There is a large variety of modern day marijuana pipes, from the $5 dollar convenience store pipe to heirloom quality glass blown pipes well over $1000. Overtime resins can build within your pipe altering the delicious taste of that top shelf chronic that you bought from your favorite Colorado marijuana dispensary. If this is a plight you’ve experienced before, I’m here to help you with a few options that will get your glass, brass, stone, ceramic, steel, plastic, acrylic, wood, antler or even bone pipe tasting as clean as the day you got it.
I’ll start off with the most common material, glass. Along with being the most common construction choice for marijuana smoking pipes, glass also has the largest variety of cleaning methods as well. The first method, and by far the most arduous, is manually cleaning your pipe with tools like pipe-cleaners, paper clips, zip ties, old toothbrushes, twist ties, toothpicks or pretty much anything firm enough to remove the buildup from the sides of the pipe. Aside from being time consuming and tedious, there is another huge downfall to this method, since it is possible to stain glass or even break the piece by applying too much force. The only real advantage to this method is being able to quickly harvest the ever delectable sticky black resin inside if you desire to punish your lungs by smoking it. Another common method is by using steam from a boiling kettle in concert with a zip tie or pipe cleaner to loosen the resin and make it easier to remove. If this is your method of choice, make sure you’re careful not to burn yourself on the pipe, and use tongs or a glove to hold it while you work. A somewhat better method of cleaning is to boil your piece in water. While I don’t recommend this for any pipes that are fragile or have large air bubbles in the glass, it can be an effective method to clean a sturdy glass piece. The key to boiling a pipe is to start with room temperature water and to gradually increase the temperature to a boil. If you simply drop your pipe in a boiling cauldron, the chances of it cracking are exponentially increased by the rapid temperature change. Turn off the heat and allow the water to cool off a bit before you remove your clean pipe with tongs and pour the water out in the sink through a paper towel placed over the drain. Throw out the paper towel at the bottom which will have hopefully caught all the big chunks and rinse your sink with hot water, and leave it running for a minute. After all, who wants to pay a plumber to come out to your house and clean up a miniature oil tanker disaster in your drain pipes?
A better method is to use some form alcohol or organic compound to break down the sticky black. There are two different strategies of attack when using a liquid agent to remove resin. The first method, and quicker of the two, is to seal all of the orifices on the pipe, save for one, with tape. Ideally, use a tape that leaves no residue, such as gaffers tape or electrical tape, but to be honest, if it holds liquid, that’s all you need. Using a funnel, fill your pipe halfway through its one remaining opening with table salt to act as an abrasive. Add either isopropyl alcohol (the higher percentage the better) or acetone (nail polish remover) into the pipe with the salt and seal off the one remaining opening. Place a single layer of paper towel over the drain, and shake your pipe vigorously over the sink until you’re pissed off at how long you’ve been shaking it (about a minute for me). Remove your tape to let lose the torrent of salty black stink. Rinse your pipe and your sink out with hot water, cleaning the bowl out with a paper towel over your fingertip, and repeat entire process again if necessary. The second cleaning liquid method, and my personal favorite, is very similar. The only change in procedure involves submerging the entire pipe inside a Ziploc bag filled with a salty isopropyl alcohol or salty acetone solution. Double up your Ziploc bag inside another just to be safe and shake the pipe inside the bag (being extremely careful not to spill any of the “not getting your deposit back” black liquid inside). Leave the pipe in a safe place ideally in a Pyrex bowl for at least 24 hours, shaking the bag intermittently, whenever the thought crosses your mind. The next day, you will be left with a bag full of what looks like the amorphous tar creature Tim Curry voiced in Ferngully. Treat the pipe as you would using the prior method, by rinsing it under hot water. Watch months or years of resin melt away, and don’t forget to rinse your sink out afterwards.
Cleaning steel, brass, stone, or ceramic pipes can be as easy as glass. If you have a pipe that is entirely composed of steel or brass, the best option is to boil it in the same manner that you would a glass pipe. If your steel or brass pipe contains plastic or rubber components, I would recommend taping off the ends and using either the either isopropyl or acetone with salt to shake around inside, as you would a glass pipe. If there are plastic pieces involved, I wouldn’t recommend submerging the pipe in any cleaning solution, since the colors and protective coatings on plastics can be removed by dissolving agents. If you happen to have a pipe made out of stone, depending on the exact mineral composition, you might need to do a little bit of geological research to determine what’s safe to treat it with. For the most part though, stone is pretty durable stuff, and will hold up to any treatment I’ve already mentioned, the obvious exception being soapstone, which shouldn’t be treated externally with cleaning agents since they can damage its mineral coat. Ceramic pipes should be able to tolerate a dip in isopropyl, but should never be boiled.
The most difficult pipes to clean are the ones made out of plastic resins, acrylic, wood, antler, and bone. Most plastic pipes should be able to tolerate the use of isopropyl or acetone internally, which the best choice since boiling is out of the question. Cover all except for one hole with tape and fill them with either salty isopropyl or salty acetone, as you would a glass pipe. For acrylics, your best bet is to use warm soapy water and either pipe cleaners or an old tooth brush to remove any buildup, since alcohols and cleaners can damage the pipe. Wood, antler, and bone pipes, since they are organic compounds, are undeniably the most difficult to clean. To play it safe, the only method I would recommend for cleaning pipes made out these materials is to use manual tools like pipe cleaners, zip ties, or thin gauge wire. As far as cleaning solutions go, I wouldn’t recommend anything stronger than soapy water, and even then make sure to remove any excess moisture, so you don’t end up with any mold or mildew.
While there are cleaning solutions on the market that are made specifically for cleaning pipes, I would recommend you save your money and use some of the simple affordable techniques I’ve listed in this article. As a disclaimer, pretty much all pipes are unique, and what works on one may not work on another. The best strategy if you aren’t’ sure on how to clean your pipe, is to play it safe and start with less aggressive cleaning methods and work your way up. Always keep in mind when working with boiling water to keep your hands away from the scalding hot pipe, and wear eye protection when working with cleaning solutions. Before too long, crisp minty flavor will flow through your old pipe, and that Blue Dream will taste just like it’s supposed to. Isn’t that better?