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Monday August 19, 2019

By Paul Barach

Reviewed By Mohammad Ashori, M.D. on Wednesday March 9, 2022


Bongs, we can all agree, are pretty great. As the smoke percolates through the water, it becomes much less harsh on your throat and lungs without losing any of that great taste. Plus, you can take much bigger tokes out of a bong than you can out of a regular pipe, allowing for faster uptake and quicker onset of effects. For that last reason, the cleaning and maintenance of your bong can get forgotten for a couple of days or weeks, or months (or longer). This is totally understandable. There are few cannabis consumers who get more motivated to clean after a couple of deep rips, however, many agree that cleaning out a bong always seems like a big hassle. Believe it or not, though, cleaning your bong and keeping it filled with fresh water are both necessary tasks to maintain a healthy smoke session.

Why You Should Clean Your Bong

Cleaning out your bong after every use is pretty important, so you should find the motivation to do so wherever you can. At the very least, cannabis consumers should try to dump out and change the water every night after the last bowl is torched, or at least before you go to sleep every night.

Ripping a bong
Not only is smoking out of dirty bong water unsanitary, but it also can be dangerous.

You may be asking “Is there really any harm between smoking through fresh water and some well-seasoned bong water? So what if I’m losing some of the flavor of the weed and it tastes like an abandoned dirt basement? It’s my choice as an American to smoke my bong however I choose!” Technically, you are right on that last point. If you choose to smoke out of dirty bong water, the state has no authority to compel you to do otherwise.

The fact remains that smoking out of dirty bong water is pretty unsanitary and anyone you’re smoking with would probably prefer not to. 

Plus, letting your bong water get too well-seasoned just makes cleaning up worse if and when a bong spill occurs. We’ve all been through that at least once, usually your roommate Travis’ fault, and no one wants to repeat it. That stink spreads across the floor or sinks into the carpet and hangs around like a dank ghost for weeks. But besides all that, dirty bong water can pose a health risk to those who enjoy partaking in their relatively harmless weed. 

Health Risks of Dirty Bong Water

Let’s put it this way: dirty, stagnant water is not necessarily bad. If you’ve ever been to a pond on a sunny day, you may have noticed that plenty of creatures love it. Look at all the bacteria, mold, pond scum, and algae that are thriving in there. Clearly, they’re having a blast. And look at all the bugs and amphibians that are eating them up. They don’t think it’s gross at all in there. For humans though, unless you’re dying of thirst, pond water is probably the last thing you would want in your body as odds are it will make you sick. Similar to pond water, dirty bong water can be a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and more. Legionella pneumophilia being one of the household culprits of serious illness in stagnant water.

Bong sitting on table
Dirty bong water can allow bacteria to grow. photo credit

“Wait a minute, are you saying dirty bong water is as bad as pond water?” No, but it’s still closer than you should be comfortable with. The next time you leave your bong water out for more than a day, take a look inside the tube. You may see a film that’s formed across the surface of the water. This is known as a biofilm, and it’s bad news for your body. Basically, what you’re looking at is a tiny biodome. Except, instead of creating a tiny bubble for a tiny Paulie Shore to cause some tiny trouble, it’s a protective breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and other microorganisms. 

Think about it this way, if you take the time to wash your hands in order to keep pathogens away from your mouth, why would you then give them a direct invitation into your lungs? Bacteria like Strep and E. coli – as well as fungi like black mildew – can thrive in dirty bong water. Once inhaled they can cause strep throat, pneumonia, emphysema, or worse. The more times you smoke out of the same water, the more chance these pathogens have to reproduce and spread into your body.

The Importance of a Clean Bong

If you’re pressed for time or are so couch locked that any effort would be too much, as mentioned before you should at minimum pour out the bong water, leave your piece tipped upside down to dry, and then refill it with fresh water. A biofilm can form in any leftover water that has been used to filter cannabis smoke, and any pathogens that grow there can remain in the water when you refill your bong, giving them more chances to enter your throat and lungs. For the best taste, nicest presentation, and healthiest option, cleaning your bong is the best option. Check out our video below to see how it’s done:

So, to summarize: For the best and most health-conscious cannabis experience, pour out your bong and leave it to dry after every use. Be sure to fill it with cold, preferably filtered water before you partake. It’s best to clean out your bong at least once a week. This will prevent any pathogens from growing in it that might head into your lungs and make you sick. Besides, who really wants to smoke out of a dirty bong? You’re taking the time to choose the best bud, why ruin the taste? Your lungs and your friends will thank you for it. 

How often do you clean your bong? Share tips and techniques for proper water pipe maintenance in the comments below.


Paul Barach Paul Barach

Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.

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Expert Medical Reviewer

Mohammad Ashori, M.D. Mohammad Ashori, M.D.

Mohammad Ashori, M.D. is a board-certified physician practicing in Los Angeles, CA. He attended UCLA medical school and completed his family medicine residency at UCLA as well. His career started out at a large HMO at Kaiser Permanente which he left in 2016 to work on the then-burgeoning field of telehealth. Since then he has worked with numerous healthcare startups focusing on patient education, empowerment, and access. He is passionate about the science of clinical medicine but doesn't like to stray too far from one-on-one clinical care. As of 2021, he is practicing in various urgent care in the Los Angeles area.

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