Everything You Need to Know About Water Pipes: 16 Bong FAQs

everything you need to know about bongs all questions anwered
April 18, 2019 By Stoner

Alright, so you have a few questions about bongs. What are they, how do they work, how much do they cost, where can I find the best deals on them?

Hold on, slow down. We understand your concerns before buying a new bong, and we made this complete guide to help you find the answers you are looking for.

In this article, we will answer 16 Frequently Asked Questions About Bongs in order to help you understand them more, and find the best one for you.

Before we get started, I just want to address that if this is your first time purchasing a bong, you might want to check out this comprehensive guide first. We wrote it to specifically help first-time bong buyers understand what to look for in a new piece.

frequently asked questions about bongs how do bongs work

1. How Do Bongs Work?

Okay, so without going absolute Ms. Frizzle or Bill Nye on you guys, the basic way a bong works is like this:

Essentially you have 4 main parts to a bong:

  • The Downstem (or Slide)
  • The Bowl (or Pack)
  • The Tube (or Body)
  • The Percolator (or Perc)

Some bongs do not have percolators, but most will at least have what is called a diffused downstem. This is the slide which is where the bowl pack is attached, and where the smoke is first filtered through from the bowl to the body of the bong. Typically, these downstems have slits at the bottom where the smoke is filtered through into the water.

The basic way a bong works is like this:

Smoke is filtered through the downstem from the bowl. This smoke is then gathered in the chamber of the bong. If there are percolators, then the smoke will be filtered through this. Then, if there is an ice catch, the smoke will be filtered through there.

Finally, the smoke has reached the end of the mouthpiece, and you are ready to take your hit. A few of the more complex bongs on the market have additional features like recyclers, or extra passthrough chambers, but for this guide, we will keep things simple with how bongs work.


2. Are Water Pipes Better Than Dry Pipes?

To be honest, the answer to this question ultimately depends on your personal preferences. It also depends on the situation. For instance, bongs are often larger than hand pipes or smaller dry pipes, which makes them harder to travel with and conceal.

Also, bongs can take longer to set up and clean, which can be a big factor for some smokers. They also are more expensive on average.

All of these factors add to whether a bong or dry pipe is best for you. However, most seasoned Stoners have both dry and water pipes because they prefer to mix it up and have a variety of smoking methods available to them.

Lastly, the answer to this question also depends on the type of smoking experience you are looking for. If you want a smoother, cooler, and more filtered hit with less carcinogens and more smoke, a bong may be best for you. If you want something you can quickly take out, hit, and put away in a few minutes, hand pipes may be best.

Stoner Tip: If you want to learn more about the differences between water pipes and dry pipes in order to find out which is best for you, we wrote this comprehensive guide to help you out.

3. How Much Do Bongs Cost?

Depending on the type of quality, brand, attachments, size, and design, bongs can vary in price from around $50 all the way up to $500+. However, most quality bongs can be found for under $150, and there are even some amazing bongs that you can find for under $100.  

As you get higher up the price line, you begin to see more and more unique designs, high-quality craftsmanship, filtration, etc…  However, to be completely honest with you, unless you are a glass collector, or are getting a hefty discount, there is honestly no reason to ever pay more than about $160 to $200 on a water pipe.

On top of that, just about every bong you can get for under $100 is more or less just as good as the more expensive ones. The only difference is the “prestige” you get from smoking a more expensive bong. It’s equivalent to buying a Toyota Corolla which gets the job done vs. buying a low line Mercedes Benz which has leather seats, etc.. but ultimately gets similar gas mileage, and goes the same speed.

One of the coolest things about spending less on a bong is that if you are unsatisfied with your purchase, or want a bit more filtration, diffusion or percolation, you can always spend a bit more money on some of the best bong attachments which improve the performance of your bong dramatically.

what is a percolator bong faqs

4. What is a Percolator?

A percolator is a device used to filter the smoke from a bong or water pipe. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and as a result, can vary in price accordingly. Some percolators are built into bongs, while others come as additional attachments.

Depending on the design of a percolator, it may also cool the smoke. Typically, the function of the percolator depends entirely on its design. For instance, some percolators have many slits and off chutes, while others have just a few, but make them count.

Stoner’s Tip: We don’t have time to dive into exactly how percolators work or all the different types of percolators in this article, but we did discuss all this and more in this comprehensive guide.

what is a downstem bong faqs

5. What is a Downstem?

The downstem is also known as the slide on a bong. This is the small glass piece that is attached to the bowl pack, and goes into the water of the bong that is held in the body. Typically, downstems come with your bong and are often diffused, which means that they have slits in them designed to filter smoke.

There are also additional downstem attachments that you can purchase for your bong, but you will want to make sure that they are the right size for your joint – a topic we will discuss later in this article.

6. What is an Ice Catch?

An ice catch, also referred to as an “ice pinch” or “ice notch” is a worked glass piece that is part of many bongs, which is designed to hold ice in the tube in order to add additional smoothness and filtration to your hits.

Honestly, it sounds weird at first, but once you smoke a bong with an ice catch, it is hard to go back to smoking without one. These little guys make a huge difference, and for that reason, finding a bong with an ice catch makes for a great smoking experience every time.

top bongs with percolators - Ball Perc Incycler

7. Are Bongs Healthier Than Other Smoking Methods?

Okay, here is one of the largest debates in the Stoner community: are bongs healthier to smoke out of? The short answer is yes.

Studies have shown that bongs with diffused downstems can filter out up to 99% of particulate and carcinogens from the smoke. Meanwhile, dry pipes don’t even come close, with some of the best still barely filtering out 20-30%. Even worse are blunts and joints, which are notoriously known for their bad effects on health over time because of the papers they are rolled in.  

So, to be clear, smoking anything is not healthy by nature. You are letting smoke and carcinogens into your lungs, which are a main organ of your body needed to live. However, if you feel the need to smoke, using a water pipe, particularly one with high levels of diffusion and filtration is the safest way to smoke.

Even more so than vaporizers, which can cause popcorn lung over time because of the hot, condensed vapor that expands and cools in the lungs, leaving dense fluids to fill in the tissue and alveoli within the lungs, where they can crystallize.

what is an ice bong - best ice bongs - diamond glass 8 inch beaker

8. Why Do Some People Prefer Bongs?

This is one of those opinionated questions that can be hard to give a straight answer, but we will try our best.

There are a few main reasons why people often prefer bongs over dry pipes:

  • They are much smoother
  • Provide larger hits
  • Conserve supplies much longer
  • Easier to clean
  • Come in many more varieties
  • Can easily be upgraded
  • Replaceable parts
  • Last longer (if not broken)
  • Better value

Additionally, some people just prefer the feeling they get from smoking a bong over a dry pipe. Some users claim that the high is more euphoric, others claim that it is quicker or lasts longer.

Lastly, some people prefer bongs because they are cleaner, and they are a much safer way to smoke over long periods of time – which is understandable considering the long term dangers of smoking.

9. What is a Male/Female Joint?

This is honestly one of the most confusing concepts for first-time bong users or new Stoners. To be completely transparent, this concept confused me for a long time before I finally took the time to understand it completely. So, I want to take the time to break this down in a simple visual example that will help you understand:

what is the difference between male and female joints

Another easy way to tell the difference between male joints and female joints is their shape. Typically, male joints are pointed in, making them look almost like a cone, coming to a taper. While female joints are not tapered but open up like a funnel.

Male Joints

So, as you can see in the visual above, male joints are skinnier. They fit female attachments, which fit directly over the male joints and enclose them completely. Think about it like sex, the male fits in the female. Yes, we said that, get over it, we are all adults here and we know how it works.

Female Joints

Female joints are wider and accept male attachments, which fit in them snugly. Again, an easy way to think about this is to simply think of males and females anatomy in real life.

The easiest ways to tell the two apart are to:

  • Look at bongs with their attachments on
  • Look for information about the joint size and gender

Most online headshops will address what size and gender the joint is on each bong they have for sale, which makes it super easy to tell the difference. On top of that, they also address these sizes with almost all bong and dab rig attachments in order to make finding the right size accessory as easy as possible.

10. How Do I Know What Attachments Will Fit My Bong?

Again, most bongs and dab rigs that you purchase online should have exact descriptions and measurements of their joint sizes and lists of what sizes of attachments fit them.

If you do not have access to this information, do not panic, there is an easy way to measure your bongs joint size and gender.

First, you will want to measure the diameter. All joint sizes are measured in millimeters and are measured in diameter (the full length from one side of the joint to the other side). Be sure to note that this is the diameter of the inside of the joint, not the outside.

You can easily do this with either a tape measure, ruler, micrometer, or if you have neither of these things, you can do the Bic Pen Test.

(the following photos and table information in this section was provided by our friends at The Dab Labs)
frequently asked questions about water pipes how to measure joint size

Next, it is time to administer the test.

Male Joints

how to measure joint sizes on bongs

If the non-writing end of the pen barely fits into the hole or doesn’t at all, you have a 10mm or 10.5mm Male Joint on your hands. Both of which can be interchanged easily, and do not typically cause any problems over the half a millimeter. The above photo shows an example of this.

how to measure joint sizes on water pipes

If the same end of the pen fits in snugly, or with a small bit of wiggle room, you are dealing with a 14mm or 14.5mm. These two sizes are often confused because they are so close that you will hardly ever run into problems interchanging them. See photo above.

how to measure joint sizes on water pipes males

If the back end of the Bic Pen fits into the joint super easily, you are either dealing with a female joint, or an 18mm or 18.8mm male joint. To tell the difference between the two refer to the previous section describing the shape. The above photo shows more.

Female Joints

While the sizes of female joints are matched up with their respective male partners, they are actually wider in diameter in order to allow the male attachments to fit in. This means that you cannot use the same method to measure female joints. However, a similar method using the same Bic Pen from the male joint measurements can be applied.

Using the writing tip of the pen now, hold it at a perpendicular angle to the joint so that the end of the tip touches one side of it (on the inside), like the photos below.

measuring 10mm female joint

From here, if the brown, lower part of the tip of the pen barely fits the length of the joint, you are likely dealing with a 10mm female joint. See the photo above for visual aid.

measuring a 14mm female glass joint

If the entire brown portion of the tip of the pen is taken up by the joint, but only some of the blue section above, then you are likely dealing with a 14mm female joint. The photo above shows this size.

measuring and 18mm female joint

Lastly, if almost the entire blue section of the writing end of the pen fits the diameter of the joint, you are likely dealing with an 18mm female joint. The above photo shows an example of this.

Normal Joint Sizes   

Using the same helpful resources as above from our friends at The Dab Lab, we made this awesome chart to help you understand the size of a joint from a simple measurement using a ruler or tape measure:

Gender & Width

Joint Size

Male and about 6/16” wide 10mm Male
Male and about 8/16” wide 14mm Male
Male and about 10/16” wide 18mm Male
Female and about 8/16” wide 10mm Female
Female and about 10/16” wide 14mm Female
Female and about 12/16” wide 18mm Female

Keep in mind that the most standard size for joints are 10mm, 10.5mm, 14mm, 14.5mm, 18mm and 18.8mm. For the most part, you should try to purchase bongs that have these sizes in order to make purchasing upgrades or replacement accessories as easy as possible.

11. What Can I Do If An Attachment Doesn’t Fit My Bong?

Have you done all of the work to measure out your bong joint size and still can’t seem to find the right size attachment, or find the right gender for the accessory you want? No worries, lots of Stoners are in the same boat.

That’s why they made these handy things called male to female adapters, which allow you to easily interchange the gender of your joint with ease.

common questions about bongs

These bad boys are super affordable and come in just about every shape and size you can think of, making your bong practically universal for just a few extra dollars. For that reason, we even ranked them as one of the Best Dab Rig Attachments in 2019.

what is the difference between dab rigs and bongs water pipe faq

12. What’s the Difference Between Bongs and Dab Rigs?

Okay, so to be clear, most bongs can function as dab rigs, and most dab rigs can function as bongs. I know that to start, this doesn’t help to answer your question, but it is important to keep in mind moving forward.


So, to clarify and dive a bit deeper into the difference between dab rigs and bongs, the answer really lies in the design. You see, most bongs and dab rigs are interchangeable because all you need to do is swap out your glass bowl or quartz banger for one another, and BAM, you’ve got yourself a multipurpose water pipe.

But, when you get into the details of it, bongs and dab rigs are typically designed quite differently. Most bongs are taller, and less compact than dab rigs. On top of that, they usually come with a diffused downstem that is removable, while most dab rigs have slides or downstems that are part of the rig itself, and cannot be removed.

Also, most bongs will be found with wider necks and mouthpieces, ice catches, and percolators that are more towards the middle or even the top of the bong. Meanwhile, percolators in dab rigs are typically in the chamber or towards the bottom of the rig, in order to cool smoke down more.

Lastly, dab rigs typically come in beaker based designs, or something similar, with room for the neck and the downstem to break off in different directions, while bongs typically seem more like one fluid piece that is designed around the chamber and the base rather than the stem and the mouthpiece.

How to make your bong rip harder


As far as performance goes, it all really depends on your individual water pipe and your preferences. If you are a dab snob like we talked about earlier, chances are that a bong converted to a dab rig won’t cut it for you.

However, if you are someone with an open mind, a tall bong with a solid percolator can actually make for a great dab rig. The same can be said about a dab rig converted to a bong. As long as the design makes sense and the attachment you are using is quality, the difference is hard to notice.

The main thing you want to look out for when turning a bong to a dab rig is that there is enough room for two things to happen:

  • Properly filtered smoke to reduce carcinogens
  • Proper diffusion in order to cool down the smoke

If you do not have the right amount of filtration, you may get bad tasting hits, and expose yourself to more chemicals.

If you do not have proper diffusion, you can expose yourself to extremely high temp dab hits, which can burn your mouth, lungs, throat, tongue, and more.

On top of that, you also want to make sure that if you are using your bong as a dab rig that you prepare for a mess. Dabs are much dirtier and harder to clean out than dry herbs, so be ready for your slide and potentially internal components to get a bit gunked up.

how do i use a bong faq for bongs

13. How Do I Use A Bong?

To use a bong, follow these simple steps below, or use the visual above as a guide! 

Step 1: Fill, Pack, & Light It

The bowl is packed and then lit. When the pack is lit, smoke is inhaled by the user through the mouthpiece.

Step 2: Inhale Until Full

Once the bong is packed and you have lit it, inhale through the mouthpiece until the bong begins to pool with smoke.

If this is your first time smoking a bong, you may want to smoke with a more experienced Stoner or watch a tutorial video to make sure you don’t take too big of a hit.

Because new Stoners are likely to take too large of hits, we recommend that once you have filled the bong with smoke, you exhale, take another breath, and then prepare to take the actual hit. This way, you reduce your chances to make some of the worst first-time smoker mistakes, such as blowing out the bowl or coughing in the bong.

Stoner Tip: To learn more about Stoner etiquette, check out this comprehensive guide we made.

Step 3: Pull the Slide or Bowl

Now it is time to pull the slide or the bowl. For bongs that have separate slides and bowl attachments (almost all bongs), we recommend you only pull the bowl pack to prevent mistakes that can lead to broken downstems – which are just a bad time (TRUST US).

As you pull the bowl pack, the vacuum is now broken, and the smoke pooled in the chamber and body of the bong is now free to be inhaled easily.

Note: You want to make sure that you do not try to be a hero and take the whole hit to your face. Even small bongs can easily deceive you with the amount of smoke one hit holds.

Step 4: Take the Hit

So, for your first few hits, until you get it right, just take a decent-sized hit, and then exhale. You WILL cough your brains out, we promise. Then, clear the bong as needed, until all of the smoke is gone.

The beauty of a bong is that most Stoners only need about one or two hits from a bowl pack to be totally annihilated. This conserves herb and also helps you to get the most out of a quick smoking sesh once you get the hang of how to hit it just right ;).

Step 5: Repeat Steps 1-4 as Needed

Okay, now it is time to rinse and repeat. Well, probably not for you first-timers. Take a second to take in the entire experience of your first bong hit. Give it a bit to kick in before trying to take another one – they tend to creep up on you.

If you feel up for another one, just repeat these steps. Eventually, you will get the hang of taking the perfect size bong hit every time. That s, until you try a new bong and it gets all messed up again. Oh the beauties of being a Stoner, always a new surprise around the corner.

14. How Can I Clean My Bong?

Okay, so we wrote a complete guide about how to clean your bong and dab rig here. So, we won’t go into too much depth about this process.

Basically, the best way to clean your bong is to mix vinegar, room temperature water, and a bong cleaning agent together.

From there, you want to use a few Res Caps in order to keep the concoction in your bong for a few hours, to give the mixture time to break down resin and other contaminants in your bong.

Then, all you need to do is clear the mixture out of the bong, and give it a few rinses in order to make sure it is completely gone.

Note: One thing that is important to remember is that exposing a bong to temperatures that are too extreme can cause fractures and lead to breaking. So, DO NOT use hot water to clean your bong, because if it cools too fast – say goodbye to your favorite piece.

15. How Long Do Bongs Last?

This really all depends on how well you treat it. I have seen bongs last 5-10+ years when people take care of them, don’t bring them to parties, or leave them around kids/animals, put them away when they are done using them, and clean them at least 2-5 times per year.

However, I have also personally lost bongs, seen them broken at parties, lent them to a friend who broke them, knocked them over out of clumsiness, and broken them many other ways.

So, if you keep your bong nice, and try to avoid the simple ways to break it, you can have a bong indefinitely. It all depends on how you treat it, combined with a bit of luck that something weird doesn’t happen, like the shelf it is on breaks – yes, we have seen this too. R.I.P. Clifford the Big Red Bong.

16. How Do I Know Which Bong Is Best For Me?

Okay, so here is the real question. Which bong is best for you? Well, to be honest, you don’t need to give it too much thought. At the end of the day, unless you have really specific needs like our friend the Dab Snob, chances are you will be happy with just about any high-quality bong that is in your price range.

Each one is a bit different in design, functionality, and performance. However, as long as you purchase a bong made by the Top Bong Brands, you should always be satisfied with your purchase.

Before making a choice, ask some of your Stoner friends about their bong preferences, or perhaps take a trip to your local headshop in order to ask someone to teach you more about the different types of bongs. This is one of the best things you can do to find the right bong for you.

Lastly, be sure to read the online reviews of bongs on your favorite online headshop site before pulling the trigger. This can serve as a last line of defense before making a purchase.

Looking to Learn Even More About Bongs?

Now that you have some answers to all of your bong related questions, I am sure you are ready to learn a bit more before making a purchasing decision.

If this is the case, be sure to check out some of our other bong related content, which can help you find the best water pipe for your needs, even if you are on a budget, or have really specific wants.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this piece of content and found it helpful, please leave a comment, or subscribe to our email newsletter for updates on our latest content from our blog, or new products in our online headshop.

Or, if you think you are ready to look for the best bong now, check out our large selection:

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