs use a hose as a mouthpiece and can be designed to allow multiple people to enjoy the smoke from a single bowl.

Today bongs can take on many shapes and sizes, but the most common versions are hand-blown glass by artists who blend science and art, creating masterpieces that are both beautiful and functional. This was not always the case, though. Throughout its evolution, the bong has also been made from materials including hand-carved wood, bamboo, ceramics, and even plastic.

Plastic bongs are not recommended, however, as they pose potential health risks from heating up the plastic and potentially melting it; causing dangerous gases to form.

How do they work?

Bongs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very basic with just a bowl and chamber. Others are colorful, mouth-blown works of art.

At the end of the day, they all do basically the same thing, filter and cool the smoke that comes from the burning cannabis.

Bongs generally feature a small bowl that holds dried weed. When you light the weed it combusts. Meanwhile, as you inhale, the water in the bottom of the bong bubbles (percolates). The smoke rises up through the water and then the chamber before entering your mouth and lungs.

Components of a bong

A bong has a few composite parts that are mostly universal to all bongs:


The tube of the bong is perhaps the most identifiable part; it is the chamber wherein the weed smoke resides before you breathe it in. The smoke that is held here has been cooled and filtered by the water in the bowl, making it easy to intake the smoke whenever you are ready. This is the one component that does not really ever change from its straight, cylindrical appearance.


The bowl of the bong is where you hold your marijuana as you are using it. The weed sits there, held in the internal divot, allowing you to light it. The bowl is then connected to the stem, which allows the smoke to pass down into the tube.


The stem of the Bong is the small, clear tube that connects the bowl and the tube. Many bongs actually have special stems that allow them to serve as more than just the simple holding device that they appear.

On some bongs, the stem is the part that holds the water, freeing up the bong from having to have a wider, flared bottom in the base. Additionally, by removing the stem from its hole, the next key component of the bong is exposed.


Also known as a “carb” or “choke”, this component is not necessarily included on all bongs, but important to learn because there is an essential use for it. The carb is a small hole on the glass pipe. It is located directly next to the bowl on the side of the bong. If there is a carb, be sure to cover the carb hole using your thumb or finger while inhaling the first half of your puff. Then release your finger and allow air to flow through the carb hole while you inhale the second half of your hit.


The base is the bottom part of the bong that contains the water used to cool your weed smoke. The design of this part of the bong varies between different products, but they are most generally shaped like a beaker, with a flared bottom that makes it easier to stand it up while using it.

Advantages of smoking from a bong

The main advantage that draws people to using a bong is its ability to cool and filter the smoke through water, offering a smooth draw even when a large amount of smoke is inhaled. When comparing the use of a bong to other consumption methods, the advantages can vary.

For those who typically roll their cannabis into joints, bongs offer cooling percolation while maintaining the pungent spectrum of aroma and flavor that cannabis produces. When comparing the bong experience to that of a standard dry pipe, the result is a much smoother toke that is less harsh and easier on the throat and lungs than the hot, dry heat of a hand pipe.

Bubblers, on the other hand, offer the one-piece compact aesthetic of a hand pipe with the added functionality of water percolation. However, a bong tends to be a more fluid experience than a bubbler, offering less trouble than a bubbler’s smaller structure that can often get clogged or dirty.

How to use a bong?

Many people think the act of using a bong is inherently simple. However, it actually requires a little bit of knowledge beforehand.

The first step to using a bong and making it work is grinding up your weed. You need to use a coarse grind, one that is not going to be too big that it struggles to be lit, while at the same time one that is not so small that it falls into the stem and ends up lost in the bong water.

Additionally, you need to fill the bong base up with water, stopping just short of the carb hole and just above the end of the stem. If the bong has the carb hole, it will either be on the side of the bong or be actually a part of the stem, accessible once you actually take the bowl out of the bong.

The next step, light the weed.

As you light the weed, you need to breathe in as the weed catches gently. This allows the smoke to pull into the tube through the stem. As it passes through the water, the weed smoke is both purified and filtered, while also being cooled.

Due to the fact that the water is cooler than the hot weed smoke passing through it, a good deal of the heat is passed to the water, making the resulting smoke that you breathe in that much cooler. It also gets rid of residual plant matter that would otherwise clog up your lungs, making the whole experience more pleasant.

Once you have pulled all the smoke you want from your burning weed, you then need to inhale it.

To do so, you either uncover the carb or remove the stem, depending on your particular type of bong, and then inhale. The reason this works so well, and why the weed smoke does not merely get inhaled when you were breathing it into light the weed, is because it did not have any air to push it through.

To best illustrate this, imagine sucking air through a straw; it is essentially just like breathing in normally.

Precautions for inexperienced users

The only thing that you need to keep in mind when using a bong is that, because all of the smoke created by the weed is inhaled at one time, it can be pretty overwhelming for those not used to it.

As all of the smoke enters your lungs together, it is very common for inexperienced weed smokers to burst into a coughing fit. This can actually hurt your throat quite a bit, so it is best to keep some cool water on hand to help calm your inflamed throat if you start violently coughing. Be assured, this will only get easier and more controlled as users get more experienced.

The Sanctuary Editorial Team

The Sanctuary Editorial Team

Our writers use a combination of research and personal experiences to eloquently tackle these topics. We also examine scientific publishings for up-to-date research. The accuracy of our articles is crucially important to us and they are written with the idea of inclusiveness for readers of all walks of life.