A water pipe is a tobacco smoking device in which smoke is bubbled through a chamber containing water. The water pipe enables the operator to smoke in a manner very different to what is possible with a simple smoking pipe. Smoking a water pipe contrasts with smoking tobacco in a pipe in two major ways. First the water pipe cools the smoke before it enters the lungs, allowing for larger pulls. Second, a large amount of smoke is inhaled quickly as opposed to smaller, more frequent “puffs” from a smoking pipe or cigarette. Water pipes vary greatly in their shape, materials, colors, and sizes, though they are commonly constructed from acrylic, ceramic, or glass. Glass Bubblers, Side Cars, Triple Chambers, Hammers, and Sherlocks are some the most common water pipe variances on the market.

Many prefer using a water pipe because the cooling effect of the water helps to reduce the chance of burning the mouth, airways, and lungs. The water can trap some heavier particles and water-soluble molecules, preventing them from entering the smoker’s airways. This “filtration” makes water pipes less damaging and healthier than many other smoking methods. It appears that water filtration can be effective in removing components from smoke that are known toxicants. The effectiveness of toxicant removal is related to the smoke’s water contact area. Specially designed water pipes, incorporating particulate filters and gas dispersion frits would likely be most effective in this regard; the gas dispersion frit serves to break up the smoke into very fine bubbles, thereby increasing its water contact area. As the quality of water degrades, so does the taste and smell of the water pipe’s smoke.

A water pipe may be constructed from any air- and water-tight vessel by adding a bowl and stem apparatus (a slide). To use a water pipe, the base of the water pipe is filled with water. Tobacco is then packed into the cone piece (also known as the “bowl” or “bowl-piece”) and ignited. The user places his/her lips inside the mouthpiece, forming a seal, and inhales creating suction through the pipe. This causes the flame to be drawn toward the bowl piece, igniting the tobacco. Smoke, which is produced travels through a hollow tube that is attached to the bottom of the bowl or slider. The smoke travels from the stem through water or whatever liquid is preferred. The smoke rises through the water in the form of bubbles, coming out cooled and filtered. At this point the smoke fills the air chamber above the water. At the side or back of the water pipe, above the water level, there is usually a small air hole called a “carburetor”. The user of the water pipe covers the “carb” with a finger until enough desired smoke has collected, then uncovers and inhales the smoke (this is called “clearing” the water pipe). Not all water pipes use a carb, however. Many higher end models have a removable bowl piece which works the same as a carb. These are usually known as “pull-stem” or “slide” in water pipes, and many glass water pipes have glass-on-glass connections fitted to be used together.

A stem or female piece is a component of a water pipe and sits in the base, poking out of the chamber at a degree higher than the water level. It holds the cone piece/bowl and enables smoke to pass through the water when in use. The stem collects resin over time which can clog the stem, and reduce the air flow through the water.

A bowl piece; sometimes called a cone piece, male piece or slider, is a component of the water pipe and usually a removable cup or cone shaped container. The male piece is where the tobacco is packed and ignited. In rare occasions the slider is not removable. Non removable bowls will usually have a carburetor hole. Made of metal, glass, or ceramic, a bowl can be joined to the stem, or can just sit in the stem. The bowl forms a seal around the stem so that the only inlet of air is through the bowl. Over time burnt residue will collect on parts of the bowl.