Your bong is filthy. Odds are you give it a wash every once in a while, maybe with some soap if you're feeling generous. That doesn't clean out all the gunk and residue that builds up with each use, and it certainly doesn't kill the bacteria that have taken up residence in every nook and cranny of your piece. Here are some quick tips to make sure your downstem is performing at peak capacity:
1. Say Hello to "Iso"
Isopropyl alcohol is a great option for cleaning your downstem, and you can vary the concentration based on how deep a clean you need. For a lighter cleaning, use alcohol with 70 percent concentration; to deal with more stubborn grime, use 90-percent alcohol. Just place your downstem in a small tub and fill with your preferred solution; you typically want to let it sit for 20 minutes. Some people like to throw in some rock salt or sea salt for extra cleaning action.
2. Never Use Boiling Water
This one is critical and maybe a bit counterintuitive. The hotter the water, the more clean your downstem becomes, right? That may be true but you just shortened your downstem's lifespan considerably. If it's made of plastic, it could slowly lose its shape if repeatedly exposed to boiling water. Of more concern is that toxic chemicals that can leach out of plastic at high temperatures. Exposing a metal downstem to boiling water enough times can cause metal fatigue, which may lead to fracture. A high-quality glass downstem is less susceptible to fatigue.
3. Think Small
We're talking microscopic. Most people are worried about the sludge they can see, but your downstem may be home to all kinds of microscopic nastiness feeding on traces of water, saliva and whatever else has been in your bong. Beer brewers use all kinds of cleaning agents that are great because they are strong enough to kill bacteria but otherwise aren't harmful (if used at the recommended concentration). Try phosphoric acid or sodium hydroxide to sanitize your downstem. Wiping down the glass fittings and the rest of your piece might not be a bad idea.
4. Learn to Love That "Fizz" Sound
There's another cheap, easily accessible option for cleaning your downstem that you may not have considered. Pick up some denture cleaning tablets (there are a variety of brands) in order to kill any bacteria with less effort than tip number 3. Place the downstem in a zipper storage bag filled with hot water and a single tablet. The tablet will start to fizz as soon as it comes in contact with water; let it sit for 20-30 minutes, then rinse the downstem one last time in hot water.
5. Pipe Cleaners (They Aren't Just for Art Projects)
Time to get down and dirty. All that gunk in your downstem isn't going to go without a fight, and there's just the tool for the job. Take a trip to the hardware store and grab some pipe cleaners; they are inexpensive and available in bulk. You'll want to run the pipe cleaner back and forth through the downstem but don't forget to rotate; a downstem really isn't clean without a good scrubbing.
This should get you well on your way to owning a downstem that looks like it's maintained by NASA. It doesn't take that much maintenance, but with the right combination of cleaning and scrubbing, your downstem will look the same as the day you bought it. These tips don't take much time and remember: If you take care of your piece, it will definitely take care of you.