11 Clever Hacks That Prove How Useful A Cotton Swab Can Be

uses for cotton swabs

Whether you prefer to call them cotton swabs or Q-tips, there’s no denying that those paper sticks with the cotton ends are a highly useful item to have around the house. In this post, you’ll find out exactly how useful they can be in the form of 11 tips for putting them to good use around the house.

Did You Know? Q-tips were invented in 1923 by Polish-American inventor Leo Gerstenzang, who was inspired after watching his wife Ziuta apply bits of cotton to the end of toothpicks while cleaning hard-to-reach areas.

Fittingly, many of the uses for cotton swabs in in this post involve cleaning hard-to-reach areas! So I dedicate this post to Leo and Ziuta, who helped make our lives a little bit easier (not to mention cleaner!)

Related: 9 Unexpected (But Useful) Things You Can Do With Windex

11 Practical Uses For Cotton Swabs

Uses For Cotton Swabs

1. Remove Makeup Mishaps

Use a slightly dampened cotton swab to wipe away rogue mascara, smeared eye shadow, or imperfect liquid liner. Use micellar water instead of regular water to make it even more effective! (Get the inside scoop on micellar water here.)

Uses For Cotton Swabs

2. Apply Spot Treatments

Use the tip of a Q-tip to gently apply eye creams underneath your eyes, or spot treatments to blemishes. This is especially useful when you don’t want to get your hands dirty (or if your hands aren’t particularly clean.)

Uses For Cotton Swabs

3. Clean Up Messy Manicures

A cotton swab is the perfect tool for cleaning up at-home manicures. Simply dip a Q-tip into some nail polish remover and use it to wipe away any errant bits of polish!

Uses For Cotton Swabs

4. Keep Products Sanitary

Every time you dip your finger into a product that is stored in a pot or jar, you’re introducing bacteria into the container and the product itself. To limit the amount of germs in your products, use a cotton swab to scoop out the amount you need instead.

Uses For Cotton Swabs

5. Clean Electronics

We use many of our electronic devices every day, yet we rarely think about cleaning them! Use a Q-tip dipped in isopropyl alcohol to clean the nooks and crannies of phones, tablets, and desktop computers. They’re also useful for cleaning the crevices between the keys of your keyboard!

Uses For Cotton Swabs

6. Clean Your Car Interior

A damp cotton swab can help get dust and grime out of hard-to-reach areas of your car’s interior, including your door handles, window buttons, vents, and gear shift.

Uses For Cotton Swabs

7. Remove Hair Dryer Lint

Lint build-up in your hair dryer can create a potential fire hazard! Help keep it clean by swabbing the air vent on the rear of your hair dryer with a damp Q-tip.

Uses For Cotton Swabs

8. Touch Up Paint

You don’t need to haul out paint brushes or rollers for quick paint touchups around the house! Dip a cotton swab into the paint and use it to cover up small scuffs, scrapes, and other imperfections.

Uses For Cotton Swabs

9. Unstick A Zipper

Stuck zipper? Dip a Q-tip into a small amount of lip balm, Vaseline, or cooking oil and swab it onto the zipper where the pull is stuck. The greasy substance will lubricate the zipper and help it slide freely.

Uses For Cotton Swabs

10. Shine Your Jewelry

A cotton swab makes a great tool for cleaning your jewelry! Just dampen a swab with a jewelry cleaning solution, and use it to clean rings, earrings, and the nooks and crannies of pendants and brooches.

Uses For Cotton Swabs

11. Clean Up Chalk Smears

Creating a beautiful chalkboard sign that’s smear-free can feel like a tall order, but not as long as you have a few cotton swabs on hand. Once the lettering or art is complete, use a few Q-tips (or several!) to wipe away smears and smudges for a clean, professional finish.

What’s your favorite way to use cotton swabs?

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Jill Nystul (aka Jillee)

Jill Nystul is an accomplished writer and author who founded the blog One Good Thing by Jillee in 2011. With over 30 years of experience in homemaking, she has become a trusted resource for contemporary homemakers by offering practical solutions to everyday household challenges.I share creative homemaking and lifestyle solutions that make your life easier and more enjoyable!

About Jillee

Jill Nystul

Jill’s 30 years of homemaking experience, make her the trusted source for practical household solutions.

About Jillee


Beauty Tips

  • I suspect you are somewhat of a “cleanfreak” like me! I like the stuck zipper trick.I’ll have to try that on a jacket I have that the zipper is so dry like.When I clean my windows I get in the little corners of the window when you lift them up and the screen is exposed,those corners..lol Also the air conditioner vents on window air conditioners (like the car ones)

  • I buy a box just for cleaning! Where my slider closes, it’s hard to vacuum so out comes the Q-tip and a squirt of vinegar to moisten. Same goes for any corners that any dust/dirt gets into. I run my air purifiers all winter, change filters but there’s always some dust left behind.
    I don’t use them for hair dryers – my vacuum came with a tiny set of tools so I use them although I’ve gotten away from drying my hair (too frizzy with thyroid problems) and I do vac my hair brushes since I’m losing hair before I soak them in baking soda.
    They get into hinges of the fridge that no sponge can wipe clean. I’m also a fan of toothpicks. My kitchen sink is metal with a lip around it. Despite wiping, crud does get under the lip. I get the toothpicks and run them around the lip and it removes any stuff that got under there.

  • I use cotton swabs to clean dirty spots, in tight areas, of the toilet. I also use them to clean my ears. I know your not supposed to. No lectures please. But cotton swabs to clean your ears is better than the hairpins with some facial tissue or toilet paper we used when I was a child.

  • I have always found that graphite from a pencil, rubbed into a stick or troublesome zip is the best way to go; because the teeth are so fine, if you apply lip balm or other oily substance it can become encrusted with dust making a problem worse eventually.

    Additionally, if you have a key that sticks in a lock, or if the lock itself is sticky run a pencil led, copiously along the grooves of the key then operate the lock with said key several times, the micro particles of graphite will pass into the lock and lubricate both key and lock; th is process can be done several times until the key operates smoothly in the lock. Graphite oil can be used of course for this but most households will not have this in their maintenance products, however, most, if not all households will have a pencil it two somewhere..

    • I clean houses and some new keys don’t work that good.I keep a small spray can of WD40 in the glove box and spray the key and reinsert it a few times and voila, no stuck key. I have used graphite on zippers too. Hard to get that. My late husband worked in a factory years ago and we had some.

  • I use them for cleaning the fans we use in the house before summer hits. Some you cannot removed the guard from and boy in farm country do those guards collect dust and dirt.

    I use the q tip and rubbing alcohol to clean each blade or piece of the guard, grab a new one when the old q tip is dirty.. Clean fan and no smells are left. I can get into all the nooks and crannies this way

  • For releasing zips it is better to rub a standard pencil along the teeth of the zip, using Vaseline, cooking oil, etc is a temporary fix that could make things worse, particularly if you live in a sandy/ dusty environment because the sand or dust particles become adhered to the greasy substance which could then stick your zip up….

  • Mary Anne, agree completely; additionally no matter what they are made of they should NEVER be flushed down the toilet to prevent further pollution of waterways, seas and oceans, which protects all the creatures within them (as you mentioned).

  • I use a cotton swab to clean the inside of lipstick tube lids when, somehow, lipstick gets smeared in there. I use one to clean my lip and eye pencil sharpener, when the lip or eyeliner leaves some residue.

  • When someone leaves a battery in a toy or other item and you don’t find it until the battery has corroded and has some nasty stuff on the outside of the battery and on the connectors inside the device. I use a cotton swab dipped in apple cider vinegar to gently rub it on the corroded areas. You don’t want to rush the process or you might do some damage to the device you are trying to clean up. I have saved Christmas decorations, battery operated toys and my favorite boom box from the 1980’s. You don’t have to toss these things just take time to let the vinegar do it’s work. And let it all dry completely before you close it all up.

  • Just moved into a renovated condo and the little things that you notice. I used the cotton swabs and alcohol to clean the light switches. Not only were they dirty, but as a general disinfectant. On all light switches, especially the bathroom and kitchen.

  • I use cotton swabs with my fish aquariums. I clean out the impeller area in the filter motor with them. Works great to swab out all the guck.

  • I use cotton swabs to clean lint out of my sewing machine especially in the bobbin area. The swab picks up the lint like a magnet. Then I put a drop of machine oil on the other end and swipe the area to lubricate the area.

  • I use the swabs for blending my eyeliner. They are also great when doing craft projects. I have used them for applying essential oils or pain salves I’d rather not get on my hands.

    • I actually use an old toothbrush under the sink when my hairdryer starts making a burning smell. We’ve also used them for cleaning stuff with
      sewing machines. The newer hairdryers don’t have the screen you can pop off to get at the dust. Just don’t use the cotton swabs for earwax. removal. I’ve had the earwax get impacted and was told by Doctors it can actually push the wax further into your ear canal – which can make it worse and painful.

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