Visualized: Step by Step of How to Set Up a Hookah at Home

Written by Jacob - Hookah Enthusiast

Last updated May 11, 2023

Yes, it’s always hard when you’re a beginner who’s just starting out. There are a lot of questions that come in each step and normally you are looking for relevant answers.

I remember my first years of hookah smoking… It was hard to set up my hookah and at the same time to achieve that nice smoke and a good taste of the shisha.

I’m quite nostalgic about those days. Now with more than 10 years of experience, I can tell that I know exactly how to set up the perfect hookah.

Hookah setup – list of all parts needed


  • Glass base
  • Down stem
  • Base grommet
  • Hose connector
  • Hose
  • Hose grommet
  • Air valve & Ball bearing
  • Valve grommet
  • Stem / Shaft
  • Ashtray
  • Bowl grommet
  • Bowl
  • Heat management device
  • Coals
  • Mouth tip
All hookah parts listed and visualised

Here is visually how to set up your hookah

    How to set up a hookah - with all steps

    Here is a visualization of the steps of how to use a hookah like a complete master. For your easiness, I’m going to explain to you each step to ensure a proper hookah setup process.

    It’s a routine task that once learned, you’ll never feel uncomfortable again about setting up your hookah. Just make sure you’ve read the full guide.

    So let’s begin!

    Cleaning the hookah before you start

    The first very important step is to wash your hookah from previous use. The shisha is very juicy and sticky and especially if you smoke it too much, lots of unpleasant aromas build up inside your hookah.

    To reach the best results for your smoking session, just maintain the hookah regularly.
    This happens when you disassemble each part of the device.

    Remove all excess ash, water, and tobacco left inside. Wash the hookah parts with hot water and soap. You want to make sure that clean water is coming out when you rinse the parts. Otherwise, repeat the process.

    Now you want to rinse everything with cold water and let it dry well.

    Washing the hookah hose could be tricky

    Note that not every hookah hose is washable. Basically, there are two types of hoses. The silicone ones can be washed while those with metal rings can’t because of potential rust developing. I have written an article about how to clean hookah hoses so make sure you check it out for additional information.

    Pour water into the base

    So you are wondering how much water to put in the hookah base? The right amount is about 1 inch or 2.5 cm. This will guarantee a perfect session.

    If you overfill it there is a risk that water may be sucked in by the hose or even by your mouth. On the other side, if you underfill the water, it will not create any smoke.

    Should look like this:

    water level on hookah base

    Keep in mind that smaller hookahs may need less water. If you have one, try with half of an inch and add or remove if needed.

    Can I put something else besides water?

    The short answer is yes. You can put almost any liquid you want. The crucial moment here is to pour the right amount of your favorite drink.

    If you pour too much, there is a risk to “blur” the shisha taste, so you always dilute with water. For more information, make sure you check out the article on what you can put in a hookah base.

    Inserting the hookah shaft in the base

    The base itself is made from glass and rarely from plastic (low-quality products). The hookah shaft can be made using different metals such as copper, stainless steel, etc.

    When you are setting up your hookah, you always need to make sure that everything is nicely sealed and tightly placed. Too many air gaps can ruin your session by providing very thin and weak smoke. So remember – the hookah parts must be air-tight.

    Connect the hose

    As mentioned above – the hookah hose should be washed too. The installation process is pretty straightforward. Just follow the air-tight rule.

    Typically hookah hoses have grommets but if it’s missing then you can use surgical tape. By the way, you can use this tape for every part of the hookah if you are missing the grommets.

    Hookah hose connect

    Airflow check

    This is a very important step which will guarantee a good session if you do it properly. As I have mentioned, each part must be airtight.

    To check the whole hookah set up for airtightness, you should put your finger on the top hole (the place where you put the bowl) and try to suck in with the hose.
    The goal is to go from very low to zero air intake.

    Preparing the shisha

    When it comes to packing a hookah bowl, it’s required to use high-quality shisha tobacco. You’ve chosen your favorite flavor and now it’s time to prepare it.

    To do so, mix the shisha well to get all the juices. Lightly sprinkle the shisha over your bowl without overfilling it. Ideally, you want to be under the top edge. It’s a mistake to overfill the bowl

    Shisha for packing a bowl

    Covering the shisha with foil or metal screen

    Now cover the shisha with your heat management gadget. If you use aluminum foil then more attention is required. Grab a piece of thick foil and place it tightly on the bowl.

    Play around until achieving a nice and flat surface on the top. Next, poke some holes around the edge to the center and you are good to go.

    Here is an example:

    Shisha bowl packed with foil and metal screen

    Placing the bowl on the top of the hookah

    Whether you choose a vortex or a classic hookah bowl, you should always place it nice and tightly. Most hookahs have rubber grommets on the top of the stem to ensure good sealing. If your grommet is missing try to seal it with surgical adhesive tape.

    Light the coals

    The right hookah coals are very important for your smoking session. There are several types of charcoals on the market. I recommend always using high-quality coconut coals and not quick-lights.

    They are environmentally friendly, last longer on your shisha, and have perfect shapes for your needs.

    Prepare your coals until they become red on each side.

    Shisha bowl packed with foil and metal screen

    Placing the coals on the top of the bowl

    Providing the right amount of heat is a key element of your hookah setup process. Put your coals “face to face” and leave them for 3-5 minutes, allowing the shisha to “bake” well.

    The harsh smell and taste are caused by overheating the bowl and shisha respectively. That’s why you should maintain the heat during the session.

    If you feel the bad taste, then just cool down the bowl by removing the coals for 30 seconds. Then blow underneath the bowl to chill down the shisha. Return the coals and continue your session

    Hookah setup - coals baking the shisha

    Hookah Setup Guide: Bonus tips


    How frequently do I need to change the coals?

    I personally prefer to change them in a maximum of 35-40 minutes. But there are different shapes and sizes. Typically this rule applies to standard cube coals.
    Another great tip is to “clean” them every 10-15 minutes because there is a
    lot of ash on the surface. Simply remove the coals and gently tap them on your ashtray or another gadget. Then you can turn them back but this time a little closer to one another.

    How can I start the coals?

    Standard coconut charcoals should be started on a special coal stove. If you do not have one, use a regular gas stove. I do not recommend using a glass kitchen stove because you can damage it.

    Mix your favorite flavors

    A lot of people think that they can not mix different types of shisha tobacco. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s your choice what to smoke and you can combine every flavor you want. Just don’t add more than three types of tobacco as it will “kill” the flavor rather than make it better.

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