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Home » Ten Surprising Ways to Use Q-tips That Don’t Involve Your Ears

Ten Surprising Ways to Use Q-tips That Don’t Involve Your Ears

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Photo: Julien Delaunay (Shutterstock)

Q-tips are one of a very short list of products that are routinely bought for a purpose they are explicitly not to be used for (seriously—don’t clean your ears with them). But if you’re not supposed to use Q-tips to clean your ears, what’s the point of them? Well, they were initially marketed as a safe way to swab babies with all the things you need to swab onto babies, and they’re obviously used in conjunction with a lot of beauty products. But your average cotton swab has a lot more uses than you might imagine.

If your decision to stop using them to clean your ears leaves you with a few thousand to use up in other ways, here is how to put them to use.

Clean kitchen tools

The stuff we use to prepare food can get pretty dirty—and be tough to clean. Waffle irons and similar appliances are challenging if you can’t run them through the dishwasher, and then there are can openers. Can openers are still an essential tool for modern life, and yet we can be pretty oblivious to how dirty they get after years of use. But cotton swabs can be extremely effective in cleaning your can opener and are also perfect for cleaning stuff like waffle makers. For your can opener, dab a Q-tip or other swab into some isopropyl alcohol, and give it a thorough wash in order to avoid any chance of botulism.

Detailing

Cotton swabs are absolutely ideal for any kind of close-up detailing. Q-tips and a little cleaning solution are perfect for getting into any variety of tiny gaps or crevices to wipe out dust and grime. The list of things you can clean effectively with cotton swabs is endless: hair dryers, air conditioning vents, earbuds (which quickly become nightmares of ear crud), light switches, keyboards, and on and on.

Paintbrush

As any school teacher or daycare worker can tell you, cotton swabs make excellent paintbrushes. A cotton swab is ideal for applying precise polka-dot punches of color to your works of art, giving you one more tool for creative expression. They’re also perfect for small home repair paint jobs where the paint on your walls or other spots is chipped away. Instead of loading up a brush or roller, just open up your spare paint and touch things up in a minute with a swab.

Product application

The science is in: Our hands are filthy, and yet our hands are also the main way we apply product to our bodies—whether it’s lotion, ointments, or medication. To make things slightly more sanitary, use a cotton swab to apply all that stuff and stop dipping your germ fingers into every jar of product you own.

Zipper repair

Zippers are amazing contraptions, but when they malfunction, they’re absolutely maddening. If you have a stuck zipper and you’re trying to figure out if you can live the rest of your life wearing that pair of jeans, rejoice: A Q-tip and some sort of lubricant (lip balm works well!) can set it free. Just use the swab to dab on some lube and work it into the teeth of the zipper. It will loosen things up enough to get the zipper going again.

Jewelry cleaning

Jewelry is delicate stuff to begin with, and it’s also often very intricate in design, with lots of tiny crevices and spaces that collect dirt. A cotton swab is perfect for getting your rings, earrings, necklaces, and other jewelry as clean as possible—but gently, without risking damaging tiny clasps or bending decorative flourishes.

Pilot lighter

If you’ve ever had a pilot light on your stove, water heater, or boiler go out (or had a tall candle where the wick had burned down deep into the container) you know it can be difficult to relight without a long match or a long-neck lighter. When dipped in alcohol, Q-tips burn like tiny torches and are often just long enough to get that pilot lit. If they come up a bit short, you can use a variety of tools to get them in closer, like kitchen skewers or tongs, or by taping them to any kind of stick. Just have a cup of water on hand to douse them once your flame is lit.

Repair scuffed leather

You can get shoes or leather furniture looking new again without going through a full-on polish or treatment. Just grab some Q-tips, petroleum jelly, and nail polish remover. Dip the swab into the nail polish remover and gently wipe over the scuffs and scrapes. Let dry, then dab another swab into some petroleum jelly, swab it over the spot for a quick polish, and the scuff is gone.

Repair chipped tile

Floor tile in heavy traffic areas takes a beating, and there’s nothing more infuriating than a chip in one tile from a dropped object or other mishap. Chiseling out a single tile is no fun, and requires you to have a spare tile on hand for the replacement. Instead, find a bottle of nail polish that matches tile coloring as closely as possible. Then break out your trusty Q-tips and apply a coat to the chipped area. Let it dry, then repeat as necessary, building up a new layer of finish. The success of your repair will depend on how closely you can match the color, but it’s a lot easier than replacing an entire tile.

Refresh grout

Grout, the sandy stuff between tiles on your walls and floors, can get pretty cruddy over time. This is especially noticeable in entryways, kitchens, and bathrooms, where gunk slowly turns those bright lines into dark paths of despair. But with some cleaning products and a few Q-tips, you can clean those grout lines (and even dye them a new color, if you want). Cotton swabs are ideal for applying cleaning solutions and other compounds precisely to grout lines, and the results can be quite impressive.

  

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