cotton swab

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Commercially available cotton swabs
A pack of Q-tips from the USA
German pack of Q-tips

A cotton swab is a stick about seven centimeters long with one or both ends wrapped in cotton wool . It is used, for example, in cosmetics for make-up, in technical cleaning or in medicine for smears.

History and construction

Since 1926 the cotton swabs, which were invented by the American Leo Gerstenzang , have been sold under the name Q-tips , whereby the ownership of the trademark rights varies regionally (e.g. in Germany W. Pelz GmbH & Co. KG, Wahlstedt and in the USA the Dutch Unilever group). The "Q" stands for Quality ( English quality , quality ' ) and " tips " (for the ends of plastic or cotton wool English tip , tip end' ). This name has become common in English for cotton swabs in general. But there are also other manufacturers and brands.

The chopsticks are usually made of plastic or paper and less often of wood. The wadding is often made of plastic, sometimes cotton . In the medical field, cotton swabs are occasionally made "by hand": cotton wool is wrapped around a steel swab with a roughened tip ("cotton swab"). The advantage lies in the variable size of the cotton pad.

According to a proposal for an EU directive , cotton swabs with a plastic handle should be banned. Since the beginning of 2019, in Italy , by the law passed by the Italian Parliament at the end of 2017 , the manufacture and sale of cotton swabs that are not made from biodegradable plastic has been banned.


Cotton swabs are used for beauty and baby care or for make-up, for example for eye shadow . In technology, cotton swabs are used for cleaning purposes (often with liquids such as alcohol or water), typically e.g. B. in inkjet printers.

Harmful to the ear

Despite the appropriate warning notices , commercially available cotton swabs are still used by many people to remove wax in the ear canals . Instead, however, the lard can be pressed deeper into the ear and harden there into a wax plug, which under certain circumstances exerts pressure on the eardrum and leads to hearing loss . It is believed that movements with the chopstick are comfortable because the vagus nerve is being stimulated. Instead, to clean the ear canal, it is sufficient to rinse the ears with clean water, e.g. B. when showering or with an ear syringe . There is a standardization for cotton swabs, but this is only a recommendation, not a binding one.


As so-called swabs are suitable sterile , prepared especially for this purpose and individually packaged swab to smear of saliva samples , such as for determining the genetic fingerprint for DNA screening . The use of cotton swabs in criminal investigations, especially sensitive examinations in genetic tests, can lead to errors in the investigation of manufacturing-related contamination. The well-known case is the so-called Heilbronn Phantom . Since simple sterilization is not enough to destroy DNA residues, treatment with ethylene oxide or a comparison of the DNA of all people involved in the manufacturing process is recommended.

Environmental protection and legal situation

In December 2018, a directive was passed in the EU Parliament according to which single-use plastic products, which also include plastic cotton swabs, will no longer be allowed in the European Union for environmental reasons from 2021.

Web links

Commons : cotton swabs  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Cotton swabs  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Cotton swabs, plastic dishes EU wants to ban numerous plastic products
  2. Italy bans the manufacture and sale of cotton swabs. In: . January 1, 2019, accessed January 1, 2019 .
  3. Instructions for printer cleaning in the chip forum
  4. Cotton swabs for ear cleaning?
  5. Barbara-Ellen Ross, Ulrike Winter: Die Pannen im Phantom-Fall , ( Memento from March 30, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) RP-Online, March 27, 2009
  6. Forensic DNA analysis: weak point cotton swab . Spiegel Online , March 26, 2009
  7. Initiative against microplastics - where Great Britain, Italy and Sweden are ahead of us. February 5, 2019, accessed February 5, 2019 .