Glass vs. Silicone

glass silicone

Silicone has flown onto the scene as the big new name in smoking materials. More and more smokers are becoming curious about how silicone pieces differ from glass ones. Whether you’re considering glass or silicone alone or in combination, knowing about the material distinctions between the two can help you make the best decision about what you want your smoking setup to be made out of.

Smoking Out of Glass

Not all glass is made alike anymore. Nowadays standard glass pieces are being joined by the class of scientific glass, which uses borosilicate glass (the same kind used in Pyrex dishes and lab equipment) instead of typical silicate glass. Scientific pieces are hardier and more resilient than your typical glass, but when it comes down to it they’re still, well, glass. You might be able to tip over a borosilicate bubbler onto the table quite a few times without any problem, maybe even whacking it into the ashtray by accident, but if you drop it on the floor the likelihood is that it’ll still break.

Glass is the king of sculptural smoking materials, offering intricate details and unique sculptural elements like Empire Glassworks' Panda Family Mini Bong, which features multiple worked glass pandas and decorative trails of bamboo outside of the pipe. You’d never be able to get that sort of detail with a silicone piece, and even though silicone offers brighter colors, glass takes the cake for design inventiveness.

When it comes to cleaning glass pipes, bongs, and bubblers, the method is simple: all it takes is a solution of 91% isopropyl alcohol and large-grained salt, some shaking, and some time. If you don’t want to bother with the alcohol, some premixed bong cleaners can do surprisingly well too. When it comes to cleaning, glass pieces are definitely some of the easiest to get back to sparkling.

Silicone Smoking Accessories

Cleaning silicone is a different process than cleaning glass. Because alcohol breaks down silicone, you can’t use any kind of alcohol-based cleaner. Scrubbing the piece with a toothbrush covered with mild soap and warm water does the trick well enough usually, and because many silicone pieces bend, pull apart and turn inside out they’re pretty easy to keep clean despite the alcohol issue. Some people swear by cleaning their silicone in the freezer by freezing the piece overnight and then bending it to break up and get out the leftover residue.

Silicone is obviously given a huge boost by the fact that it’s basically unbreakable. It’s not that you can’t poke a hole through the material with something sharp; obviously you can break anything if you try hard enough. But unlike a glass piece, a silicone one being dropped off of a table won’t shatter save for maybe the bowl and downstem, which can be made of glass.

Silicone is also shockingly portable. Unlike a glass piece, you can squish or roll down a silicone oil rig, bong, or pipe and carry it around in a small bag or even your pocket, in the case of some smaller pipes. (Just make sure you clean it first, no one wants bong water stinking up their JNCOs.)

When it comes to aesthetics, it’s hard to deny that silicone offers different looks than glass. Glass typically has the leg up when it comes to delicate and decorative design elements—it’s more sculptural for sure—but in the color department, silicone really sticks out. Lots of less-informed smokers have been looking to glass for bright, fluorescent colors and ended up buying cheap, painted prodo (mass-produced) pieces made overseas. You don’t have to rely on these questionably painted bongs and pipes for a brightly colored experience anymore, though—especially now that bright, poppy silicone pieces are available just as cheap.

Nucleus has an impressive number of silicone offerings, from the basic 10” Silicone Straight Tube Bong to the twist-apart, long-neck Silicone Beaker Bong. The base of the latter has a flared bottom and takes advantage of the possibilities of silicone by separating from the neck for easier cleaning and increased portability.

Pairing Glass and Silicone

There’s something to be said about combining glass and silicone, and lots of bong-makers have been moving in that direction. Some people are forgoing these options, opting instead to attach adapters onto silicone bongs and rigs and latch on glass ashcatchers.

Since both materials have their pluses and minuses, incorporating glass into a less-breakable silicone setup is a great compromise for someone who still wants to maintain some of the benefits of glass percs and coils without risking the structural integrity of the whole thing to clumsiness. If you’re gonna have a front-heavy setup you might as well limit its breakability, right?