The Chronicle

Tetra Tutorial: How to Clean a Glass Pipe

Any regular smoker should know how to clean a glass pipe quickly and easily to keep it looking fresh and new. When you've invested in a well-designed glass pipe worthy of a place on your coffee table — like Tetra's Balance Pipe or Elbow Pipe — you also need to invest a little time into cleaning it regularly.

With frequent use, your glass pipe can get coated and clogged with residue that makes smoking far less pleasant — and your pipe far less attractive. How often you need to clean your pipe depends on how often you use it, but you'll definitely be able to see and taste when it needs cleaning; frequent smokers should clean their pipes at least once a week.

We tested two of the most popular pipe-cleaning methods that are both simple and effective. Here's how to clean your glass pipe.

How to Clean a Glass Pipe With Alcohol

Here's what you’ll need:

  • A Ziploc bag, glass container, or plastic container
  • A cotton swab or pipe cleaner
  • A Tetra Fog Pin, needle, or similar object
  • Rubbing alcohol (preferably 90% isopropyl)
  • Coarse or kosher salt
  • Gloves (if you have them, gloves can make this stinky and sticky process more pleasant)
  • Tongs
How to do it:
  1. Dislodge loose residue from the glass pipe by holding it upside-down over a sink and gently tapping it or blowing through it. Use your Fog Pin or a similar implement to remove any larger bits, but don't scrape too hard and risk damaging the pipe.
  2. Place your glass pipe in your container of choice: either a Ziploc bag or a plastic or glass container. Some people prefer to have one container they reserve only for this purpose.
  3. Carefully pour the 90% isopropyl alcohol into the container, just enough to submerge or cover the pipe.

  4. For pesky buildup, you can also add 1 tablespoon of coarse or kosher salt to the bag or container. Gently shake or stir the alcohol and salt solution, so that the salt gets into the pipe to scrub out the residue, for 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Leave your pipe to soak in the container with the alcohol and salt for several hours or — even better — overnight.
  6. After it's done soaking, rinse the pipe thoroughly with very hot water. We like to get our faucet as hot as possible, grip the pipe with tongs, and let the piping hot water run through the pipe until all the alcohol, salt, and residue is flushed out.
  7. Use a pipe cleaner or cotton swab (we prefer the sturdier wooden swabs) to wipe off any remaining stains or spots. 

How to Clean a Glass Pipe With Boiling Water

While we find the alcohol method more effective, some people don't like the idea of inhaling out of something cleaned with alcohol, even after it's been thoroughly rinsed. In that case, you can clean your glass pipe with boiling water, but a warning: this method is a little stinkier and stickier.

Here's what you’ll need:

  • A small pot for boiling water
  • A cotton swab or pipe cleaner
  • A Tetra Fog Pin, needle, or similar object
  • An oven mitt or tongs

How to do it:

  1. Dislodge loose residue from the glass pipe by holding it upside-down over a sink and gently tapping it or blowing through it. Use your Fog Pin or a similar implement to remove any larger bits, but don't scrape too hard and risk damaging the pipe. Rinse the pipe with warm water — never cold.
  2. Fill a small pot with a few inches of water, enough to submerge your pipe. Bring the water to a boil on the stove. Once it reaches boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.

  3. Carefully and gently, lower your pipe into the simmering water until it is fully submerged. Allow the glass pipe to soak for at least 20 minutes and keep a close eye on it to make sure the pot doesn't get too hot and that the pipe remains fully submerged.
  4. After 20 to 30 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and drain the water out of the pot. Using an oven mitt or tongs, inspect the pipe to see that it's been thoroughly cleaned. If not, you may want to repeat steps 1 to 3 in a fresh pot of water. Remember: never run cold water over the hot glass, as you could break your pipe!
  5. Use a pipe cleaner or cotton swab (we prefer the sturdier wooden swabs) to wipe off any remaining stains or spots.

Meet the Maker: Ninon Choplin of Neenineen

Tetra maker Ninon Choplin first started playing with clay as a child hanging out in their grandmother's art studio in France, where they were born and raised. But it wasn't until emigrating to the U.S. at 16, graduating from RISD, and moving to Los Angeles that they took their first proper ceramics class, and — under the studio name Neenineen — started making colorful and playful pipes inspired by their love of childrens' toys. "You look at them and instantly get a smile on your face and feel like a kid again," they told Design Milk in an interview last spring.

When we first started carrying Choplin's Tobogan Pipe, though, we saw something decidedly sophisticated — a curved, tubular form in perfect lock-step with the current design vernacular, executed in just the right proportion, and with the kind of functional clarity that makes a pipe truly exceptional to smoke from. We asked Choplin if we could remake the Tobogan in glass, and luckily for us they said yes, the transparent Elbow Pipe quickly becoming one of our best-sellers.

This week we've welcomed another of Choplin's creations to the family: The Grenadine Bubbler — Tetra's first (mini) water pipe — in sleek, chic, all-over black. We decided to mark the occasion by interviewing Choplin about their process, their studio, and of course, their favorite smoking ritual.

When did you know you wanted to do something creative, and how did you get started in your current practice?
My interest in fine arts started when I was really young. I was lucky to spend a lot of time with my grandparents as a kid. They both got into art after retiring and always had some clay, paint, or even soap stone laying around for me to play with.

After high school I studied industrial design at RISD, where I learned a lot about wood and metal work. It was only a few years later that I finally got to take a ceramic class in L.A., and as cheesy as it might sound, I truly fell in love with clay!

How would you summarize your approach to your work and your materials?
Most of my design work happens in my head, long before I get my hands in clay. I’ll play around with ideas without putting down a sketch for a few weeks, and when it feels like it’s getting close, I’ll either do a quick doodle or play with it on a 3-D modeling software. Finally when the dimensions and quirks are all figured out, I build a prototype. I really admire people who can just improvise with a lump of clay. I tend to get stage fright in those situations!

What’s the hardest thing about working with your hands, and what’s the most gratifying?
The hardest thing about working with my hands is that my work can't travel with me. Ceramic work can be very time-sensitive; if you leave a piece to dry even a half-day too long it might be ruined. It makes taking vacation or even long weekends difficult sometimes.

On the other hand, I'm never happier than when I get to work with my hands. Being able to mold a piece of clay from nothing to the perfect amount of curves and edges still feels magical every day.

Did you ever have an epic fail, and what did you learn from it?
This question made me laugh a lot — ceramic work is 50% fail! But I think that’s what keeps me interested. I don’t have words to express the devastating feeling of opening the kiln to find out that something went wrong. But time and time again I find that the happiness of finally fixing the issue totally makes up for it.

What’s been inspiring you lately?
I’ve been obsessed with toddlers' toys for over a year now. I love the colors and simple, blocky shapes! Silly straws and lava lamps also have a special place in my heart.

What’s a typical day like in your studio?
I spend most of my days making pieces for orders. I can’t say that there's any specific order of operation, but in general my day falls into one of these categories: throwing, slip casting, trimming, glazing, or packing. I usually group orders so that I can do all of each tasks at a time. Some days I'm lucky to get help from my assistant and friend Jordan, and on those days we usually listen to Harry Potter on tape!

What’s your studio like itself? And what are your favorite objects in the studio?
My studio is in my garage. It isn’t the prettiest to look at but is definitely my favorite place to be. My favorite object in this summer heat is definitely my industrial Vornado fan! I also recently got some new Hoka One One studio slides and swear by them.

What’s your smoking ritual?
I usually prefer smoking later at night when I am done working. My partner and I have an extensive collection of smokeware at home. From samples to trades with friends, we have somewhere around 12 different pieces to choose from. It’s always fun to decide which piece we’re in the mood for!

Lately we’ve been using the bubbler a lot; I really like how smooth the smoke is when it gets filtered through water. It’s a game changer these days with the air quality in southern California.


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Arc Lighters

"Flameless lighter" may sound like a sci-fi invention, but arc lighters — such as the Tetra Round Arc Lighter — are very real, and very useful. Have you ever tried to light a rolled smoke on a windy beach? Or accidentally singed your beard when lighting a pipe? The solution to both problems is an arc lighter, which requires no fuel and has no open flame whatsoever, making it wind-friendly, beard-friendly, and travel-friendly, too.

What Is an Arc Lighter?

Instead of a flame, an arc lighter produces heat via a small arc of high-voltage electrical current that's hotter than a traditional lighter, but in a more concentrated area. You activate the purple-hued arc with the push of a button, and simply place whatever you'd like to light directly in the arc's path.

Some models have two arcs that intersect for a particularly cool effect, like the Tetra Double Arc Lighter; that lighter's protruding flame area means that you can use it to light pipes. Smaller arc lighters, such as the Tetra Ombre Arc Lighter, can be used only to light thin surfaces like rolled smokes, candles, incense — really anything that can fit in between the arc's two nodes, as long as it's not your finger!

How Do You Use an Arc Lighter?

Arc lighters are easy to use because they don't require refilling, only recharging. Unlike a wick lighter, which you have to fill with fluid, arc lighters are battery-powered and charged via USB. Each charge gives you enough power to light up anywhere from 20 to 40 times.

Are Arc Lighters Safe?

Arc lighters are a safe, nontoxic alternative to traditional lighters. You should never place your finger into the arc, but if you did, it would cause a similar burn to a flame lighter, but on a smaller area of your skin. The electric current in the arc isn't strong enough to electrocute a person, but never use them with metal pipes as that may carry a greater risk of electric shock. Also, treat them with care and try not to drop them, because a particularly high-impact tumble could damage the electronics.

Are Flameless Lighters the Same as Arc Lighters?

Every arc lighter is flameless, but not every flameless lighter is an arc lighter. For instance, the Tetra Slide Lighter is also battery-powered, but it lights rolled smokes with a heated coil instead, sort of like old-fashioned car lighters. All flameless lighters are particularly great for travel, and an arc lighter is an impressive, high-tech addition to any smoker's toolkit.