What are Percolators and Diffusers?
Percolators and diffusers are the parts of a water pipe or bong that make the water bubble. The simplest way to explain how they work and the best comparison I could think of is a beverage in a cup with a straw. Remember when you were a kid and you would blow in the straw to make bubbles? Well that’s exactly what is happening when you hit your bong but in reverse. Instead of blowing through the straw (which would be the bowl and stem), you’re creating a seal on the entire cup (the mouth piece of the bong) and sucking (inhaling) to force air through the top of the straw (the bowl) to the bottom of the straw (the percolator). That’s right. You were playing with percolators before you even knew what they were!
What is the purpose of a percolator?
In order to produce vapor or smoke, your material needs to be heated. So you can imagine the vapor or smoke is pretty warm, even hot. Percolators and diffusers force smoke or vapor to pass through cool water. This not only cools the smoke, but also filters out any ash that falls through the bowl as well as some of the harsh resins. Percolators and diffusers provide a smoother smoking experience. There are many types of percolators, which provide different levels of diffusion. Below we cover some of the most popular ones.
Type of Percolators
A percolator can be as simple as a single hole submerged in water (like the straw example above). But it can also be much more complex than that. We will go over the most popular ones below starting with the simplest ones and working our way down to some of the more complex ones.
Natural & Single Hole
This is the simplest type of percolator. It’s just one hole. The size of the hole varies. The hole can be located at the end of a removable downstem or the bottom of a fixed stem. This type of percolator provides minimal diffusion, leaving the flavor unaffected.
Multiple Holes and Slits
This type is the stepping-stone to the more advanced percolators. Just like the previous type, they are located towards the end of a removable downstem or bottom of a fixed stem. On fixed stem bongs, they are referred to as “screen percs” and usually only have holes. There can be as little as 2-holes or as many as 10 slits. Or even a combination of the both. The more slits or holes the more diffusion.
No, you don’t put this percolator on your head, but you do put it in your bong! This type is kind of like a multi-slit perc. There are a few specifics that make it a showercap. One, it is blown out a bit so it creates a round or oval shape. Two, the slits are placed parallel to the stem, instead of perpendicular. This perc creates a fair amount of diffusion.
This perc is the exact same concept of a showercap with a couple subtle differences. Circ percolators are larger and are connected to the bowl’s joint from the side instead on straight out the top. They are also only found in fixed stem style bongs.
Inline / Stemline
This is one of the most popular percolators. It is highly functional and provides plenty of diffusion. The inline is a perc that sits horizontally inside a fixed stem bong. It has multiple slits placed on either the top or bottom. Sometimes these slits are gridded to create even more diffusion bubbles!
Matrix / Puck
The matrix percolator is built for max diffusion. It’s shaped like a puck and can be incorporated into a water pipe a number of different ways. It’s a very complex style and I’m not even entirely sure how it is constructed. But one thing is for sure. They work incredibly well. They create tons of diffusion bubbles, so if you’re looking for something that will deliver as smooth as possible of a hit, this is a great choice! You might also want to check out Kush Scientific’s Puckline and Puckolator for similar function and design.
A showerhead percolator is usually found in a double chamber glass bong in the second chamber. Sometimes it is referred to as a “dome perc”. It‘s a lot like a circ perc, but placed into the second chamber of a bong. There are a few slight changes made to the design to make this work. First the perc has to be elongate so it is taller. It is then placed over an inner tube connecting to the first chamber. When air is forced through the inner tube, the “dome” redirects it through the slits, which are submerged in water.
A tree percolator is similar to a dome perc. Instead of placing a “dome” over the inner tube, small tubes, or “arms”, are welded to the inner tube. This creates a ring of mini single-hole downstems around the inner tube. Tree percs tend to be a bit “chuggy” and provide plenty of diffusion. Although you will mostly see the percs in the second chamber of a double chamber tube, they are also incorporated into the first chamber.
Ratchet / Sprocket – Disc Percs
The ratchet or sprocket perc is the first disc perc we have mentioned so far. It’s a type of perc that is round like a disc and placed in the can (body) of a water pipe. When the pipe is hit and the water rises, the disc breaks up the water creating glorious diffusion bubbles. This perc is shaped like a ratchet or sprocket. This type of perc offers a medium amount of diffusion. It’s great for oils or someone smoking herb that wants some nice percolation, but doesn’t want the hassle of cleaning tiny crevices.
This disc perc is pretty cool. First off, it spins the water into a vortex! Awesome! Now you might be thinking, “well, that is cool, but I want something that has the best function, not just cool tricks.” When the water travels through a turbine perc it not only diffuses the air (smoke) passing through it, but also spins the water. This spinning action creates “centrifugal force”, which forces the water outwards to the sides of the can (body). What I’m getting at is the spinning action keeps the water from going into the mouthpiece. That’s right, it’s a percolator and a splashguard. Two in one!
Honeycomb / Mesh
This style of disc perc produces high levels of diffusion. They have many holes (40+) that create a cluster of tiny diffusion bubbles. There are a few different techniques used to make this style, but the results are all the same, lots of bubbles and extremely smooth smoke. This is one of the most popular percolators among Dab Lab customers.
If you’re looking for the absolute most diffusion from a single percolator, this is definitely it. It’s like a Honeycomb or Mesh Disc perc on steroids! This perc is made with frit (crushed glass). It’s placed into a mold and melted together creating tiny pockets for the water and air to pass through resulting in tons of tiny diffusion bubbles. Although, this perc does come with some cons. Because the holes and pockets are so tiny, this percolator tends to clog pretty quickly, especially without an ash catcher. It can also be a bit tough to clean. That being said, we have had tons of customers absolutely love them!
The pillar perc is similar to a tree perc, with a couple minor differences in design and function. Like the tree perc it consists of smaller tubes surrounding a center tube. Instead of air and water exiting through the bottom of the outer tubes, it exits through the top, resulting in a very chuggy hit with high diffusion. Vertigo and Leisure Glass both incorporate this percolator into recycler bubblers. The pillar perc and recycling functionality is a match made in heaven!
This is another very unique percolator. It takes the basic concept of a single hole downstem and turns it into something special. It’s shaped like a “U” and has a special little “ball valve” that hangs off the bottom of the curve. As you hit the pipe, the smoke goes all the way through the stem, staying submerged in water as it gets mixed with more diffusion bubbles created by the glass ball check valve. The ball system at the bottom helps recycle the water around and keep it from going up into the mouthpiece. The vapor goes through about 6 inches of water inside the tube while also being diffused by the recycling system in the stem. This perc gives a really smooth hit and lots of flavor for such small overall chamber volume. Also, being able to put so much water in the chamber keeps it fresher longer. Check out the Diffusion Pump Bubbler by Grav Labs Glass.
Fab Egg / Swiss
A Faberge Egg Perc is an advanced version of a Swiss perc. So we’ll start by covering exactly what a swiss perc is and how it works. A water pipe with a swiss percolator has a flattened can (body) with a bunch of holes going directly through it like “swiss cheese”. These holes force the water to break up in different directions creating diffusion bubbles. A fab egg perc uses the same concept and pushes it from 2D to 3D by placing a glass bubble within a glass bubble and connecting the 2 using the swiss perc technique. This not only makes one of the coolest looking rig designs on the planet earth, but it results in a highly functional water pipe. A unique hit combined with a fair amount of diffusion, cooling your smoke perfectly while still leaving the flavor intact!
Check out our blog "What is a Recycler Rig | Type of Recyclers" for more information about recyclers.