I spend a lot of time talking about the minute details of smoking hookah, but sometimes you just need a little advice on how to prepare hookah to start you off. So, here is our guide for setting up your hookah and preparing for a great session because the best smoke starts with the first step.

Hookah Hardware

What pieces and element make up a hookah?

  • Base
  • Stem
  • Tray
  • Tobacco Bowl
  • Hose(s)
  • Grommets
prepare hookah

If you’re missing one of these then you’re pretty much out of luck. Make sure to check that you have each one before you start lighting your coals or you may find yourself in a hot spot. There are some exceptions to this rule like some of the high end glass hookahs, but if you own one of those I assume you don’t need a basic guide like this one.

Step by Step Guide on How to Prepare Hookah

Clean Everything!

The first step for any session should be a thorough cleaning. Unless you are just finishing another session, scrub and rinse your hookah by following our guide for cleaning. Even a brand new hookah should be cleaned to make sure that there is no residual filth or oil from the manufacturing process. If you have washable hoses then clean them out and give them time to dry, but remember that the average hose is made from leather and metal that will rust and rot if exposed to water. Never wash a hose unless you are 100% sure that it is made to be washable.

Fill the Vase With Water

  • The water level should be just a little over the bottom of the down stem. I find that a full inch of water over the bottom of the stem is enough, but some people like a little more for that rumbling smoke.
  • You can add ice for a cooler smoke, but it reduces flavor. This is a great option for the summer.
  • Never ad milk or dairy to your vase. It adds nothing to the smoke and will only cause problems. These problems can include a rotten milk smell in your hookah, ruined hoses, mold and foaming in the vase. No fun. Not worth it.

Place the Grommet on the Stem

The grommets are essential to the function of a hookah as they keep everything airtight. If the rig has a leak then fresh air will get into you smoke and make it thin. Modern style silicone grommets offer the best seal, but traditionalists enjoy either a tougher rubber grommet, wet paper or cloth and even athletic tape. The paper, cloth and tape let you custom fit the seal to your bowl, stem and vase or a perfect seal.

Place Stem In The Vase And The Tray On The Hookah

Getting the vase and stem together should require a little oomph, but you should not have a difficult time. If it’s too hard then you have an improperly sized grommet. Do not brace the vase against something and force the stem down or you will crack the glass and ruin your day. The tray sits on top of the stem and catches falling ash/charcoal, supports the wind cover, gives you a place to ash your coals and can hold your tongs. Make sure that the tray is in place before the bowl goes on because most trays can’t fit over a bowl.

Put The Hose In The Hose Port

  • Insert the hose grommet into the port and follow it with the short end of the hose.
  • Some hookahs have more than one hose port. If some of the hose ports are not being used they will need to be plugged with a rubber stopper, available at most shops. Many modern style hookahs have autoseal ports which make stoppers unnecessary.


Pack the bowl with tobacco


This is the most important step to ensure a smooth smoking experience:

  • First, mix your tobacco thoroughly. You want each and every bit of the hookah tobacco going into the bowl to be evenly coated in flavoring and molasses. The liquid settles out in storage ad you could end up with a dry and heat sensitive session.
  • How tightly you pack the tobacco depends heavily on the style of bowl and type of tobacco you are using. As a general rule of thumb it’s best to fluff up the tobacco and drop it loosely into the bowl then press lightly.
  • Maintain at least 2 millimeters of distance between the top of the shisha and the bottom of the foil. This stops the tobacco to sticking to the foil when is burned which may add an off flavor to your smoke hurt your lungs and ruin your session.

Place the Aluminum Foil onto the Bowl

  • Take a square of foil large enough to cover the top of the bowl and give you about two inches of coverage beyond that. It will form a good seal and grip the bowl tightly to avoid sagging.
  • The top of the foil should be taught and tight like a drum.
  • For a typical Egyptian bowl just start with a circle around the edge of the bowl and spiral inward.
  • Funnel style bowls benefit greatly from 3 concentric rings of holes. One around the edge, one around the spire and one between those two.
  • The more holes you put doesn’t necessarily mean more smoke. It just means more air flow and more direct heat form the coals reaching the tobacco. You have to strike a balance between the holes, coal, and type of tobacco to get the optimal amount and thickness of smoke.
  • Be careful not to shred the foil. Using something with a sharp point to poke holes will help avoid this.

Light coals and put them on the bowl

prepare shisha hookah

  • For quick light coal users: typically you’ll be lighting this coal with a lighter or match. Start by using the tongs to hold the coal, preferably somewhere far away from any other people or anything flammable. Sparks are going to fly. If you’re indoors, stand near a window or go outside. Light the coal with your lighter of choice by holding the flame to one corner of the coal. Wait for the coal to start sparkling and emitting smoke and pull the flame away. Remember that this is very much an exothermic reaction, so don’t get your hands too close. Allow the coal to finish sparking and smoking. The entire coal should be glowing orange. If it isn’t, blow on the coal until the still blackened parts have all turned orange.

NEVER light the coal on top of the bowl. This will cause accelerant particles to get into the bowl and change the flavor of the tobacco.

  • For natural coal users (ex. compressed coconut Coco Nara coals): light your coals on the stove (or on fire) until they are completely orange. Flip them while on the stove (or on fire) as necessary to ensure that the entire coal is glowing orange all the way around. Blow as necessary to ensure the coal lights properly. Do not light natural coals on a glass top stove as there is a high risk of cracking and marking the glass. Most people prefer a coil stove but a gas range stove works just as well with a little finesse.
  • Read the Hookah Coals Guide for more information on coals if you want more detailed instructions.

Smoke The Hookah

  • Allow the bowl to heat up naturally. Trying to kick start the hookah by taking hard pulls will only increase the chance of burning the tobacco and could cause lightheadedness.
  • A wind cover may be used to heat the bowl up more evenly and trap the heat where you need it, but make sure you don’t let it overheat.
  • Take slow and well spaced out draws from the hookah. It’s not a race, so sit back and relax.

Hookah Heat Management

Read our complete article on Hookah Heat Management for some great tips, tricks and guides that will help you achieve the perfect session.

That’s about it. Hookah takes time to prepare properly and is not a hobby for those in a rush, but the rewards are very much worth the effort. At this point you just need to let the smoke swirl around you as friends share stories and you relax into the moment. Happy smoking, my friends.

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11 years ago

I heard from someone that you’re not supposed to inhale, is this true?

Reply to  Dylan
11 years ago

That’s correct. Much like smoking Cigars.

Carolyn Cook
Carolyn Cook
11 years ago

Excellent tutorial. Dude about inhaling… REALLY B?!

Reply to  Carolyn Cook
11 years ago

yes, you are not supposed to inhale hookah. Think of it as smoking a cigar.

Reply to  Nima
10 years ago

So if you are not supposed to inhale it, then what’s the point? I’m pretty new to this, so pardon my ignorance. I see that there’s some nicotine in certain brands of tobacco and some without it. Isn’t the nicotine supposed to be inhaled for the effect? I’ve only had my own hooka for about a week, and I enjoy it when I actually inhale it, but I don’t want to mess up my lungs more than they already are from years of regular smoking. I thought a hookah was more like vaping and perhaps would help me in reducing regular smoking. However if it’s just like a cigar, then I know for a fact it won’t help me. I smoke cigars now and then and always forget that I’m not supposed to inhale it, so I loose interest in just putting the smoke in my mouth.
By the way, thanks for a great site, I came to it after placing my order with Social Smoke and I’m learning a lot from what you have shared.

Reply to  Damian
10 years ago

Hi Damian,

Glad you find the website helpful. You are correct in that hookah is not meant to be inhaled (much like cigars). I’ve heard of people smoking hookahs to quit cigarettes but I’m not sure how effective or not it is. The difference with hookah is people usually don’t smoke hookah by themselves and they smoke it less often.

10 years ago

Hi Nima,

Thanks for responding, I appreciate it. I’m trying as hard as I can to no longer inhaling and I’m doing pretty decent and still enjoy my hookah.
As for the regular smoking, I can honestly tell you that it has helped a great deal in lowering smoking regular cigarrets. At night instead of having a cancer stick, I just enjoy a hookah session or two and I’m set for the whole night. Maybe I just really want to quit smoking regular cigarrets for good.

Reply to  Damian
10 years ago

That’s awesome man. Keep it up.

10 years ago

Hey nima thanks for the guide….im a noob when it comes to preparing hookah my friend bought one the smallest size and asked me to research about it….the thing is that in those mini bowl the tobacco always burns even when placed with a distance from the foil he said used a whole block of quick burn coal….so should I tell him to break that coal to more smaller pieces when placing it above the foil?

Reply to  taha
10 years ago

Hi Taha, it sounds like you’re using a coal too large for the bowl size. The best thin you can do is post your question on the forum. We have a lot of very helpful members there too ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy smoking

Asad Kazmi
8 years ago

Love to hear about your thoughts on the ART HOOKAH.

Nima H.
Reply to  Asad Kazmi
8 years ago

We’ve been wanting to publish a review of Art Hookah for a while. Maybe now that our re-design is completed is a good time.

Asad Kazmi
Reply to  Nima H.
8 years ago

That would be awesome also detailing on the use of the hookah beads and the kloud lotus with that hookah.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x