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What are Pipe Cleaners?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pipe cleaners are devices designed for cleaning pipes and other hollow objects. Their suitability for many crafts has led to the development of versions intended specifically for crafting, sometimes labeled as chenille sticks or stems. It is important to distinguish between the two, as crafting pipe cleaners are not suitable for cleaning pipes. To obtain cleaners for actual cleaning, a pipe shop or tobacconists is a good resource, while crafts stores carry the other sort in abundance.

The basic design of a pipe cleaner includes several strands of metal twisted around threads of an absorbent material. The twisted strands can be bent and wriggled without coming apart, allowing the absorbent material to scrub the object that its been inserted into. Pipe cleaners are intended to reach into holes where fingers and other cleaning tools cannot, and they come in various widths to address holes of different sizes. Usually, they do not have handles.

In the case of pipe cleaners designed for actual cleaning, the material stranded with the metal is frequently cotton. The cotton may also be dipped in a cleaning agent to make it more effective. Using cotton ensures that dirt will be picked up without scratching or damaging the surface being cleaned. After one use, a pipe cleaner is typically discarded, to avoid introducing dirt back into the pipe. Because they are regarded as disposable, these devices are usually sold in packs for convenience.

Crafting pipe cleaners are made with other materials including strands of tinsel, nylon, and chenille. Since they are intended to be decorative, the stranded material may be multicolored, and they are also usually longer, so that they can be used for an assortment of projects. Creative crafters can make flowers, plants, and animals out of pipe cleaners, as well as using them for other activities. Most craft stores sell assortments of pipe cleaners pre-packaged, or allow crafters to pick out individual sticks from bins.

Since children frequently use crafting pipe cleaners, they are usually made with non-toxic materials. Adult supervision is recommended, since their ends can still be sharp and painful and sharp tools such as scissors or shears are needed to cut sticks to size.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By Sara007 — On Jul 09, 2011

If you have kids buying some chenille pipe cleaners and a book on crafting can be a lot of fun. I used to love teaching my kids about animals and making the different critters with them. This can pretty much work for any subject, as all it really takes is a good imagination.

For my youngest kids, I would say a word a get them to make me a pipe cleaner rendition of the object to show me they had learned some new vocabulary. This was a lot of fun and easy to do.

Also, if you are worried about being wasteful, I have found that chenille pipe cleaners are pretty hearty and can be used multiple times if you just smooth them back out into sticks.

By lighth0se33 — On Jul 09, 2011

Pipe cleaners are also good for cleaning out funnels. I often use funnels in my kitchen, and the only other way to clean them is just by squirting water into them, but that doesn't get all the stuff out of the narrow tunnel.

When I use funnels for things like pouring orange juice into a small bottle or separating egg yolks from egg whites, I know that no matter how much water I run through it, there still will be some stickiness left behind. I like to wet and lather up a pipe cleaner and run it through the little tube in different directions to scrub off all the stickiness.

By Mae82 — On Jul 09, 2011

Chenille pipe cleaners are a great thing to keep around the house even if you aren't really a crafty person. I have found they are great for binding cords together, which can help make your home look a lot neater.

I have also found they can be used for curtain tie-backs, as a tool to hook things stuck behind the couch and in a pinch they work as giant twist ties for large bags.

My mom always had a bunch of chenille pipe cleaners in her box of miscellaneous goods. It never ceased to amaze me what she would pull out of her box and what she could fix.

By wavy58 — On Jul 08, 2011

I remember back in Vacation Bible School, one of our crafts involved making cookies on a stick. This stick was wrapped with pipe cleaners.

The instructor made sugar cookie dough, and we used different flower cookie cutters to shape it. We also had several colors of icing and sprinkles to choose from, and everyone got to decorate three cookies.

The sticks we used had already been wrapped with the green pipe cleaners for the flower stalk effect. A section of unwrapped stick about an inch tall remained so that we could insert it into the cookie. The decoration somehow made ordinary sugar cookies delicious.

By cloudel — On Jul 07, 2011

If you want to provide a stake for your tall flowers, but you do not want the stake to show, green pipe cleaners can help it blend into the surroundings. I like to use them for all my tilting flowers.

I try to have several shades of green pipe cleaners on hand to match the different hues of stalks. It takes quite a few to cover a tall stake. I just wrap them around in a spiral fashion until the wood is completely covered.

They work so well that my neighbor's child asked me why the back of my flowers were growing fur. It really did look like the stalk had sprouted moss.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 07, 2011

Pipe cleaners can be used to clean just about any object. I like to use them to clean vases, jars, and other containers with narrow necks.

I like to save soda bottles for later use as water bottles, but I want to be able to scrub out the stickiness. I fill a bottle with soapy water, attach a few pipe cleaners together, loop them under to form a soft bottom, and insert them into the bottles to rub them clean.

This works great for narrow-necked vases, too. If I forget to change the water out in my flower vases often, it gets slimy and smelly. Pipe cleaners let me scrub them out before adding any new flowers.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 07, 2011

@starrynight - Pipe cleaner crafts are definitely super fun when you're a kid. I also really enjoyed making things out of Popsicle sticks. My mom is a very thrifty lady so she would rinse and save all of our Popsicle sticks for us to use in craft projects!

By starrynight — On Jul 06, 2011

I remember using pipe cleaners for all kinds of art projects when I was a kid! You can bend them into shapes, glue them onto stuff...the possibilities are endless! My favorite project was making little pipe cleaner people and then using them to act out plays I had written.

It wasn't until I was well into adulthood I realized pipe cleaners could be used for something other than craft projects!

By anon72988 — On Mar 25, 2010

No they are not.

By Chantou — On Dec 15, 2008

Are chenille pipecleaners eco-friendly?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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