By Christina Miyabe Shields, PhD (Director of Education)

One major barrier to bettering the social perception of medical marijuana use is the low hygienic standard we keep our equipment to, because the easy way to clean glassware was never taught to many. The compounds in marijuana are not soluble in water, which means they stick on everything. Old crusty bong water and resin on pipes not only smell awful, but are residual compounds that will get partially ingested the next time you use your piece. It also provides matter with which bacteria and mold can incubate on. We would never treat any other piece of medical equipment this way! So here I outline what I use and why and how I keep it sanitized.

If I learned one thing from working in a lab, it’s to appreciate glass. Glass is a magnificent material, neither liquid nor solid, very stable and nonvolatile to chemicals, and so smooth and clear. Glass can withstand the heat of a lighter without melting or changing, and, if cleaned properly, glass can be completely contaminant-free with unlimited regeneration potential. This means that it can literally last forever (unless an unfortunate accident breaks it).

I use a single-chamber water bong with an ice-catcher. I like the water bong with ice, because it filters some soluble compounds out and cools and condenses the smoke. The shape doesn’t really matter, but some shapes are easier to clean than others, so keep that in mind. I keep it clean by washing it every 2 weeks or so for 15 minutes using 91% v/v isopropyl alcohol, salt, and a toothpick (total cost ~$10/year materials can be found at any local pharmacy/store).

It’s really a fascinating scientific procedure: we will be dissolving the resin in an amphipathic (has properties that can dissolve both salts and fats) organic solvent, isopropyl alcohol. The salt we use as an abrasive to scrub away large pieces. Here’s the general protocol:

  1. Separate out all parts and set them close to you, but not in a precarious position. Make sure they won’t be bumped or broken!
  2. Fill the bowl piece with salt – this will most likely be the dirtiest part of the piece.
  3. Slowly cover the salt in the bowl piece with the alcohol and use the toothpick to scrub the sides of the bowl with the salt/alcohol mixture (I use a circular motion, like I’m scraping out the last ice cream out of the bowl).
  4. Add more alcohol if necessary and repeat until most of salt has gone down into the piece.
  5. Cover holes of the piece, grip well, and shake the mixture around. The salt/alcohol mixture should be “slushing” around inside.
  6. Rinse with hot water – as hot as you can handle.
  7. If there is still some resin stuck, repeat step 3-5 and use the toothpick to try to dislodge it.
  8. Once totally clean, rinse with hot water for 30 seconds and let dry.

It’s easiest to do this with a new piece and really get into the habit of doing it every couple weeks. Seriously, it’s about the same amount of time as doing the dishes. Once a lot of resin has accumulated it gets harder and harder to make it completely clean. However, all glass can be completely cleaned. If you’re having a lot of trouble, try soaking the piece in alcohol overnight before cleaning.

Keeping your piece clean will vastly improve the experience of smoking out of it. It allows you to use different strains of marijuana and have a more accurate perception of the cannabinoid profile of the strain you’re using and how it therapeutically benefits you. It also keeps your home from smelling (if you are renting or concerned with that)!