It’s inevitable– dab rigs get gunked up after sufficient use and at some point down the road, every glass-owner needs to learn how to effectively clean their setup. A dirty piece not only looks and smells bad, it affects flavor and can potentially reduce the amount of vapor actually inhaled. Though there are several products marketed specifically for cleaning pipes, the best method is to use a safe, inexpensive polar organic solvent.
Cleaning The Nail
The nail is the easiest part of the rig to clean but can be difficult to remove as the glass from your rig may have expanded into the nail creating a tight seal. Just lightly heat the nail at the base and gripping from the top using tongs (or better, forceps if you can find them) gently twist the nail loose.
Glass and ceramic nails need only be lightly heated (enough to liquify any offending resin) and wiped with a cotton swab. Titanium nails can be placed on a heat resistant surface (like stone or tile) and heated until glowing red which will carbonize any residue (like a cast iron skillet) and cause excess to flake away upon cooling (you might observe an attractive blue tint to the excess carbon).
Once your nail is hot, be sure to carefully use a cotton swab to clean the underside where the nail makes contact with your rig. Do not use your bare hands to hold the nail at point during the process… trust me, it’s hot (personal experience).
Cleaning The Rig
Regardless of how complicated your rig is, the two best solvents for cleaning glass are Acetone and Isopropyl Alcohol. Acetone can be purchased at the drugstore as clear “nail polish remover” and works almost instantaneously (it’s what chemists use to clean their glassware in the lab) but it smells and shouldn’t be dumped down the drain. Additionally, most nail polish contains “denatonium benzoate” which leaves a residue and is unpleasantly bitter when present even in a few ppm (parts per million) so additional washing with soap and water may be required.
Isopropyl alcohol, while not as vigorous a cleaner as acetone, can also be found at the drugstore as pure as 91% and makes for a great solvent which is very rarely tainted with bitterants like denatonium benzoate (though drinking isopropyl will definitely make you feel terrible). Simply pour it in your rig, shake and wait. A soaked cotton swab can be used for trouble areas. If your rig has particularly bad build up in a hard-to-reach spot, a little salt can be used as an agitator in addition to alcohol but in those situations it’s almost always more effective to resort to acetone (with a thorough wash afterwards).
Basically, isopropyl is for regular grime, acetone is for when you’ve been particularly neglectful. To finish up, let the solvent evaporate and then do a final rinse with water. If you rinse with water before all the acetone/isopropyl has evaporated, you may end up with while scaling on the sides from precipitate in the water. To remedy, just rinse with solvent and let it dry completely before rinsing with water again.
Keep It Clean
Once you’re taking a dab from your freshly cleaned piece, you’ll probably want life to be that way all the time (this is understandable). Though it may take a little training, its important to remember that regular maintenance goes a long way towards keeping your rig clean. Change the water every time you sesh and try not to let your rig develop a solid layer of slime in between cleanings. Remember, dabbing isn’t like smoking– all that resin inside your rig is decarboxylated, re-condensed hash oil that didn’t make it into your lungs. A clean rig develops less build-up!
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