Dangers of dirty bongs

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Polluxx/Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of things I did in college that I would turn my nose up at today, like going to frat parties to drink jungle juice out of plastic tubs that everyone else has dipped their hands in and sleeping with boys who ignore me. This is mostly due to the fact that my standards for things like self-respect and hygiene have risen significantly with age. I also have more refined tastes when it comes to my cannabis habit. I’m not a total weed snob, but I definitely have certain preferences and things I’m not willing to compromise on. Refusing to smoke out of dirty bongs is absolutely one of them.

When I was 19, my favorite method for getting stoned was a homemade gravity bong that was essentially just a two-liter bottle of Sprite that we cut in half and put in a trash can. After class, my sorority sisters and I would spend hours sticking our faces in that thing to inhale stale clouds of smoke and laugh at each other for coughing our brains out every time. I don’t think we changed the water in that thing even once all semester, but it wasn’t something I concerned myself with or even gave a second thought; I was never too good to take giant rips out of a plastic trash can filled with questionable water that looked and smelled like a rotten soup of mold and ash and whatever else was floating around in there. Eight years later, I have retired from nasty gravity bong hits; that isn’t even something you could pay me to do today.

Now, I don’t know how old you are, but I also don’t care because once you hit 25, smoking out of pieces that are constantly covered in layers of stinky black tar makes you a trashy person. College students can get away with being gross and dirty, but if you’re an adult paying for your own Netflix account and have ordered avocado toast even once, it’s not cute. The quality and care you invest into maintaining nice things is a direct reflection of who you are and your priorities. If you’re always passing me a dirty dab rig or grimy bong, I’m going to assume that you’re lazy and unconcerned with everything else in life, too.

If the judgment of others isn’t enough to motivate you to keep up with the daily maintenance your glass requires, then maybe improving your health or overall cannabis experience will. First of all, your weed deserves better. Each cannabis plant produces its own unique tastes, aromas and effects. As stale water, oils, condensation, mildews and ash collect over time, they drastically distort the flavor. So packing good weed into a dirty bowl, where it will travel through even dirtier water, basically ruins the intended experience, making it impossible to tell the difference between fancy top-shelf weed you brought home from the dispensary and the dried-out mids you bought from your high school dealer. In contrast, buying artisan flower to smoke out of a clean bong filled with ice and fresh water can feel like a personal spa day or a little self-care retreat in your own living room. You’re much more likely to taste the subtle differences in the strains and their effects.

When it comes to your health, you really have to consider the ways in which your bong happens to be the perfect environment for yeast, fungi, bacteria and pathogens to thrive. Have you ever left a glass of plain water out for a few days and noticed the shiny film that develops on the top? It’s called a biofilm, and it’s made up of colonies of microbes that live on the surface of water. In your bong, that biofilm is mixed with all of the resin and plant matter that ends up in the water. This allows harmful pathogens like streptococcus, E. coli and black mildew to grow and flourish in your bong, which can cause respiratory issues like strep throat, pneumonia and emphysema. Biofilm can form in as little as 24 hours, which is why it’s so important to clean your bong daily.

As a rule of thumb, if it’s not something you would want to drink, then it shouldn’t be something you introduce to your lungs. I change the water in mine every day and try not to leave it filled when it’s not in use. Before bed, I rinse it out with hot water and let it dry overnight. I find that it looks cleaner for longer this way and makes the actual cleaning process a lot easier. On Sundays, I let it soak in rubbing alcohol and epsom salt and then shake it rapidly until most of the grime falls off. Sometimes there’s still some stubborn residue that doesn’t want to come off, but can be easily removed with a Q-tip, pipe cleaner or toothbrush (note: not the same one you use for your teeth).

When it comes down to it, my motivation is simple: I love having nice things. Glass art is beautiful, and I didn’t spend $250 on my bong for it to sit dirty and hidden away. I keep my bong clean so it can be prominently displayed as the centerpiece of my coffee table. I get compliments about how pretty it is all the time, even from people who don’t smoke. Seeing it all clean and fresh makes me feel good, just like the same feeling you get from making your bed. It’s such a simple thing to improve your aesthetic and leaves you feeling centered. But really, it only takes one time of accidentally knocking your bong over and having the dirty weed water smell seep into your carpet to remember to never leave old water in it again.