Review: Do Reusable Q-Tips Work?

Pile of cotton swabs Q tips

Photo by  Esben Hansen

Around 25.5 billion Q-tips are produced every single year. Since each one can only be used once, that means upwards of 25.5 billion Q-tips end up in the ocean and in landfills annually. Luckily, this number can be greatly reduced without giving up this sometimes essential toiletry item.

Do reusable Q-tips work? Reusable Q-tips effectiveness is highly dependent on what you are using them for. For cleaning the ears, these work well. However, it is important to remember that the majority are a silicone plastic material rather than cotton and therefore do not soak up water. This can make them more difficult to use for things like makeup removal.

Simple bathroom swaps can make a huge difference when trying to cut back on the waste you produce in your everyday life. In this article, we will not only cover how well reusable Q-tips work, but we will also review more environmentally friendly options for disposable Q-tips, and why it is important to make the switch towards low waste living!

Do Reusable Q-Tips Work?

There are a variety of reusable Q-tips on the market today, but the majority of these washable and reusable alternatives are made with silicone tips. This makes the Q-tip easy to wash and reuse without trapping in any dirt or bacteria. It also ensures that the Q-tip holds up for a long period of time because if it breaks down easily, it is not doing its job correctly.

Since the material of the Q-tip is not cotton like most people are used to using, there will be an adjustment period in which you may not like the feel of the Q-tip when you are using it to clean your ears. However, after a few days of using this new Q-tip, it is likely that you will be used to it and not notice the differences anymore.

In addition, many of these Q-tips have ribbing and texture on them, which enables them to trap more dirt and debris for a more effective clean. This is beneficial, especially when cleaning the ears as it can achieve a deeper clean than classic cotton Q-tips; again, the feeling of this ribbing and texture may take a few uses to get used to.

Therefore, although there are differences between a reusable and disposable Q-tip, the reusable alternatives do work and will be effective, especially when using it to clean ears. However, it is important to think about how you are using Q-tips and take the material they are made with into consideration.

If you primarily use Q-tips for makeup or some other purpose that requires that the tip soaks in material, you may find that the reusable Q-tip does not work as well for you. This is primarily because these Q-tips are not made with a material that absorbs water. Cotton Q-tips will take in water and makeup, while silicone will only allow the liquid to sit on the surface.

Although the reusable Q-tip will still work for you as a tool to either aid in the application of makeup or taking off makeup, it may take longer or take some time to adjust to. Much like with the ears, using this new material takes some time to get used to so that it feels normal. Once you have used the silicone tip for a while on your face, it will become your new normal.

Therefore, reusable Q-tips do work quite well! The conversation is more around how quickly users can get used to the feel of the reusable tips as they have to be made differently in order to be washed and reused several times. If you buy reusable Q-tips, be sure to give it at least two weeks’ time to get used to before calling it quits.

It is likely that at first, you will not like the feeling or notice the differences, but the only way to get used to it and make the switch permanent is to push through the initial strangeness of the adjustment until it once again feels as normal as a disposable Q-tip.

Reusable Q-Tips

For those looking for reusable Q-tips, they usually average around $12 to purchase due to their ability to be reused infinitely. These Q-tips are made with a stiff nylon rod with thermoplastic elastomers and polylactic acid and therefore, can be used over 1000 times because they are so durable.

Cleaning your Q-tip is easy as most just recommend being washed with soap and water. This will enable you to get any debris or dirt off of the Q-tip and will not wear it down at all. If you use any harsh chemicals to clean your Q-tip, it may wear down or hold on to chemicals that can cause irritation to the skin.

Therefore, as long as you are taking good care of your Q-tip and washing it in the way that is recommended, regardless of the brand you purchase from, you will find that your Q-tip replaces more than 1000 disposable Q-tips. Also, with these reusable tips, it is important to wash between every use so that you do not cause any infections due to caked-on grime.

Washing between every use, while it can take more time than just throwing your disposable tip away, is a crucial step to spend time on if you are committed to cutting back your waste in this way.


A question that is frequently asked by users of reusable Q-tips is the safety component. As previously mentioned, the cleaning aspect of a reusable Q-tip is critical in keeping your body healthy. However, besides the cleaning to avoid any bacterial buildup, reusable Q-tips are 100% safe for everybody to use.

These are not made with toxic or unsafe materials and, therefore, can be used for children and adults alike. In addition, since they can be used in the same ways as disposable Q-tips, they have the same safety parameters as any other small item that is being used either in the ears or on the face.

Be careful not to stick them too far into your ears as they can cause damage to the inner ear. The only difference a reusable tip has from a disposable tip is that it is being used more than once, and therefore the only difference in safety is not being cleanly enough.

To ensure your tip is clean before using it near your eyes, nose, or ears, be sure to not only clean it after each use but also potentially clean it before each use. By getting into the habit of cleaning it before and after you utilize the Q-tip, you will ensure that:

  1. You are never using it after forgetting to clean it. If you clean before and after you can confirm that if for some reason one day you forget to clean it after a use, it’s ok because you are going to clean it anyways before you use it next!
  2. You will never have buildup on the Q-tip and therefore it will last you longer.

If you are cleaning your Q-tip consistently, you will not run the risk of buildup that can contribute to ear infections or debris getting into your eyes. Therefore, as long as you are diligent about cleaning your reusable Q-tip, you will find that reusable Q-tips are 100% safe and are the same, safety wise, as your typical disposable Q-tip.

Other Q-Tip Alternatives

For those who have tried reusable Q-tips and have been unable to get used to the differences, there are some additional alternatives that are more environmentally friendly! There are brands that have created biodegradable Q-tips that are used without any single use plastic to alleviate the waste in landfills that never breaks down.

Rather than using plastics to create the stick part of the Q-tip, many more sustainable brands use bamboo rather than plastics so that the Q-tips are able to degrade rather than breaking down into smaller bits of plastics. In addition, the cotton being used it critical to consider as cotton can be impactful on environmental health.

Therefore, if you are not ready to give up classic Q-tips for a reusable option, instead make the switch to a sustainable brand utilizing natural materials rather than synthetics. You will still be dealing with continual packaging and potential shipping materials; however, if this is your best option then it is still going to be more beneficial than classic single use plastic Q-tips.

For those who do not like using Q-tips and are using other single use items for makeup application, removal, or any cleaning that would be done with a Q-tip, there are also low waste options for Q-tip alternatives! There are low waste options for most bathroom and household items, once you look around for them you will find that there are great substitutes.

For makeup wipes, cotton pads, and even paper towels there are reusable alternatives that can be washed in the washing machine and used continuously to cut back on the amount of waste you are producing around your home. If you are not a user of Q-tips, but for example use a lot of cotton pads, try using bamboo pads or terrycloth pads that can be washed.

Makeup wipes are primarily made of plastic and when broken down are broken into microplastics that riddle the planet. Instead of buying these, there are makeup remover towels that can be used and machine washed continuously. By looking for alternatives in everything that you use, there is likely a more environmentally friendly alternative that you could turn to.

Finding Sustainable Brands

While many of us buy Q-tips at grocery stores, it can be more difficult to find sustainable and reusable options in stores. While some of these alternatives can be found in stores, many of these options are available online and from Amazon. This makes them more accessible and easier to access simply through online orders.

If your main focus here is cutting back on your single use packaging and plastic, you may want to do some research into the packaging of your item and how the company ships their items. If you are buying a low waste item that is being shipped in a box, with packaging peanuts, and wrapped in plastic, you may just be accumulating more waste.

Why is it Important to Reduce Waste?

Although small items like Q-tips can feel as though they are insignificant so it’s easy to get into the thought pattern of “it’s just one Q-tip”, it’s important to retrain your thinking around these kinds of items. Having this mindset is what is causing such mass pollution all over the world. Therefore, such small changes can be the difference between a healthy and unhealthy earth.

The impacts that Q-tips have on the planet is no different than any other single use item in that it is made up primarily of plastic and cotton. Producing the plastics to create these kinds of items takes fossil fuels and therefore contributes to greenhouse gas emissions being released into the atmosphere.

Once it is thrown away, it is forever either in a landfill, in the ocean, or lodged in the earth somewhere where it will often break apart into microplastics. Unfortunately, microplastics are a huge contributor to the death of seabirds, ocean life, and will continue accumulating in our water sources.

By reducing the plastic, you are throwing away, you are minimizing the amount of plastic being distributed into food and water sources and help protect species that may be impacted by microplastics. The other part of this is cotton. To produce Q-tips, producers use large quantities of cotton which is extremely water intensive to grow and harvest.

Cotton can be sustainably produced so that there is no chemical pollution from the product. Farming cotton organically prevents pesticides and chemicals from being put on the crop to aid in growth. This is important as it reduces the impact the crop is having on the land and other organisms living and growing in the area around the cotton crops.

However, the majority of cotton being used for single use Q-tips is not going to be organic and therefore has contributed chemicals to the earth in addition to extensive amounts of water use going into producing the cotton. And while a single Q-tip does not use a lot of cotton, think of how much cotton is used in a Costco package of Q-tips.

Assuming you use a Q-tip every day, your footprint is growing exponentially with greenhouse gas emissions, water waste, and chemical pollution. This is just a brief overview of how disposable Q-tips can impact the earth and how your simple switches can make all the difference!

Wrapping it up

If you are reading this, it’s likely that you are ready to make a switch to a lower waste and sustainable lifestyle. The first step to being more environmentally conscious is learning about the best products that fit your budget. Now that we have covered the pros and cons of reusable Q-tips, hopefully you feel prepared to make a more ecofriendly swap from your current Q-tips.

If you are opting to buy the reusable Q-tip, it is likely that your single Q-tip will last you for years if you care for it properly! This in the long run will save you money and cut back on your waste. Although you will have to pay more upfront for the product, you will not have to continue spending smaller amounts of money on Q-tips every few months.

Making these switches do not have to be difficult and can make huge impacts in the amount of waste you are producing weekly, monthly, and yearly in your home. The bathroom is one of the most wasteful rooms in our homes as so many things are single use and riddled in plastic. By taking the initiative to cut back in this aspect of your life, you are likely to see huge waste reductions.

Reusable Q-tips work extremely well for ear cleaning and have their pros and cons for other uses in makeup application and removal. While the texture and materials differ from those of disposable Q-tips, this is likely just a small adjustment that will feel normal once again within a week or so.

For those who are opposed to reusable Q-tips, it is a great option to look for more sustainable options such as bamboo and organic cotton Q-tips as they have less of an impact on the planet. By making more conscious decisions as a consumer, waste can be reduced and healthier habits can be implemented into your daily life.

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