By Bob Tate

pipe-clean-001*Editors Note: These cleaning instructions are for use on wood pipes such as Brair, Olive, Cherry, etc. It is not recommended to clean Meerschaum pipes using these instructions. The actual procedure will be in a video which is included in this article.

As all pipers know, you should always keep your pipes clean. By keeping them clean, they will reward you with a nice, sweet smoke and will help to offer up the true taste of the blend that you are smoking. It will also keep your pipes looking attractive as well. Although it is called routine cleaning, how often you will have to clean your pipe depends on a variety of factors. Things such as the pipe itself, how often you smoke it, how long you let it rest, what type of tobacco blend you smoke in it, etc. are all things that will affect how often you will have to do a routine cleaning on a pipe. On average, you will probably have to do a routine cleaning somewhere around every 10-20 bowls.

Brebbia Liquid Pipe Cleaner

Brebbia Liquid Pipe Cleaner

When you do a routine cleaning you should use alcohol or a specialty cleaning solution that is made specifically for cleaning the interior of tobacco pipes. They are normally called pipe sweeteners. Some of the name brands are; Brebbia Liquid Pipe Cleaner and PipeMasters Clean & Cure. I like to use Grain Alcohol because it is easily available to me, is relatively inexpensive, and it has a very high alcohol content. It is a lot easier for me to find Grain Alcohol than the pipe sweeteners.

Some people like to use Isopropyl Alcohol to clean their pipes. I prefer to use Grain Alcohol because, in my mind, it is safer. I try not to use anything on my pipes that I can not consume safely. I am not saying that those that prefer to use Isopropyl Alcohol are wrong and that I am right; I am just explaining my take on it. I am not going to debate which is the best to use as it is one of those things that are personal preference.

PipeMasters Clean & Cure

PipeMasters Clean & Cure

Whatever type of alcohol that you use, make sure that it has a high alcohol content so that the briar is not absorbing a lot of fluids while cleaning. A high alcohol content will evaporate relatively quickly instead of being absorbed into the wood. One thing to keep in mind while cleaning your pipe is, and it is a very important thing, DO NOT get any of the alcohol or cleaning solution on the exterior of your pipe. Alcohol and cleaning solutions can and will strip the finish, stain, etc. off of the pipe. So be careful!

I am going to list the things that I use when cleaning my pipes. You may choose to not use some of them and replace them with something else to do that part of the job. For example, I like to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the last step. Others don’t like to do that. They prefer to use some form of wax or polish instead. So if you don’t want to use that, then omit it from the list. I find that Olive Oil works great. I have been using it on my pipes since I have started smoking them and have never had any ill effects. This is just a guideline to get you started and to show you the procedures on how to clean your pipe. The items marked with an asterisk after them are things that you will definitely need to use.


Here is the list of supplies that will be needed:
Cleaning Solvent (Alcohol or Sweetener) *
Bristle Pipe Cleaners (Various Sizes)*
Extra Absorbent Pipe Cleaners (Various Sizes) *
Shank Brush
Cotton Swabs (Such as Q-Tips)
Paper Towels *
Soft Cotton Cloth
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Now that you have everything that you will need, on to the video!


[kml_flashembed movie="" width="480" height="360" allowfullscreen="true" fvars="fs=1" /]


I hope this article helped get some of you on the way to properly cleaning your pipes.
Happy Puffing!


PipeMasters Clean & Cure - Click Here to Order Now!

Brebbia Liquid Pipe Cleaner - Click Here to Order Now!



27 Responses to “Routine Tobacco Pipe Cleaning (With Videos)”

  1. Kevin said:

    Great video Bob. This is basic stuff that we take for granted. It is a great video for everyone to watch.

    I have been using the pipe sweetners you pictured. I have both of them, but haven’t tried the Brebbia yet.

    For pipe cleaners, I like the BJ Long Tapered ones the best, even on the larger diameter pipes as the thin end gets started easier.

    I use paper towels every day to clean out the bowl after smoking.

    I also find the Q-Tips come in handy for better cleaning of the shank.

    I never tried the saliva q-tip, rim thing. That is a great idea.

    I use olive oil too.

    Remember that guy in Richmond that said he never cleans his pipes? He was funny.

  2. Dan said:

    Hey Bob, Great Video!! I picked up a few tips. I also found that the a damp Mr. Clean Magic Eraser cleans up the stems real nice then apply some Olive Oil and it looks like new.
    Thanks Again,

  3. daveahand said:

    I just inherited three of my grandfather’s pipes and they are in desperate need of cleaning. I doubt he ever cleaned them more than simply running a pipe cleaner down the shank. I have rarely done this level of cleaning of my pipes, but I am going to start. Do you have tips for removing lacquer from pipes? I have two pipes I bought when I was just starting that were varnished and the lacquer bubbled up on them when they got hot. Now they look mottled and I want to remove the remaining lacquer without damaging the briar.

  4. sapo59 said:

    I use a lot of the same methods to clean my pipes. I use saliva and a piece of old tee shirt to clean the rim. This way I’m able to wash it and use it again. Pretty much that is the only thing I do differently. Great video Bob, I think it will be very informative to people new to the hobby.

  5. cortezattic said:

    Thanks for the great video Bob. I’ve seen professional pipe restorers recommend saliva for the rim too. I’ve found that lemon juice and vinegar are more aggressive, and seem a little less odious than spit. But spit works, and I’m not above using it in a pinch.
    You’re amassing quite a lot of instructional material here at
    Probably a good foundation for a book-length work. Do ya think Kevin will release you from copyrights? LOL

  6. Bob said:

    Thanks guys!

    Kevin, that guy in Richmond was pretty funny!

    Dan, great tip on the Magic Eraser.

    Dave, the only thing that I can think of to remove a lacquer finish would be to sand it off with sandpaper. Do it by hand and use various grits so that when you are done, it will be smooth.

    Cortez, Maybe I will compile all of my articles and information and write a book. That is definitely something to think about.

  7. dudleydipstick said:

    Good advice, Bob.

    One thing you addressed that’s always on my mind when it comes to pipe cleaners is the cost. Something I always have handy when cleaning pipes is a pair of toenail clippers for snipping off the dirty ends and getting a little more mileage.

    BJ Longs are definitely the cleaners I prefer to buy. There’s no better match for quality and value.

  8. shotokun16 said:


    Sadly to say i just shadowed your pipe cleaning method but i noticed the extra virgin olive oil is rubbing off the polish/dye from my Peterson KS Straight shape 6 silver sterling band (hallmarks) pipe! im afraid to repeat this cleaning method… Ill let you guys know tomorrow afternoon if the oil didnt damage the varnish. *sitting and waiting anxiously*

  9. Bob said:

    Shotokun16, that will sometimes happen on some pipes. It will even happen if you use wax instead of Olive Oil. Some pipes just have a very thick coat of stain/dye/varnish on them and during cleaning the excess will come off.

    I have a few pipes that this has happened to and they are fine.

  10. shannonh said:

    Hey Bob,
    Nice video as always. I wanted to share a tidbit from the ASP forum. When you have a pipe that is in good shape (especially an estate pipe) but has some serious aromatic ghosting, a bit of white vinegar will clear things up. I usually just fill the bowl and let it sit for about ten minutes, then clean it out with some alcohol (honestly, I usually use Smirnoff 150, since we can’t get everclear in MN). Dry and clean with a paper towel and cleaners. Let it sit at least a week to dry before smoking. I have done this several times to great effect. Of course, sometimes the ghosting is deep in the carbon, and has to be reamed (fodder for another video: how to properly ream your pipe).

  11. Bob said:


    Thanks for the vinegar tip!

  12. chuckw said:

    Good advice and Video Bob. There is another thing I do when cleaning my pipes and that is fold a pipecleaner in half leaving a ‘U’ and work it back and forth in the bit to claen the tars out of that space.

  13. Bob said:

    Thanks for mentioning that Chuck. That is an important part of the cleaning process as it removes oxidation and gunk from the inside of the bit. I totally forgot to show that part because I was trying to get the video to fit into the 10 minute time frame that YouTube allowed.

  14. Rodney said:

    Great video on cleaning. Very informative. I always heard about virgin olive oil but have not put it on any of my pipes. I will try it now. Also, I assume that a person should never put the oil into the bowl…?

  15. Bob said:

    You definitely do not want to put the olive oil inside of the bowl.

  16. tatanka said:

    I appreciated the video also. I don’t have the Senior Pipe Reamer and see that I should also get one to have both types. I have not tried the virgin olive oil but am anxious to try it.

  17. Rich said:

    In lieu of grain alcohol I used brandy on the pipe cleaners and definitely got some on the outside of the bowl. It does appear to have dulled or removed the finish. Is this bad? How do I remedy this?

  18. Bob said:

    You will have to buff it with carnuba wax to try and restore the shine to it.

  19. Bob said:

    How would I go about clearing carbon build up in the shank of a pipe that is very old and has a bakelite screw on stem w/nickel+silver band? Forgot to mention this is a straight regular bulldog K&BB blue line pre-kaywoodie model pipe. I can remove the stem fine and it is still going on good except it is underturned for some reason(probably wasn’t smoked that much?) I can see that there is most likely carbon build up near the end of the shank I believe.. Also, how would I clean/polish a really old bakelite stem? It is a dark red/crimson colored bakelite stem and the tenon screw on part is not bakelite I believe. How do you suggest I sterilize the stem? Thanks

  20. Dural said:

    To polish bakelite I suggest a silicon based car polish which requires buffing after application and after that use ArmorAll plastic/rubber protector/conditioner to bring out the color. I can remove carbon buildup with 400 Sand Paper used in automotive painting. This is very fine grain sand paper. One can also use number 600 automotive sand paper very effectively to remove carbon without much effort but with precision. These sand papers must be first dipped in water before and during sanding. You may have to crazy glue some of the sand paper on a stick for inside surfaces. For more fine polishing you can ask your dentist as they have very fine polishers to polish false teeth and the like. For the price you pay on a dental visit they might as well also polish your pipe. Also jewelers have very fine polishing substances, powders, creams etc. I am new at pipes. If all these is suicide for pipes let me know.

  21. jimmyg said:

    Great video Bob,
    over here in the uk,we seem to struggle getting pipe cleaning products,just the other day i bought some savinelli briar pipe polish this is 18ml little bottle for which i paid £5, so the olive oil tip to me is priceless,also ive never heard of grain alcohol,so will look into that too, as im using falcon pipe spray, which is another cost that is getting more expencesive anyway keep up the good work all the best Jimmy

  22. mowens said:

    Awesome video. Bob I don’t think Virginia sells grain alcohol, I do have a handle of Bacardi this something I could use? I figured the high ABV is why you used the grain right? The EV Olive Oil tip was great, my pipe looks brand new after I did that. My only question with that technique is how long do you let it sit with the oil on it? I know you sped it up in the video, I let mine sit for about 5-10 min.

  23. Bob said:

    There are quite a few states that do not allow the sale of grain alcohol. I prefer it because of the high alcohol content and the lack of flavor from it. You can definitely use Bacardi 151 when cleaning your pipes, there may be a flavor from the rum for the first couple of smokes after cleaning though. I recommend using the highest alcohol content liquor that is available to you. The higher the alcohol, the less liquid that the pipe will absorb.
    5-10 minutes is a good time to let it sit. That is about the time that I let it sit before buffing it off. You can let it sit on the pipe for however long that you want though with no ill effects. Kevin just leaves it on the pipe until he smokes that pipe again. He wipes the pipe off right before smoking.

  24. lucky said:

    Hi Bob
    Thanks for the great video.
    Here in Ontario, Canada, we can’t buy grain alcohol, so I have been using vodka, and it has worked for me. Also, instead of olive oil, I have been using Kiwi Neutral Shoe Polish to polish my pipes and stems. I read in an article a few years ago, that this is almost pure carnuba wax. Anyway, it has left the pipes and stems pristine.

  25. Steve said:

    Thanks for the video. I have a very lightly-used estate pipe that’s marked as ‘Ebony’. Can’t be certain that it *is* ebony; but it is almost totally black with just a hint of grain visible in bright light. I have used Savinelli’s briar polish on it, and it has taken quite a bit of reddish-brown stain out… seems like quite an abrasive polish?! The pipe is still very dark, and the grain is now more visible… it does look rather nice. Trouble is the ‘gloss’ is very patchy… from a high gloss in places to completely matt in others despite careful application and buffing by hand. I have given her a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil that is still ’soaking in’ after 24 hours to see what that would do. Should I carry on with more polish? Have I screwed up a pipe?!
    Thanks for your help, guys!

  26. Bob said:

    You may need to apply some wax to the bowl and buff it with a buffer to get the shine completely back and uniform.

  27. weevil said:

    Thanks, Bob - I’ve got some good quality carnauba car wax… I’ll give that a try. I don’t have access to a polishing mop, so elbow-grease will have to do!

    (Some great info on this site; I’m now a member)



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