Just about every doctor will tell you that Q-tips aka cotton swabs are NOT recommend for cleaning your ears but did you know they were invented for exactly that purpose? And, the idea was inspired by a mom. It’s true.
In the early 1920’s, Leo Gerstenzang, an immigrant from Poland, invented the first cotton swab after seeing his wife use a toothpick and cotton wads to clean hard to reach places on their baby. Not long after, Gerstenzang created the first one piece cotton swab, originally called Baby Gays.
In 1926, Baby Gays became Q-Tips Baby Gays and later just Q-Tips. They were originally marketed for baby care and “adult ear care”. Whether you call them Q-tips, cotton sticks, or cotton swabs, there are a multitude of uses for Q-tips for survival.
1. Cleaning ears (obviously)
Using q-tips for cleaning ears isn’t recommended by any doctor. It can cause damage by introducing bacteria to your inner ear, or rupturing your eardrum.
But we all know there are some people who will use q-tips in a survival situation to clean at least the outer parts of their ears so I’m including it on the list.
2. Makeshift eye dropper for water purification
If you forget to pack eye droppers in your bug out bag, you can use a q-tip as a pretty good alternative for measuring things like bleach or iodine so you can purify water properly. Simply allow the swab to soak up the iodine or bleach and then hold it over your water and count the drops as they fall.
The ends of a q-tip are made of cotton or paper which can be pulled and fluffed to create flammable tinder in a pinch. If you use q-tips with a plastic stick rather than a wooden one, make sure to avoid melting the plastic which can give off toxic fumes.
4. Alternative stirring stick for tea or coffee
Most q-tips have a plastic straw-like stick or a wooden one. You can use as a replacement stirring stick quite easily. Remove the cotton tip first to avoid getting any fibers in your drink.
5. Gun cleaning
Similar to those “hard to reach” and delicate places on a baby, you can use a q-tip to clean hard to reach places on your firearm. Dip q-tip in your cleaning solvent and gently apply to areas as needed to remove any dirt or residue and keep your firearms working properly.
6. Makeshift toothbrush
Although you may not be used to the feel of cotton or paper on your teeth, you can use a q-tip as a makeshift toothbrush in a survival situation. Simply dip a damp q-tip in toothpaste or baking soda and use it to scrub your teeth. Rinse as needed.
7. Scrub brush alternative
Use a q-tip and some sand as a scrub brush to clean just about any surface. Whether it’s scrubbing dirt from your shoes or grease from dishes, a q-tip comes in handy if you don’t have a scrub brush. You can also use a q-tip and sand to rough up a surface so it will hold paint or glue better.
8. Remove dust from your ham radio or other device
One thing that will definitely be critical in a survival situation is to keep dust and grime off of your communication devices so they stay in good working order.
You can use a q-tip dry or even dipped in rubbing alcohol to clean dust and grime from your ham radio or any electronic devices that are still operable in a survival situation.
9. Clean dirt and corrosion from battery terminals
If you are in a survival situation and your battery terminals become corroded, you can clean them with q-tips and hopefully get your vehicle operating again quickly. For stubborn corrosion, dip a q-tip in WD-40 or even coca cola and apply to terminals. Let sit and wipe clean with a dry q-tip.
10. Ointment applicator
If you’ve included a first aid kit in your bug out bag, throw in a couple q-tips to use as ointment applicators. Use a q-tip instead of your fingers to apply antibiotic ointment, calamine lotion, etc. can help you waste less ointment and help prevent infection because your germ laden fingers aren’t touching the affected area.
11. DIY candle or wick
Although it’s not ideal, you can use a q-tip as a diy candle or wick in a survival situation. Bundle several q-tips together with a rubber band, bread tie, or even duct tape and stick into the ground or into a container of sand to keep it upright. If you have a can of Crisco or container of oil, you can also use the q-tip as the wick.
12. Wax a zipper
If the zipper on your tent or your jacket gets stuck, a q-tip is the perfect thing to use to wax it up and get it moving freely again. Simply dip the q-tip in wax or even lard or grease and rub it up and down the zipper teeth to coat it.
13. Applicator for wood glue
Chances are in a survival situation that last for months or even years, you may need to improvise and build the things you need. For small projects, wood glue may work well. But if you’ve ever used wood glue, you know that getting the glue where you want it to go is easier said than done. A q-tip is the perfect applicator for applying wood glue to the just the right area.
14. Safer fire starting
In a survival situation, fire is a critical resource. But it can also be dangerous for those who are inexperienced with fire starting. Light the end of a q-tip with your lighter and then use the lit q-tip to catch your tinder on fire.
It’s a safer way to start a fire for those who are inexperienced because you don’t need to get your hand so close to the tinder or turn the lighter sideways to try and get the flame to catch.
15. Waterproofing tent seams or gear
One of the things that can bring on hypothermia quickly in a survival situation is a leaky tent, leaky boots, or a water soaked jacket seam. Use a q-tip as an applicator to waterproof the seams of your tent, boots, or other gear to make sure you stay dry when in a survival situation.
16. Remove Foreign Object from Eye
If you’ve ever had a small bug fly into your eye or had another foreign object such as a hair or piece of leaf or dirt get into your eye, you know it’s painful. It’s also really difficult to get that foreign object out of your eye with your finger.
A q-tip is soft and it has a surface that encourages foreign objects to cling to it. Simply touch the end of a clean q-tip to the object floating around in your eye and it should stick so you can pull it out easily.
17. Animal Care
In a survival situation, you will have to care for your pets without being able to rely on your groomer or veterinarian for assistance. Q-tips can be a great tool for keeping sensitive areas of your pet clean and free of dirt and debris. Use q-tips to clean your animals eyes, their ears, and to help keep any wounds clean too.
18. Flashlight lens cleaner
Having a reliable flashlight in a survival situation is critical. The last thing you need is to be stuck in unfamiliar territory at night without a bright flashlight.
Use a q-tip to keep your flashlight lens clean so its light can shine through and guide your path. For built up grime and dirt, dip the q-tip in water or even WD-40 and with the light off gently scrub the lens.
19. Craft making for the kids
In a survival situation, keeping the kids occupied will help them to stay calm. Q-tips can be used for painting, applying glue, or even creating animals, houses, or other pictures by gluing multiple q-tips together.
Make sure you include these in your bug out bag. They are more lightweight than paintbrushes and other craft materials.
20. Wound Cleaning
In a survival situation, even the smallest of wounds, ones we wouldn’t normally pay attention to, can get infected and become life threatening. Infection can make you feel like death even if your body isn’t in danger of shutting down.
You don’t have time to be down for the count fighting an infection in a survival situation when there are so many things to do. Use a q-tip to keep small wounds clean to help prevent infection from getting a foothold.
21. To Erase a Permanent Marker
Simply use a Q tip and some rubbing alcohol.
22. To Pollinate a Plant Manually
If the bees aren’t there to do it, you might have to do it yourself…
23. To Lubricate Your Pressure Cooker (and other things)
Simply dip a q-tip in vaseline and lubricate the threads on the latches. Be careful not to reef the latches down, though.
24. To Keep Small Amounts of Duct Tape Handy
Wrap some duct tape around a q-tip to have this important multi-use survival item handy in small amounts, for your EDC kit or get home bag.
Which of these uses for Q-tips will use in a survival situation? Were any of these uses new to you? Did we miss any obvious survival uses for Q-tips that you know about? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments below.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared for whatever may come along. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of nine grandsons and one granddaughter, is learning everything she can about preparedness, basic survival, and self-sufficient homesteading. She is passionate about sharing that knowledge so that others can be increasingly prepared to protect their families.