How to Seriously Clean a Vortex Bowl (Or any Hookah Bowl for That Matter)
The ongoing bane of any hookah smoker’s experience is returning a well used hookah bowl to its freshest, cleanest state. After a few weeks or months of smoking, it is inevitable that your bowl will get caked with a solid black gunk that most people find nearly impossible to remove.
A quick search on the internet will tell you to use baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar, oven cleaner, Bar Tender’s Friend, or even boiling the bowl for a long period of time, to remove the gunk. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve never had much success with these methods. Which makes sense. The stuff that’s stuck on there is a residue that’s been baking at around 400 – 600 degrees for 20 or 30 hours—or more, if you’re not in the habit of cleaning the bowl regularly. The popular cleaning methods simply aren’t powerful enough to make too much of a difference. With this cleaning method, you bowl will be about as clean as it will get, and it will only take about 10 minutes.
I have chosen to use the Votex Bowl from Sahara Smoke to demonstrate this method because it’s one of the most notoriously difficult to get clean because of the small holes in the spire. However, this cleaning method can be applied to just about any bowl.
What You’ll Need
– Nail Polish Remover with Acetone
– A Rough Cleaning Pad (fine steal wool, sanding sponge, plastic sanding pad)
– (Possibly) A standard pipe cleaner
Selecting the proper nail polish remover is important. It must include acetone as the first ingredient. Acetone is a powerful substance. It can be purchased by itself and is often used to strip the coating from decks or remove paint. However, don’t use pure acetone. It will most likely strip the clear coat from your bowl and could make the ceramic or clay brittle.
If you can’t find nail polish remover for some reason (although it’s widely available at most convenience stores like CVS or Rite Aide), rubbing alcohol will also work.
The tool you use for cleaning after the nail polish remove is important too. Use a sanding tool, such as fine steel wool, a sanding sponge or a plastic sanding pad. Don’t use a Brillow Pad as they are often filled with dry soap which will just be an added headache that doesn’t help much. When selecting a sanding tool, choose only fine tools. Coarser ones will quickly strip the clear coat from your bowl. For this demonstration I am using a plastic sanding pad (available at most hardware stores for less than $1), because it’s inexpensive and will take a very long time to wear out when only used for cleaning hookah supplies.
Soak the Bowl
The black gunk typically forms around the rim of the bowl, and in the case of Vortex and Phunnel bowls, on the spire as well. Therefore, you’ll want a small dish, not much larger in diameter than the hookah bowl—otherwise you’ll use more nail polish remover than is really necessary to clean the bowl.
Place the hookah bowl upside down in the dish and slowly pour nail polish remover into the bottom of the bowl. Pour enough liquid in to submerge the top of the bowl. Roughly 1cm – 3cm above the rim. Pouring through the bottom is important as it will force the liquid through the holes, thus loosening whatever may be caked in there.
Allow the bowl to soak for 3 to 5 minutes.
Finish the Job
Now that the bowl has soaked and the nail polish remove has just about finished its job, remove the bowl and aggressively rub the affected areas of the bowl with the rough cleaning pad.
Do not wet the rough cleaning pad before use. Doing so will dilute the nail polish remover that has clung to the bowl and cause it not to work as well. Most affected areas of the bowl will come clean very easily. Some areas, particularly the top of the spire, may require a little more elbow grease.
After most of the gunk is cleared out, run very hot water through the bottom of the bowl, this will force most of the loosened gunk from inside holes in the spire to come clean—but of course, it’s not going to be quite perfect and you may want to run a pipe cleaner through the holes to get the rest of the gunk out. Finally, rinse the bowl thoroughly to get rid of any left over nail polish remover.
Your Bowl is Clean
Now admire your newly cleaned bowl. In some cases, you may have to soak the bowl again to remove the last bit of gunk. But in most cases, the bowl will be fresh and ready to use.
As I said, this method will work on any bowl, but the technique may require some tweaking for it to work properly on your particular bowl. Experiment to see what works best for you.
Remember, acetone is a powerful chemical. It could damage your bowl if used improperly. The safest bet is to use a diluted version, such as nail polish remover which is fairly mild (after all, women put it on their fingers). In any case, enjoy a clean bowl and a fresh smoke!