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Percolators: Descriptions & Differences

Water Pipes, otherwise known as bongs, are everywhere in the cannabis world, and most are unique. The things that make them unique can be anything from the type, height, or shape of the glass to the thickness itself. Typically, percolators – the water filtration system included with all bongs – make the most significant difference. While percolators are not necessary for smoking from a bong, they can enhance the flavour, and they’re known to ease the harshness of the smoke through diffusion and cooling.

These percs come in countless designs and are often unique to specific companies. While many percs, or even just one depending on the style, make for a harder-to-clean bong, it’s well worth the extra few minutes of shaking to get the nicest hit you can from a water pipe.

The Diffused Downstem

Many people don’t realize or consider the diffused downstem a percolator, but it is! This long narrow tube has slits or holes near the bottom, the first point of contact for the smoke to reach the water. This perc is the easiest for people to add to most glass pieces though many bongs come with a diffused downstem included. Cleaning a downstem, diffused or otherwise, is considered exceptionally easy. Using pipe cleaners or long-stemmed cotton swabs will make removing sticky residue a breeze. Usually, the highest risk comes from dropping or tapping the stem against something while cleaning it (i.e., the sink).

The Tree Perc

While they won’t take the top spot for our favourite plant in the weed world, trees are a close second. One of the most easily recognizable percs, they are characterized as being a central tube with many smaller spouts branching off and pointing down. These smaller tubes usually have a few slits near the bottom and can be either open-ended or capped off with glass. Like a real tree, the number of arms can vary – anywhere from 3 to 12 branches can be present in a single perc. The smoke will travel up the ‘trunk’ of the perc and flow out of the arms, breaking into smaller bubbles as they escape through the slits. For cleaning, the difficulty will vary depending on the number of branches and if they’re capped or not.

The Showerhead or UFO Perc

Named for resembling a showerhead or a stereotypical UFO, this perc is very simple – slits or holes are placed at the bottom of a vertical tube that flares out at the bottom. A narrower glass tube connects this larger tube to the bottom chamber of the bong. The smoke will bubble out from the bottom of this flared-out chamber like water falling from a showerhead.

The Honeycomb Perc

Considered by many to be the best perc in terms of power, the honeycomb perc is visually a flat disc with many small holes through the entire surface. With so many spots for the smoke to be pulled through, there is little drag with maximum diffusion. You will often see honeycomb percs stacked on top of one another, forcing the smoke to remain separated for lengthier periods and cooling it further than it would if you only had a single perc.

The Inline Perc

The inline perc lends an iconic look to any piece they’re included with. It’s a horizontal tube with slits or holes across the length of it. They’re fixed to the bong by an irremovable stem, as inline percs usually replace the function of a downstem. This perc, long or short, is often housed within the first/base chamber of the bong instead of being in a second compartment or residing within the neck of the water pipe as many other percolators do.

The Matrix or Stereo Perc

A typical matrix or stereo perc is a cylindrical chamber with many slits or grooves in varying directions around the outside of it, usually directly separating the base chamber from the rest of the piece. This forces smoke to break up and travel in a variety of directions. These percs are often stacked and connected by a small tube which will increase the cleaning difficulty. These percs also offer a heavy drag when smoking, so they’re not recommended for bong beginners.

The Swiss Perc

Named for resembling Swiss cheese, these holey percs are a spectacular sight. The glass is arranged to resemble a typically circular slice of Swiss cheese inflated like a balloon – a flattened sphere. The holes in the glass force the smoke to move around them while travelling through the bong, cooling the smoke with little drag. This perc is often set in the place of a chamber or a neck instead of being fixed inside a compartment above the beaker or within the neck of the bong. It’s connected to the base chamber by a sturdy tube.

The Fabergé Egg Perc

This perc style offers a luxurious look despite lacking gemstones or precious metals. Functionally, it’s just like the Swiss perc, but it’s made with double walls and a hollow egg shape instead of a flattened sphere. The smoke will travel between the double walls and around the holes for diffusion and will have very little drag. Many bongs with this perc are more compact and lack a standard body/base chamber, and they are often combined with one or two other styles of percolator.

The Cyclone or Turbine Perc

Considered one of the most visually entertaining percolators, these percs allow you to watch a mini natural disaster up close and on demand. Designed as a disc with angled slits/cuts that blocks the bottom chamber of the bong from the neck, it forces both smoke and water up in a swirling vortex as you pull. These percs are known to have plenty of drag and are not recommended for those without experience.

The Ratchet Disc Perc

This piece is sometimes referred to as a “Simplified Honeycomb. Visually it’s a flat disc with small holes around the perimeter instead of the entire surface. As a result, the ratchet perc works in the same manner as the honeycomb perc, only with more drag and smaller bubbles – there are far fewer holes for the smoke to use to move from the bottom chamber to the upper one.

The Sprinkler Perc

Visually calling back to old-school sprinkler designs, this perc is made of many narrow glass tubes sprouting from a dome. These tubes will shoot smoke and bubbles up in many directions and all around the secondary chamber of the bong – it would function the same as the tree percolator does, only flipped upside down.

The Mushroom Perc

Visually unique, but functionally like both the showerhead and the sprinkler percs. Mushroom percs filter the smoke through a large glass tube and will either have holes or slits surrounding the base of the mushroom stalk or around the bottom edge of the cap. These percs are often made with multicoloured glass to drive the mushroom resemblance home, which looks superb but can hide residue and debris.

The Geyser Perc

This perc is built similarly to the showerhead percolator – a narrow glass tube leads from the base chamber into a larger closed-off pipe. This secondary tube flares out at the bottom and connects to the sides of the bong. The top of this flared-out portion has many small holes or slits which force the smoke to bubble up and out like mini bubble geysers in a visually stunning display.

The Barrel Perc

This perc is named for its close resemblance to a classic wooden barrel. Visually speaking, this perc is a large cylindrical tube with gridded slits or holes around the outside. This large tube is connected to the base chamber by a narrower pipe, as many percs are. Typically, the barrel perc has more holes or slits than other percs, which forces the smoke to be diffused more chaotically, lending to a cooled hit.

The Spiral or Coil Perc

This piece looks like it belongs in a laboratory with bubbling beakers and Bunsen burners. Exactly as it sounds, this perc is a spiralled tube that the smoke travels through to cool it by increasing the time smoke stays within the water. The other form of this perc is a glycerin spiral which can be frozen for the smoke to either be pulled through or around, cooling it further with the added ice.

The Cross Perc

This cross perc is perfect for those who want to prevent as much splash-back as possible. Visually speaking, several cross-shaped spouts or outward-facing discs with cross patterns cut into the face branch from a large central tube, pushing the water and smoke to the sides of the neck or secondary chamber. This perc is known to have one of the breathiest pulls due to the easy direction of airflow and is recommended for use with concentrates as the relaxed pull can bring more flavour out of the product.

The Fritted Disc Perc

Sometimes called a chaotic honeycomb, this stunning perc is not for the faint of heart. Course glass chunks are loosely fused into a disc or a spherical shape (like citrus fruit or an egg), creating many small holes over the entire piece. This leads to extreme diffusion as several tiny bubbles are forced out in every direction. An additional upside comes from the durability of fritted percs due to their thickness. This piece will have more drag than other percs and must be cleaned frequently to maintain its ability to work well.

The Jellyfish Perc

The adorable jellyfish perc is built similarly to the tree perc but with a wavier aquatic style. It has a large central tube that balloons out at the top and branching limbs that extend down from it. Unlike the tree perc, these arms are angled toward the chamber walls instead of pointing straight down. The jellyfish limbs, anywhere from 4 to 12 individual tubes, can have slits or holes at the end but are rarely capped off.

The Spore Perc

This germ-like perc is a big glass bubble with little spheres branching off via narrow tubes. These smaller bubbles will have slits or holes that allow the smoke to escape. This perc is a visual marvel with the smoke filling and swirling through the glass bubbles before shooting in every direction. This perc style can be difficult to clean thoroughly with the many thin tubes and bubbles.

The Halo Perc

When it became the devils lettuce, the halo was repurposed for something better. From a visual standpoint, these halo percolators certainly live up to their name. It’s a circular tube with holes or slits along the length of it, surrounding a long narrow cylinder. The circular pipe is connected to the central cylinder via an upside-down J-shaped spout.

The Doughnut Perc

The doughnut perc is very similar to the Swiss perc, but instead of having many holes, it only has one large hole in the center. This leaves a circular tube connected to the base chamber or an additional percolator by a sturdy cylinder. The neck of the bong will usually sprout from the top of the doughnut. Another form of this perc is like the inline perc, as the donut tube replaces the downstem and separates the smoke into one or more percolators while residing in the base chamber. One of the chief benefits of this perc style would be that everything is visible, making thorough cleaning relatively easy.

The Rocket Perc

These percs are designed as a large central tube stemming from the base chamber with small, pointed, vertical cylinders connected via narrow spouts. These cylinders are stylized with glass banding and dots to look like small rockets and are often made with coloured glass to enhance their ship-like appearance. Each rocket-like cylinder will have slits or holes across the outer edge that force the smoke out in minute bubbles toward the chamber walls before being pulled up the neck. As with the mushroom perc, the coloured glass can hide debris from sight and must be cleaned regularly.

Ash Catchers

Ash catchers come in numerous sizes and designs – and they can have any of the percolators previously mentioned residing within them, full-sized or miniature versions. Using an ash catcher is hands down the easiest way to add an extra percolator to a water pipe. Many people also love them for the same reason they got their name; The accumulation of ash and unsmoked matter in the water of your bong can quickly clog your piece and impact the taste of your cannabis. Ash catchers will filter and “catch” most of the debris, they can be rinsed out quickly, and they can be used with any bong or rig of the same size (10mm, 14mm, 18/19mm)

Tips for Filling

There is no “one-size-fits-all” amount of water to be put inside any given bong. The best rule to follow is to cover all the holes in your percolator. Once you’ve reached that point, experiment by pulling without a bowl in place – if you get splashed, remove small amounts of water until you reach your perfect water level.

Tips for Cleaning

When using Isopropyl Alcohol, you’ll want it to be as close to 100% as possible and not watered down. Use coarse salt with the alcohol and shake your glass to remove residue. Isopropyl works best with motion and agitation; it will not clean your glass just by soaking it.

Most Bong Cleaners on the market are similar regarding base ingredients and are safe to use for soaking your piece. Many of these cleaners will have a time limit that the glass can stay submerged before it must be removed and rinsed. You do not want to water down the cleaner before use – many bong cleaners will have labels stating as much.

Remember to thoroughly rinse your glass with hot water after cleaning it. This will remove any unwanted chemical residue, and if salt is stuck in the percolator or chamber, hot water will dissolve it and prevent problems from cropping up.

Pipe Cleaners and cotton swabs can be great for cleaning your pieces, and many cannabis stores carry bristle pipe cleaners which are ideal for scraping tough-to-remove residue left in the bong. There are a wide variety of other cleaning tools, such as brushes and magnetic scrappers, on the market that can assist with cleaning deeper, harder-to-reach places. Silicone caps are also typical, and they’re used to block any open holes in your bong to ensure you can shake the cleaning solution without worrying about losing any.

It’s recommended to change your bong water regularly to prevent bacteria growth. Changing the water in the bong frequently will allow you to rinse small debris from your piece, which can impact the flavour of what you’re consuming and will cut down on the heavy cleaning required to keep your glass in its best condition.

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