What is Downstem?

There are many tools and devices you can use to smoke your preferred herbal blend from papers and smoking pipes to bongs and dab rigs for concentrates and oils. If you are a connoisseur of pipes, I am sure you have had your fair share of experiences with many of these methods.

Water pipes have a special function that dry smoking methods do not and that is cooling and filtering the smoke before you inhale it into your lungs. This is where the downstem comes in. This small detail is a crucial element in the filtration of the smoking system of your choice, whether that is a bubbler, water bong, or an oil rig. It pulls the smoke from the bowl piece down into the water, allowing the water to filter out anything you do not want entering your lungs.

Types of Downstems

One of the best parts of purchasing a new bong is picking out different add-ons that you can use with it. Many bongs have a fixed downstem that is built-in but many others do not. If the piece you have your eye on is of the latter, then you have the option to choose an alternative downstem and start the process of customizing your smoking set up. You can search around any online vape store to customize your smoking set up.

While there are many different styles of downstems, they all serve the same basic function – diffusing the smoke to cool and filter it, improving the flavor and making it more gentle on your lungs. Some of the most notable styles are the slitted downstem that features six or more slits at the tip that diffuse the smoke; the fire cut downstem that utilizes a series of diffusion holes that were bored into it with a hydrogen torch; and the honeycomb style which has a flat base with many holes at the bottom that are arranged to look like a honeycomb.

Not only are there many styles, but you can also get stems that are made from a variety of materials, the most common being heat-resistant borosilicate glass. This type of glass is ideal for smoking as it is non-toxic and resistant to damage or breakage from extreme heat. Following glass, you have metal, silicone, and wood.

Downstem Sizes

When shopping for a new piece or a replacement downstem, it is important to take into account the size of the opening in your water pipe and also be sure your bowl piece will fit into the downstem. If you are not able to put the stem into the pipe and the slide does not fit into the stem, you will not be able to use your bong.

To pick the correct size for your piece, there are two measurements you will need to take into consideration: the length of the downstem and the diameter of the joint where you will be placing the downstem. To get the right length, many people use a pencil for easy measuring. Simply place your pencil inside the joint until the tip of it is entirely underneath the surface of the water but not touching the bottom, then mark the point where the pencil emerges from the joint. Typically if the tip of the downstem is about an inch above the bottom of the bong, it will allow the perfect amount of space for the smoke to be pulled into the water and allow the bubbling and filtration that you are looking for.

There are a few downstem sizes you will see more frequently than others: 10mm, 14mm, and 18mm.  The 10mm size is the standard for mini rigs. More common are the 14mm and 18mm. Each size has benefits but the smaller the joint, the more frequently it will need to be cleaned. If you have a larger joint, it will not get clogged with resin as quickly as smaller ones will.

Glass Downstem vs Silicone Downstem

Both the glass and silicone downstem are great options for your favorite piece. If you have invested in a high-quality glass bong, chances are it will stand up to being bumped, nudged, and dropped but the glass downstem it came with may not be so lucky, which is where a silicone stem has its chance to shine.

Glass is a great material to use for a downstem because it is smooth, making it easy to clean and it does not risk altering the flavor of your preferred herbal blend. You can also find several different diffusion patterns such as honeycomb, fire cut, and the classic slitted style. Glass is fragile, though, so it does pose the risk of being broken easily.

Silicone is a fantastic alternative to glass for a few reasons. The first main perk is that your silicone downstem will not break, making it ideal for those of us that are more clumsy than others. Silicone bongs and attachments are typically made from food-grade silicone, meaning they are safe to use for anything you will be ingesting. Because silicone is molded, the diffusion possibilities are endless, giving you a broad range of options to fit anyone’s preferences. You can also find these downstems in any color you can imagine, giving your water pipe more personality and further customizing your set up.

Neither glass nor silicone is the right or best choice, it all comes down to personal preference and what you would rather have in your own smoking arsenal.

Diffused Downstem vs Honeycomb Downstem

As discussed previously, there are many different downstem styles that all serve similar functions, but with their own special twists. The main reason to use a downstem is diffusion. All styles diffuse the smoke to an extent, but some do it differently than others.

Honeycomb downstems often have larger holes, giving you larger bubbles when you pull a hit through your piece. That deep, bubbly sound you hear in songs and movies is the effect you will get from a honeycomb style stem.

There are a wide variety of diffused downstems available, including the slitted diffuser, the showerhead diffuser, and the pearl diffuser.

The slitted is the most common style because the slits do not get clogged as easily as other styles. Depending on the slits, it gives larger bubbles than alternative types, as well.

The showerhead diffuser has a tapered end that has a series of slits across the surface. While the showerhead style does a great job of diffusing the smoke and giving medium to small-sized bubbles, it can get clogged pretty easily, so it is recommended that you clean it frequently to get the most out of it.

The pearl diffuser has small holes dotting the tip of the downstem which allows fantastic diffusion and gives you tons of small bubbles and cooling the smoke down more than many other styles. This style is great for people that have more sensitive lungs and need something that will allow them to smoke with minimal irritation and coughing.

Bong Downstem

The most common smoking device that needs a downstem is the bong. The downstem is crucial in the functionality of your bong. You can not even use it without one, as the purpose of a bong is to bring the smoke down under the surface of the water for diffusion and cooling purposes. If you do not have a downstem, you are essentially stuck with a large water-filled pipe that gives hits that are just as harsh as if you used a regular dry pipe.

Downstem Add-Ons

There are a wide variety of add-ons you can use in conjunction with the downstem on your favorite piece. Whether you have a dab rig or bong, with these additions, the versatility of your piece of choice is virtually endless.

For use with your smoking blend of choice you can get a bong bowl piece and an ash catcher that catches anything that falls through the bottom of the bowl, helping to keep the water clean for a longer period.

For concentrates and oils you can get a glass nail and dome, and oil reclaimer for collecting any reclaim that accumulates, and an e-nail that keeps the heat consistent for optimal vaping of the oils.

How to Clean your Downstem

As the owner of a waterpipe, one of the biggest responsibilities is cleaning it. Resinated pieces are smelly and sticky and tend to get clogged. Keeping your piece clean improves the flavor of the smoke and allows everything to work together smoothly. Follow the steps below and repeat as needed.

Cleaning a removable downstem is simple. Just remove it from your piece, lay it down in a shallow dish, and put enough salt and isopropyl alcohol in the dish to cover the downstem. Let it soak for a few hours and run hot water over the outside and through the tube itself. If there is residue left, you can use a straw cleaner or a pipe cleaner dipped in rubbing alcohol to clean the inside.

Bong Downstem Stuck…Help

One of the challenges that come with using a bong or rig is that, when not cleaned frequently, the pieces tend to stick together. If your downstem is stuck, fixing the problem is a simple process.

Simply give your piece a good cleaning by filling it with salt and isopropyl alcohol. Let it soak for a couple of hours and give it a good rinse. When you are finished, your downstem should slide right out.

How to Choose a Downstem

Choosing a downstem starts with measuring your piece and figuring out the right size. Beyond that, you just need to decide what features and qualities you want! You can choose between clear, colored, or color-changing glass. There is a wide array of color options for silicone downstems. You can even find metal ones in many colors and styles. Once you pick the downstem, you can further customize your piece with various add-ons. As long as it will fit your piece, the possibilities are endless.

Where Can I Buy A Downstem?

Downstems are easy to find anywhere you can purchase pipes and papers. If you prefer shopping at a brick-and-mortar store, you can head out and browse your favorite local smoke shop or hippie shop. If you are more of an online shopping kind of person you can browse the web from the comfort of your own home and find a downstem on many websites. Just make sure to find an online vape store with great reviews and free shipping.


Written By: Alexandra F.

Written by Casim Khalid

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