Just about every doctor will tell you that Q-tips aka cotton swabs are NOT recommended for cleaning your ears, but did you know they were invented for exactly that purpose? And, the idea was inspired by a mom.
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.
Q-Tips are handy for targeted applications due to the precise tip at each end. Let’s look at some of the ways that you can use Q-Tips in a survival situation and beyond.
1. Cleaning ears (obviously)
Using Q-Tips for cleaning ears of excess earwax isn’t recommended by any healthcare provider. 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.
All you need to do is gently push the Q-Tip into your ear but not so far that it enters the ear canal. Ensure that there are no loose fibers on the Q-Tip that could get lodged inside your ear and potentially cause an ear infection.
The idea is to use the cotton fibers to pick up any earwax that could be stubbornly stuck inside.
An ideal situation to use a Q-Tip for your ear is right after using a bulb syringe filled with water and hydrogen peroxide to flush out the large pieces of ear wax where you just need to clean any residual debris.
2. Makeshift eye dropper for water purification
If you forget to pack eye droppers in your bug out bag, you can use Q-Tips which are pretty good hacks 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 the end of the stick over your water and count the drops as they fall. You might need to spin the Q-Tip a little to coax the liquid out of the cotton material.
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.
If you have some vaseline handy you can mix the cotton piece with the petroleum jelly so that it burns a little longer.
The cotton usually ignites right away and is gone within seconds, but the petroleum jelly lengthens that process by protecting the cotton for several minutes until you get your kindling bundle ready.
4. Alternative Stirring Stick For Tea Or Coffee
Most q-tips have a plastic straw-like stick or a wooden one. You can use it 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 the Q-Tip in your cleaning solvent or mineral oil and gently apply to areas as needed to remove any dirt or residue from all the nooks and crannies within which help 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.
Cleaning jewelry is commonly done with a toothbrush which makes a Q-Tip a natural alternative to keeping the sparkle in your precious gemstones.
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.
They make the perfect tool for cleaning out all of the little crevices in utensils; we all know how difficult it is to clean between the tines of a fork.
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 or nail polish remover 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.
Using 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.
The Q-Tips cotton swab holds the wax really well and the application of it is even and precise. You can really use it to apply wax or lubrication to anything that is in a small space.
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.
Keep in mind that Q-Tip do pose a fire hazard risk so don’t leave the box of them close to a fire or they could be gone very quickly.
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.
Always remember to apply seam tape and waterproofing chemicals on a warm day with ample sunlight. If you do these things while it is raining outside then you won’t have much success in keeping the water out.
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, and with a little bit of elbow grease you’ll be able to eliminate that mark in no time.
22. To Pollinate a Plant Manually
If the bees aren’t there to do it, you might have to do it yourself. You can collect the pollen with the cotton ends and introduce them to your female plants to pollinate them for seed production.
There is no surefire way to ensure you did it correctly but, in a pinch, it makes for an excellent tool.
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.
This applies to any kind of adhesive strip such as:
- Electrical tape
- Tuck tape
- Gorilla tape
Some people will even wrap their birch bark or other tinder around it to make a mini torch that you can use in the wild for emergency fire starting.
25. It’ll Help You Take Makeup Off
This tip is primarily for the ladies who are reading this but can also apply to things such as costume makeup and even dirt from a long day. Dipping the end of the Q-Tip in warm water or a solvent will make it easy to remove any kind of makeup from your eyebrows, and mascara from your lashes.
Additionally, they are also effective at fixing runoff from your lip balm or lipstick.
Do you have lint stuck in your belly button? If your fingers are too large you can always use a Q-Tip to dig out that pesky fuzz that gets caught in your bodily lint trap.
Try to get the Q-Tip brand for this kind of application because the off-brands don’t really have as much cotton, nor is it as abrasive as the Q-Tips are.
Which of these uses for Q-tips will you 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.