Owning a pot-smoking utensil can require a lot of upkeep — and anyone who uses them frequently knows how hard removing that black tar and wax reclaim can be. Many of us have friends who have forsaken pieces of glassware altogether, content with letting the grime cake up until they have to buy a new one.
Jake Westling had quite a few friends like that in Minnesota, he says. So many that he started cleaning their dirty pipes and bongs in his kitchen sink for a few dollars. Using a three-quarter gallon tank, he'd rinse any piece of glassware until it was cleaner than when it was purchased. Now, with a 65-gallon tank, he wants to clean yours.
"One day, a mentor of mine challenged me and asked, 'If you were in Colorado, would you be doing this right now?'" Westling says. "And here I am."
Westling opened his glass-cleaning service, Pipe Dream, in March shortly after moving to Colorado with his wife, Holly. The couple now owns a shop in north Denver dedicated to cleaning the black, smelly gunk and grime you've been too intimidated to touch. His process starts by picking out any large chunks of tar that might be clogging air passages, then submerging them in a cleaning tank.
The cleaning tank, capable of fitting up to eighty pieces of glass, uses a citrus-based cleaning agent, intense heat and two thousand watts of ultrasound to clean off debris. He then places the pieces in a converted industrial dishwasher outfitted with irrigation lines to clean any percolator and crevice we can't reach at home.
"The chemical is nontoxic and food-safe," he says. "It's mostly the heat and ultrasound that clean the pieces, anyways. The chemical is just there to haul all the resin away."
After all that tar is hauled away from the tank, Pipe Dream solidifies it and disposes of it in the trash per Waste Management guidelines.
Westling says his pricing depends on the size, with any piece measuring less than six inches costing $8.99 to clean. Prices only go up $3 to $5 dollars in four- to six-inch intervals, making it barely more expensive than getting a few button-ups pressed at the dry cleaner.
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"We wanted to offer someone a safer, cleaner way to smoke in an affordable package," he says. "If you have a six-inch bong that hasn't been cleaned in years — awesome — the price is still the same." With stories of running a pipe that hadn't been cleaned in years through the wash multiple times to spending 45 minutes rinsing out a bong that had been filled with Kool-Aid, Westling takes his price guarantee seriously.
Pipe Dreams has plans to roll out a mobile cleaning service that picks up pieces around town, cleans them and returns them for a delivery fee. Westling is also hoping to partner with dispensaries and head shops as dirty-glass drop-off points for customers who can't make the drive up to his headquarters at 5650 North Washington Street.
Westling says he's talked with the Marijuana Enforcement Division, the Denver Department of Environmental Health and local sheriffs, with all of the agencies telling him he doesn't fall under their regulatory purview. He's operating under standards similar to how the DEH regulates dishwashing, he explains, hoping his methods will save water and lessen toxicity in smoking.
"If you're using some of those cleaning chemicals at a head shop or anything you're buying from somewhere else, they can be harmful to smoke if it soaks in the resin, but the resin doesn't leave the bong," he says. As if pesticides and mold weren't enough to worry about already.