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Top 10 Hookah Mistakes to Avoid

Top 10 Hookah Mistakes to Avoid

By two puff tony / November 10, 2021

Howdy shisha smokers and welcome back to another blog from the hookah experts at Hookah-Shisha! When it comes to hookah preparation and smoking, each and every person will have their own unique techniques and methods to obtain their ideal smoke session. Whether it be different bowl packing methods, restriction preferences, or just the different flavor blends used, every session is unique and this is part of what makes hookah such a compelling hobby.

That being said, there are some common mistakes that can be absolutely DEVASTATING to not only your hookah session, but to the physical integrity of your hookah pipe itself, and maybe even you as a person! In an effort to help you learn from our mistakes and achieve quality smoke sessions, we've compiled a list of the top 10 mistakes hookah smokers make and how to avoid them!

1. Over-Packing Your Bowl

Easily one of the most common mistakes we see shisha smokers, especially new ones, make is overfilling, or "over-packing," their bowl when preparing the hookah. At some point in hookah history, people got the idea that "more shisha in the bowl = more smoke and flavor" and began trying to cram as much tobacco into their bowls as possible to achieve a more impressive session. While this thinking can be true to a slight degree, in most cases it actually accomplishes the exact opposite!

When over-packing a hookah bowl, you run the risk of 1) burning the tobacco too quickly and 2) airflow issues in the bowl causing less than ideal smoking conditions. Why does this happen? When you put too much shisha into your bowl, all of that shisha is going to be pressed directly against your aluminum foil or heat management device (HMD) and, by extension, your hookah charcoal. This can cause your coals to "scorch" or burn the tobacco very quickly, resulting in harsh smoke and an unpleasant flavor.

Overfilling your bowl will also run the risk of creating a host of airflow issues during your session. Most shisha brands are designed in such a way that they require air pathways throughout the tobacco and bowl in order to smoke properly. Cramming your bowl full of tobacco will compress the tobacco in such a way that those pathways become more restricted or cease to exist entirely, resulting in tobacco that doesn't cook evenly or put out as much smoke and flavor as it normally would.

In addition, this mistake can also physically clog the holes in your bowl with tobacco, making it EXTREMELY difficult to pull air/smoke through your hookah in the first place (like trying to suck air through a straw with one end blocked).

Our advice? DON'T try to cram your bowl full of tobacco and push it past its limit. If you really feel that you need to be adding more and more shisha to your bowl to achieve your ideal session, buy a bigger bowl! A bigger hookah bowl (such as the Tangiers Medium phunnel bowl) will hold larger quantities of shisha and can result in longer lasting, full flavored sessions, all without risking "over-packing" territory.

2. Under-Packing Your Bowl

It may seem silly to list this mistake right after the previous one, however under-packing your hookah bowl can be just as problematic as over-packing it! As opposed to the smokers we see who try to cram too much tobacco into their bowl, we also see some who don't put nearly enough in.

Whether it be by accident or on purpose in an effort to use less shisha, not putting enough shisha in your chosen bowl can create short, underwhelming smoke sessions that lack both strong flavor and thick clouds. This happens as a result of poor heat transfer.

Essentially, under-packing shisha creates a large air gap between the flavor and your coals which prevents the shisha from receiving the proper amount of heat it needs for full flavor and clouds. What little smoke that does get produced will not last for very long either, as there is a reduced amount of shisha in the bowl.

Additionally, when there isn't enough shisha to provide strong flavor, you also run the risk of experiencing the taste of hot charcoal! That's right, each pull from your under-packed bowl runs a higher risk of tasting like lit charcoal which is a taste that no one likes.

To avoid this mistake in future sessions, just make sure to fill your bowl up with more shisha when preparing the next one. Be careful not to over-pack it though! Every bowl is different, so it may take a couple of attempts to find the "sweet spot".

If you are a smoker that purposefully under-packs to use less shisha in their bowls in an effort to save, we recommend picking up a smaller hookah bowl, such as the as the Alpaca Mini Rook bowl, as this will allow you to avoid these common under-packing issues while also using less shisha during your session.

3. Foil Sag

Aluminum foil is one of the least thought about aspects when preparing a hookah, however it can easily be one of the most important. Most people think "oh, it's just foil" and slap a piece of whatever is laying around onto their bowl without thinking about how they're putting it on. We've seen countless photos of wrinkly, uneven foil throughout our hookah careers and it never ceases to make us cringe a little.

"Why is it so important, Tony?", you may ask. Well, dear reader, saggy foil can turn what was otherwise a perfectly packed bowl into a mess of harsh smoke and burnt flavor. Think of the foil on your bowl as a sort of "shelf" that separates your shisha and your charcoal. When the foil is loose and sags down into your bowl, this causes your coals to come into almost direct contact with your flavored shisha which in turn causes it to overheat and burn.

Making sure your foil is pulled tight over your bowl creates a strong surface that keeps your coals elevated and away from your shisha (as long as you didn't pack the shisha too high), can prevent the flavor from being directly burned by the coals, and creates a more even heat transfer throughout the bowl.

To eliminate foil sag, try holding the foil against your bowl with one hand while slowly and carefully pulling the foil tight with your other hand, making sure it remains tight before crimping the foil down around the sides of your bowl. Or you can get rid of foil sag completely by picking up a hookah heat management device! These devices replace tin foil in its entirety, making it easier than ever prepare your session and manage your heat.

4. Too Much Heat

Managing the heat levels during your hookah session can be among the more difficult aspects of achieving a good session, and one of the most common mistakes we see made is subjecting your shisha to way too much heat. We're not sure where this mistake originated but we see it ALL. THE. TIME. Instagram photos of a hookah with 5 giant coals on top, customer service emails trying to troubleshoot harsh sessions, hookahs covered in obscene amounts of coals served to us personally at hookah bars, you name it.

While you definitely do need to get your tobacco hot enough to properly smoke and emit strong flavor, there is such a thing as too much, and crossing that threshold results in an extremely harsh smoke that can ruin your entire smoke session if you don't fix it fast enough.

To avoid this mistake, we recommend using only a handful of coals at first. While some people may feel that more coals is the path to thicker smoke, we typically recommend using only 1-2 pieces of quicklight charcoal or 2-4 pieces of natural charcoal at one time. The exact amount may vary based off your choice of shisha and the size of your bowl, but those quantities are a great place to start. And if you end up needing more charcoal, you can always light more when needed!

Additionally, we recommend spacing out your charcoal around the edges of your bowl, rather than concentrating the coals directly over the center. This creates a more even heat distribution that prevents your coals from overheating the shisha in the center of your bowl.

If your smoke starts to feel harsh or taste burnt, you can fix it if you act quickly! Remove a coal or two with your tongs and set it in your tray to allow the shisha to cool off or to rearrange the coals as needed. It's always a good idea to "purge" the harsh smoke from your hookah after an overheating episode as well. The large majority of hookahs are equipped with a "purge valve" that lets you gently blow into your hose to expel smoke if needed, so use this feature as you see fit!

5. Not Enough Heat

The other side of the "heat management" coin is not putting enough heat on your bowl! Just like how we've seen bowls overloaded with charcoal, we've also seen bowls with a single small coal on top.

If you hadn't guessed, a single hookah coal is not going to put off nearly enough heat for your shisha flavors to adequately smoke and will result in a hookah session with weak clouds and little to no flavor at all. This is by far one of the most common explanations when we're troubleshooting hookahs and will be something you should explore if you experience lack of flavor and whispy clouds from your smoke sessions. 

It's way easier to rectify the "not enough heat" problem than it is the "too much heat" one, because all you have to do is simply add more coals to your bowl! Just add additional coals, one at a time, to your bowl until you've achieved your desired flavor and smoke consistency!

6. Smoking A Dirty Hookah

We wish this one didn't make the list, but alas, here we are. Stop reading, take a moment, look at your hookah, and ask yourself: "When's the last time it was cleaned?"

If your answer is "after my last session" then great! If it was anything else though, GO CLEAN YOUR HOOKAH. RIGHT NOW. WITH SOAP AND WATER. AND A BRUSH.

No, seriously, this is one of the most horrendous, yet common, mistakes we see hookah smokers make. A dirty hookah pipe can have all kinds of trapped flavors and residue that can negatively impact the flavor of your current smoke session. Neglecting the cleaning process can also cause your hookah to rust and become corroded at a greatly accelerated pace, and that's not even taking into account the bacteria that can form in a moist environment like a hookah.

There's no way to avoid this mistake other than rolling up your sleeves and putting in the work to get your hookah nice and clean. Not sure where to start? We'll teach you everything you need to know in our blog on hookah cleaning and maintenance.

7. Putting Too Much Water In Your Base

When it comes to the subject of water levels and how much to put in your base, almost every hookah will require a different volume of water. This is why overfilling your base is one of the easiest mistakes to make!

In hookah, water serves to both cool and filter the shisha smoke as it gets pulled through the stem and up through your hose, resulting in smooth smoke that, in some ways, doesn't even feel like smoke at all. There is too much of a good thing however! Overfilling your base can create unnecessary restriction during your session, making it much more difficult to physically pull smoke and air through the hookah.

Basically, a greater amount of water you put in your base means your lungs are having to work harder to pull your smoke through the water.

Overfilling your base can also cause water to get pulled up into your hose while you smoke, which is something you definitely want to avoid as it can make your draw feel abnormal. Plus, absolutely no one wants to get an accidental splash of that tangy base water in their mouth. As someone who (unfortunately) knows what that tastes like, you can trust me when I say you don't want it to happen to you.

When filling your base, we typically recommend that your hookah's down stem be submerged about 1/2 inch in the water in order to provide a smooth draw while still allowing the smoke to be properly pulled through the water for the cooling and filtering process. Hookahs have different sized bases and different length down stems, so the exact volume of water you use may vary, however keeping the 1/2 inch rule in mind will help you avoid this particular mistake!

8. Air Leaks

One of the most overlooked mistakes that can happen in hookah is smoking when there is an air leak! The hookah smoking process itself requires an almost entirely airtight system, only allowing air to enter in through the holes in the tin foil that you wrapped over your bowl.

Apart from this very specific area, there should not be an air that manages to slip through when you take a puff off of your hose. If there is an air leak in your hookah, you run the risk of getting less smoke, or in some more severe cases, no smoke at all. In our experience, the most common places air leaks occur in hookahs are at 1) the connection points between your bowl, base, and hose and 2) the purge valve!

Just about every hookah out there (with a few minor exceptions) will use "grommets", or some form of rubber/silicone gasket to seal the hookah and prevent air from entering the system at various points. There are different types of grommets including base grommets, hose grommets, and bowl grommets.

Grommets that fit improperly, are damaged, or are missing from these various connection points can cause air to leak in while you're smoking, so if you think there is an air leak in your pipe, the grommets should be the first place you look.

Purge valves, the valves that allow you to purge harsh smoke from your hookah, function through the use of ball bearings, or "BBs", that rest within the hub of the hookah and are covered by a purge cap. Basically, when you're normally smoking your hookah, the ball bearings sits flush against a small hole inside your hub and effectively creates an airtight seal. When you want to purge however, the air that you blow into your hose will lift the small ball bearing and allow for smoke/air to escape.

After you're done purging, the ball bearing, with the help of gravity, falls back into place sealing your hookah again.

If that ball bearing is missing from inside your purge valve, then you will experience an "airy" pull, you'll get virtually no smoke, and your water will likely show no, or very little, signs of bubbling. The easiest way to identify if this is the cause of your air leak? Unscrew your purge cap and take a look! If no ball bearing is present, then that's your problem! Replace the ball bearing and continue smoking to see if that solved your air leak issues.

9. Smoking An Unstable Hookah

One of the main aspects of smoking hookah is the use of hot charcoal and let me be clear, lit hookah coals are PLENTY hot enough to burn you, or just about anything they touch that isn't heat proof. The fact that YOU can get burned is why smoking an unstable hookah, whether it's due to a wobbly stem or because the hookah is sitting on an uneven surface, can be one of the most detrimental mistakes to make when smoking.

Seriously, we've seen it time and time again where an unstable hookah tips over, or moves around too much, causing the coals to roll off the bowl, or even causing the entire hookah (coals and all) to fall in the laps of those who were just smoking it. Beyond the obvious damage to personal property, whether that be your hookah, your furniture, your carpet/hardwood, or anything else around, almost nothing kills the vibe faster than you or your friends having to deal with a burn caused by falling coals.

To prevent this from happening to you, always make sure that the connection between your stem and base remains firm in order to minimize any potential "wobble" when smoking. Also, make sure the surface that you set your hookah on is even and stable, such as a coffee table, a flat outdoor surface such as concrete, or even just the floor of your house. Avoid any uneven surfaces that may cause your hookah to sit at an angle or move around excessively during your session.

10. Carrying Your Hookah By The Stem

Despite being, in our opinion, one of the most avoidable mistakes in hookah, carrying your hookah by only the stem is a mistake that just about every hookah smoker has made, or will make, at least once in their life. Why is it a mistake you may ask? Because it is the easiest way to break your glass base.

An ever increasing amount of hookahs in the world utilize rubber base grommets to connect the base to the stem and provide an airtight seal. While many of these grommets do provide very strong connections, they are not nearly strong enough to adequately hold the weight of a glass base, let alone one that you have filled with water. When you carry your hookah by only the stem, you run a high risk of that rubber grommet losing grip, causing your base to plummet to the ground and, you guessed it, shatter.

Nothing stops the fun faster than a broken hookah base, especially if you don't have a spare. Luckily, there's one simple habit you can form to prevent this from happening: carry your hookah by the base, not the stem! Seriously, that's it. Having one hand firmly grasping the base and the other holding the stem (for stability) will prevent your hookah base from suddenly falling off and turning into a pile of glass shards.

And that's the list! We hope that our advice here will help you avoid a bad session or a total hookah disaster! If you have any questions in regards to any topic we discussed today, or need assistance with any other hookah related matter, contact our wonderful customer service team and they will be happy to assist. Or, if there's a common mistake you think should be on this list, drop us a comment below! Otherwise, we hope your sessions taste great and your clouds remain thick for all time to come.

Happy smoking!

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