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How to clean a glass pipe

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A lot of dog owners may disagree, but a fresh, perfectly frosted bud resting in the bowl of a glass pipe is one of the best things to come home to at the end of a long day. Smoking a bowl in a glass pipe allows you to fully taste the cannabis strain and get big, clean hits that kick in almost instantly.

But there is one drawback — if you use a glass pipe regularly, it can fill up with black resin and ash that can gunk up the works and leave the glasswork looking like an asphalt spill. 

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Luckily, there’s a very easy method for cleaning a glass pipe and you may already have everything you need around the house. 

What you need to clean a glass pipe

  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol, at least 90%) 
  • Kosher salt (regular table salt can work as well) 
  • A Ziploc bag 
  • Toothpicks or pipe cleaners 
  • Dish soap
dirty pipe
Glass pipes can fill up with resin and ash that can gunk up the works and leave the glasswork looking like an asphalt spill.  (Shutterstock)

Step 1: Give the pipe a good rinse

Take the pipe and wash it under the faucet in your sink to get out any ash or bits of weed that haven’t yet bonded with the resin

Step 2: Place the pipe in a plastic bag and add salt 

You can go two different ways with this step. You can either take the pipe and put it in the bag and add a teaspoon or more of salt, or take some of the salt and add some directly into the bowl and stem of the pipe, before dumping the rest in the bag. 

The point of the salt is to work as an agitator to dislodge resin where a pipe cleaner or other tools can’t reach. 

Step 3: Add isopropyl alcohol to the bag 

Once the pipe and salt are in the Ziploc bag, add enough alcohol to fully submerge the pipe. Give it a nice shake and seal the Ziploc bag, “burping” it to let out the air. 

Step 4: Leave the pipe to soak 

If the pipe is especially dirty, considering letting it soak overnight or for at least 10-12 hours. For less buildup, letting it soak for a few hours could be long enough. 

Isopropyl alcohol
If the pipe is especially dirty, considering letting it soak overnight or for at least 10-12 hours. (Sky Cloud Pics/Shutterstock)

Step 5: Remove pipe and wash 

Take the pipe out of the bag and rinse it with hot water allowing any loose salt and resin to flow out. Wash with soap and water to make sure to get rid of any lingering alcohol scent, and then rinse a third time to remove any lingering suds. 

Step 6: (Gently) Use a tool to clean out the insides 

Once you’ve rinsed out the alcohol and soap multiple times, consider using a small tool such as a toothpick, straightened paper clip, pipe cleaner or Q-tip to clean some of the gunk off the inside of the bowl and the main chamber. 

You’ll be limited somewhat by the length of the tool and the dimensions of the pipe, but it can be an effective way to get out some of the more stubborn resin. 

Step 7: Rinse and let dry 

After your final cleansing pass with the tool, give the pipe another rinse in the sink, and leave it resting on some paper towels to dry. 

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Other methods of cleaning a glass pipe 

While the rubbing alcohol and salt method is widely-considered the most reliable, there are other methods you can do if you’re short on time. 

Cleaning liquids for glass pipes

Most head shops sell a variety of cleaning liquids and solutions for glassware – of various quality. They can also be easily purchased online. 

In most cases, the solution is a liquid that you submerge your pipe in, or a mix of powder and liquid which is combined to create a soak for the pipe. Pipe cleaning solutions are often free of alcohol or abrasives, and their main selling point is that they purport to work very quickly, dislodging resin in a matter of minutes.  

Clean a pipe with boiling water 

If you don’t have a cleaning solution and don’t want to use alcohol and salt, you can bring water to a boil on the stove, turn the heat down and soak your pipe as the water simmers for about a half hour or so. Remove the pipe from the water, let it cool off a bit, and rinse it with warm water. 

Keep in mind that the pipe will be very hot when you remove it from the water. Be careful as you handle it, and make sure to be gentle with it so it doesn’t crack. 

Clean a pipe with vinegar and salt 

White vinegar can serve as a stand in for alcohol, though you may need to shake it more vigorously as it isn’t as caustic. Follow all the same steps as above, and make sure to use a liberal amount of coarse salt.

Clean a pipe with powdered brewery salt 

Chances are you may not have heard of this method. Powdered Brewery Salt, or PBW, is used by brewers to clean brew pots and fermenters, but can also be very effective in removing gunk from glass pipes. 

Simply soak the pipe overnight in hot water with about a tablespoon of PBW. Make sure the pipe is fully submerged before leaving it to soak. PBW can be found online or purchased at homebrew supply stores. 

The most common mistakes to avoid when cleaning a glass pipe 

Glass pipes are reliable and often show true craftsmanship and artistry — but they can also be quite breakable.

glass pipe and bud
Glass pipes are reliable and often show true craftsmanship and artistry — but they can also be quite breakable. (Shutterstock)

Mind the temperature change 

As you may know, drastic, sudden changes in temperature can cause glass to crack. If you’re cleaning your pipe in boiling water, don’t remove it from the water and instantly rinse it with cold water. Bring the temperature of the water in the pot down, gently remove the pipe, and let it sit and cool off for a few minutes before rinsing. 

Don’t be too rough with the glass

Metal pipes have thankfully faded from the scene for the most part, but they did have some positives. They were more durable and when cleaning, you could take them apart and really put all your elbow grease into scrubbing them. 

With glass pipes you want to be much more delicate. Don’t go cramming a straightened coat hanger down the stem or bowl to unclog it, instead make sure to gingerly use any tool you insert in the pipe, so as to not break the glass. 

Don’t improvise with the cleaning supplies 

If you don’t have any alcohol or pipe cleaning solution around the house, you might be tempted to improvise. After all, if acetone can remove nail polish, why not resin? And oven cleaner…isn’t a pipe basically an oven for weed? (no, it isn’t)

Keep in mind that the pipe is a device you are putting in your mouth and using to combust plant material and inhale smoke. Any toxic cleaning supplies used for household cleaning should be avoided for safety’s sake. 

This is probably a good time to mention that many people advise not using alcohol to clean a pipe because of its toxicity. These concerns are understandable, but as long as you make sure to thoroughly rinse the pipe after cleaning, and let it dry completely, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. 

Don’t smoke the resin

While you may be tempted to smoke resin – it can get you high and maybe your stash ran out – it’s not a very pleasant experience. The taste, smell, and harshness are unsettling, and the feeling afterwards isn’t all that great. Smoking reclaimed resin can also have harmful side effects, so you’re better off just throwing it out.

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