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.