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What is a Bong?How do Bongs Work?


What is a Bong-How do Bongs Work

Whether you're an avid smoker or a newbie, you've most likely pondered the question, what is a bong? how do bongs work?

Yes, we all know it gets you high, but what in the world are all those bong parts and what do they do?

I know that mystified look all too well, but no worries, we will give you an in-depth breakdown of the smoke as it travels through every piece of the bong.

After reading this article, you will have confidence in all there is to know about a bong, all of its many functions, and what happens to the smoke as it makes its way through.

What is a Bong?

glass bong

Bongs, which you may also know by slang terms like bubbler, binger, or billy, are water pipes used to smoke cannabis.

They've been around for centuries.

The word bong is said to have come from the Thai word “baung” meaning a wooden cylinder or pipe cut from bamboo and used for smoking.

Whether manufactured or homemade, the device as we know it stays essentially true to this definition of a bong.

Its central identifying shape - the cylindrical neck - mirrors the robust cylinder of a bamboo stalk.

The bong's neck, vessel, or tube connects to the base where the water resides.

Bongs are frequently custom-made or homemade and come in a vast amount of shapes, sizes, and modifications, such as neck pinches or gravity chambers.

Some bongs are just a single straight tube that connects to the mouthpiece.

Others have a wide base (usually beaker-shaped or spherical) that connects to the tube.

The only other essential parts of a bong are the bowl and downstream.

Though most professionally crafted bongs are glass, homemade bongs can be constructed from any vessel that is both airtight and watertight by adding a stem, bowl, and carb apparatus.

Read on to learn more about what a bong is, how a bong works, and the role of water in a bong.

How do Bongs Work?

A glass bong filled with water in the forest

Four main bong parts are involved when smoking that are important to understand.

Ever wonder what's happening to all that smoke as it's passing through those bong filters, chambers, and percolators?

From the moment the bowl is lit to the time the smoke reaches you, the smoke gets filtered through several filtration systems.

Talk about a thorough cleaning cycle.

The smoke gets filtered out four times before hitting your mouth!

Smoke is instantly inhaled down into the bowl where it then fills the rest of the bong and into your lungs. 

But how and when is all that filtering action taking place?

Let's jump right into how smoke travels through a bong:


1. Bong Bowl - Where the smoke starts

When the bong bowl is lit, smoke is generated.

The intensity of your inhalation affects smoke accumulation.

A slower pull is preferable for fuller, denser smoke, allowing time for effective filtration later.

2. Downstem - Filters Smoke First

Acts as a primitive percolator, guiding smoke from the bowl into the water chamber.

The downstream dips into the water, where interaction with the water cools the smoke and increases its surface area through bubble formation, enhancing cooling.

3. Chamber - Second Primary Smoke Filtration and Cooling

Smoke flows from the downstem into the chamber where it undergoes significant cooling. 

Water in this chamber further cools the smoke, preparing it for further filtration if applicable.

4. Percolator - Advanced Bonus Smoke Filtration

Features multiple slits or holes for additional smoke diffusion. 

Provides advanced smoke filtration and cooling, effectively doubling the cooling effect as compared to the initial lighting.

5. Ice Pinch - Extra Cooling on Smoke

Positioned above the chamber, the ice in this section cools the smoke further as it passes by. 

Delivers an even cooler and smoother inhalation experience.

Why is There Water in a Bong?

A girl smoking a Glass bong

As we just briefly mentioned in the introduction to this topic, the main purpose of water in a bong is to act as a filter.

When you use a water bong, you inhale while lighting the bowl - which pulls smoke across the water, up the tube, and into your lungs.

When smoke is pulled across the combination of water and bubbles, it leads to a cooler, smoother hit - and thus, a more enjoyable experience for the smoker.

This is why in the pipe vs bong debate, the bong tends to win.

The filtration capabilities of a water bong are two-pronged:

  • Water cools the smoke before it reaches your lungs
  • Water traps particulate matter from the smoke

To truly help you understand the key purpose water serves in the bong, let's take a deeper look at each of these forms of filtration.

Water cools the smoke before it reaches your lungs

This is perhaps the most important function of water in a bong.

By the time the smoke passes through the water and reaches your lips, it will have cooled off significantly.

This makes for a much smoother hit that's easier on your lungs.

Water traps particulate matter from the smoke

As the smoke passes through the water, any particulate matter (such as ash) will be trapped in the water.

This means you won't be inhaling any harmful particles when you take a hit from your bong.

Can You Use a Bong Without Water?

use a bong without water

As you can see, water serves two very important purposes in a bong.

One is to cool the smoke itself for a more gentle, smooth hit.

The other is to prevent particulate matter from making its way into your lungs.

Together, these two benefits of a water pipe result in an enjoyable experience.

This is why the bong is one of the best ways to smoke weed.

Perhaps you just want to know if you can use a bong without water.

While you can technically use a bong without water, we don't recommend it.

This is because you won't get the benefits of filtration that water provides.

The smoke will be harsher on your lungs and you'll likely inhale more harmful particles.

If you're stranded with just your bong and some bud, you can dry-hit the bong as a last resort.

It won't damage the glass or anything - but it certainly won't feel good on your lungs!

Even the best water bongs - with the most sophisticated percolators - lack filtration without the presence of water.

Bongs VS Bubblers - What's the Difference?


Bongs are water pipes that stand upright, and you put the mouthpiece over your lips.

Bubblers are a different kind of water pipe with a mouthpiece that goes between your lips.

Just remember: All bongs are water pipes, but not all water pipes are bongs.

Bongs VS Dab rigs - What's the Difference?


Like bongs, dab rigs use water to filter cannabis when lighting the herb.

However, bongs use a bowl piece for burning flowers, while dab rigs have a nail or banger for vaporizing oil, known as dabs.

Moreover, dab rigs are often smaller and have multiple chambers and filters that push the vapor to take different paths before reaching your mouth.

It's worth mentioning that you can use any bong for concentrate vaporization if you switch out the bowl piece for a nail or banger.

But bongs aren't designed specifically for concentrates, so it's better to use purpose-built dab rigs for the best experience.


Now that we've covered the functions of a bong, and how smoke travels through each accessory, you should now hold your head up high knowing you are knowledgeable in the fundamentals of a bong.