5 Things You Didn’t Know About Swabs

1.     Homely Inspiration

The inventor of the modern cotton swab, Polish inventor Leo Gerstenzang, was inspired at home when he saw his wife sticking cotton balls onto the ends of toothpicks, and using this tool to clean out their child’s ears. Can you imagine doing that now? The original target audience for this new product was babies, and Q-Tips were first called “Baby Gays”.

2.     Boric Acid Baths

Original cotton Q-Tips were dipped in boric acid in the factory, as an idea to promote them as personal hygiene instruments. Boric acid has anti-viral and anti-fungal properties and sterilized the swabs.

3.     Stuck on Wood

Cotton swabs were made exclusively with wooden shafts until 1958. The company bought another company that made paper sticks for candy, and used the paper shafts in their swabs. Now, swabs are made with various shaft materials, including polypropylene shaft swabs, paper shaft swabs, aluminum shaft swabs, and others.

4.     Swabbing Sailors

A swab is a piece of absorbent material on end of a shaft/stick.

Did you know the word swab comes from the 17th mid-century “swabber”, in the sense of a sailor swabbing the deck of a ship. Why did they even swab the decks? Well, loose gun powder on gun-decks (cannons!) was a significant fire hazard. Swabbing the decks with a mop (swab) dampened the powder and reduced fire risk. Regular maintenance of the decks also slowed decomposition and gave sailors something to do. (Idle hands lead to mutiny!)

5.     All Ears (But Not Really)

Cotton swabs are widely known for being used to clean out ears. However, using swabs to clean the INSIDE of your ears can actually have an opposite and detrimental effect. Improper usage can lead to compacting wax or damaging sensitive ear organs caused by pushing the swab into the ear too far. Be cautious when using swabs to clean out ears.


Nowadays swabs are super useful across many different fields! Swabs of various kinds are used in critical environment manufacturing, diagnostics, environmental surface sampling, food safety testing, forensics, healthcare, and pharmaceutical applications.

Modern swabs are made tough to scrub hard to reach places, or soft and gentle for use in electronics or sensitive components. Hopefully you learned something new about swabs (who knew!), and whatever your application is, we have the swab for the job.

Swabs & Applicators 101

Swabs & Applicators 101

What are Swabs & Applicators?

If you’ve used a Q-Tip, you already know what a swab basically is. However, there are many more uses and variations of Swabs & Applicators (AKA single-use applicators). Learn about swab tips and shaft materials, and their uses.

In general a swab is:

A small piece of absorbent material attached to the end of a stick/shaft or wire, and used for cleaning a surface, applying medicine/chemicals, or collecting a sample of a substance.

Uses for Swabs

Common uses for swabs and applicators include: cleaning hard to reach areas, applying solvents/chemicals, wound cleaning, applying medicine, collecting samples.

Single-use swabs are widely used in healthcare, diagnostic, forensic, controlled environments (cleanrooms), food safety, and drug manufacturing industries.

Swab Tip Materials

Swabs tips come in many different materials. Here are some of the most common swab tip materials.

Cotton Tip Swabs

Our cotton tip swabs are made with top pharmaceutical grade spun cotton fiber. Cotton fiber swabs are absorbent, soft, low cost, and safe for many applications. If you require low-lint for your application, cotton swabs are available in low-lint options or standard.

Whether you require 3 inch cotton swabs, 6 inch cotton swabs, or double tip cotton swabs (twice the bang for your buck!) we are sure to have the cotton swab you need.

Polyester Tip Swabs

Polyester is a synthetic fiber. Polyester tip swabs are non-absorbent. Polyester swabs also contain no fatty acids or latent sugars. This is important in the collection of specimens for testing.

Polyester swabs are a good medium for cell collection, screenings, and testing. Ideal for use in microbiology, rapid test diagnostics, and industrial surface testing.

Foam Tip Swabs

Foam swabs are made of soft, non-abrasive polyurethane foam. Foam swabs are lint and residue free. They won’t leave anything behind. Foam swabs are also shred-resistant and perfect for cleaning applications.

The foam tips are thermally bonded to the shaft, so there is no glue or bonding agents in the swab that could contaminate your environment. Foam swabs are soft enough for delicate cleaning but not too soft that they bend or fold.

Rayon Tip Swabs

Rayon is a semisynthetic fiber material made from cellulose. Rayon swabs are soft, highly absorbent and ideal for applications where cotton wouldn’t be suitable.

Rayon is low-linting. Rayon swabs are widely used in specimen collection, testing, and screening.

Flocked Tip Swabs

Flocked swabs have a unique tip structure and construction. Flocked tip swabs are comprised of multi-length fibers arranged around the applicator handle. This brush-like structure assures ultra-clean tips and reliable performance.

Unlike traditional wound fiber swabs, flocked swabs have no internal core to absorb and trap collected specimens. Flocked swabs have superior collection and release characteristics which make them ideal for specimen collection and testing purposes.

The process starts with producing the swab fiber, composed of a unique porous microchannel “fiber-within-fiber” design structure. The swab fiber is then applied to tips to produce a versatile, high-performance brush-like swab without an inner fabric or core to collect specimens. Further proprietary manufacturing processes result in multi-length, “split-end” fibers that create a greater overall surface area and tension for more rapid elution and maximal sample preservation. Scientific studies have confirmed Puritan flocked swabs provide the most efficient collection and elution on the market.

Microfiber Tip Swabs

Microfiber swabs are highly resistant to normal cleaning solvents, which make them perfect for removing contaminants and excess materials.

Microfiber tip swabs are soft, non-abrasive (wont scratch delicate surfaces!), and has excellent wipe/dry characteristics lending itself to cleaning applications.

Swab Shaft Materials

Depending your application, there are different types of swab shaft materials you should use.

Wood Shaft Swabs

Economical and rigid, these shafts do the job for many applications.  The down side?  Wood is a natural material with variations in moisture content and fracturing is possible.

Wood dust from these shafts is minimal, but in areas where particulates is a problem, wood should not be used.

Paper Shaft Swabs

Non-linting and non-conductive, these clean, white shafts are good for use in controlled environments.

Semi-rigid, they will not fracture in use, but if bent will not return to the original shape.  Paper shaft swabs cannot be sterilized by autoclaving.

Polypropylene Shaft Swabs

Very clean and non-absorbent with no particulate to shed.

Can be rigid or semi-flexible and resistant to breakage.  This plastic material will stand up to many chemicals.  Autoclaving to 250 degrees F is OK.

Polystyrene Shaft Swabs

Economical plastic shafts can be hollow or solid. Also very clean and non-absorbent, non-dusting.

Depending on the composition can fracture as needed, or be flexible for use in tight spaces.  Suitable for use with IPA. More rigid than polypropylene. This material is suited for applicators with scored break points, providing a clean break.      

Aluminum Shaft Swabs

Slender and flexible but once bent will retain the angle for precise cleaning.

Clean with no particulates, but conductive.  For medical applications, slender dimension is desirable.

Additional Types of Swabs

Anti-Static & ESD Swabs

ESD swabs have anti-static properties that make them safe for working with static-sensitive components. Anti-Static & ESD-Safe Swabs are ideal for precision cleaning, sampling, validation, and more.

ESD swabs have special antistatic handles that make them ideal for use in cleanrooms and other static-sensitive environments. We offer ESD/Anti-Static swabs that are foam tipped, polyester tipped, cotton tipped, and nonwoven tipped with anti-static attributes.

Transport Swabs

There are primarily two types of transport swabs. Dry transport swabs consist of a dry swab and transport tube or cap. Media Transport Swabs are a vial of transport medium liquid and dry swab. This “wet” transport swab keeps collected specimens suspended in a liquid medium for testing.

Both Dry Transport and Media Transport Swabs are used for collection and/or transportation of a wide range of specimens (including: bacteria, viruses, microorganisms, trace evidence, DNA, and more). The transport tube/vial contains the specimen and provides safe and stable transport.

Environmental Surface Testing Swabs

Environmental Sampling and Surface Testing swabs are used for industries in food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics. Surface Testing Swabs are designed for sample collection and validation of hard to reach areas. Surface testing swabs are used to test for contamination and chemicals on surfaces.

Environmental Sampling Kits consist of a polyester tipped swab and polypropylene vial for transport with broth/solution/buffer liquid.

Medical/Sterile Swabs

Sterile/Medical Swabs have a wide range of uses. Our sterile medical swabs are offered in Rayon and Cotton, available in a variety of head shapes. Handle options include wood, plastic and biodegradable paper.

Sterile Swabs are wrapped and always fresh. Ideal for medical applications such as wound care, surgery, diagnostic testing, DNA testing, Gynecological OB/GYN screening, and more.

Wood Applicators

Wood Applicators include applicator sticks, cuticle/orange sticks, and wood medical spoons. Disposable wooden applicators are often used for specimen transfer, as mixing rods, in laboratory work, and other general purpose applications.

Our wood applicators are made with straight-cut splinter-free ends. Wood Applicator Sticks come with different bevels, points, or straight edges depending on your use need. Wood applicator sticks are biodegradable and available sterile or non-sterile.

Critical Environment (Cleanroom) Swabs

You can’t use any old swab in a Cleanroom. Critical Environment Swabs are precision manufactured, ensuring the swabs eliminate contamination and provide consistent cleanliness. Critical Environment Swabs are available in materials such as cotton, microfiber, knitted polyester, and anti-static/ESD.

Cleanroom Swabs are designed for effectively cleaning small surfaces in controlled environments and other critical environment applications. Cleanroom swabs are widely used in industries such as healthcare, diagnostics, fiber optics, electronics, semiconductors, and more.


When it comes to swabs and applicators, there are a lot of variations to consider depending on your usage case. With so many options we know it can get a little overwhelming. But don’t worry! We’re here to help.

If you’re not sure exactly what you need, we are available to help via Phone, Chat, or Email. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions selecting the right swab for you and your application.

If You Run A Cleanroom, Here’s How Harmony Fits In


Cleanroom Supplies from Harmony

At Harmony Business Supplies we know that cleanrooms require special attention and products when it comes to maintaining the operation of your controlled environment. If you run or manage a cleanroom, we offer great products designed just for use in cleanrooms of all types.

Disposable Apparel for Cleanrooms

Many cleanroom operations are moving to disposable apparel instead of resource heavy laundered apparel. Disposable apparel eliminates laundering costs and maintenance and still provides comfortable and reliable protection. Harmony supplies cleanroom face masks, cleanroom isolation gowns, lab coats & frocks, coveralls, and shoe covers that are all disposable, easy to use, and reliable.

Cleanroom Disposable Gloves

Available in assorted materials, our selection of Cleanroom Gloves are fit for any cleanroom job. 9-12 inches long cleanroom gloves in nitrile or latex and in assorted colors, you’re sure to find the disposable glove for your cleanroom needs. Our Cleanroom Gloves are also available in sterile or non-sterile. Leading brands of cleanroom gloves such as V-Clean, TechniGlove, and Cranberry, at lower prices.

Adhesive Mats For Cleanrooms

Adhesive Mats and Rollers for Cleanrooms are essential in controlling dust and dirt in cleanroom and other controlled environments. Harmony Business Supplies offers cleanroom mops, adhesive roller film, adhesive roller handles, and adhesive mats for cleanrooms in assorted sizes. Stop dirt in its tracks with our Adhesive Mats!

Cleanroom Documentation

Office Supplies and documentation are different for Cleanrooms and clean environments. Our specially designed cleanroom notebooks and cleanroom paper are coated and impregnated with a polymer. This coating keeps the paper from generating particles and contaminating the cleanroom. If you need a latex coating we have these products as well. Keep your area clean with our selection of cleanroom documentation, cleanroom paper, and cleanroom pens designed just for Cleanrooms.

Swabs for Cleanrooms

Swabs and Applicators in the Cleanroom are often required tools. Make sure you only get the highest quality swabs for work in cleanrooms. Harmony’s selection of cleanroom swabs are from top brands like Chemtronics, Huby, Puritan and TekniSwab to ensure quality, performance, and reliability. We have many different swab materials to choose for controlled environments including knitted polyester swabs, microfiber swabs, foam swabs, ESD swabs and cotton swabs in a wide assortment of sizes.

Cleanroom Polyethylene Tape

Polyethylene Tape for cleanrooms are used to seal and label safely in a controlled environment. Low Particulate, contaminant free tape wound on a clean plastic core and individually packaged in heat sealed bags in Class 100 environment. Polyethylene Cleanroom Tape has less particulates and higher adhesion than vinyl tapes and leaves no residue when removed.

Cleanroom Wipers

High Quallity Wipers are a must in Cleanrooms! We offer only top quality cleanroom wipers with features that our customers care about. Whether you need cleanroom wipes in materials like polyester, microfiber, or poly/cellulose, we have what you need for the job. Pre-saturated alcohol wipes are also extremely handy in cleanrooms. Shop our assortment of quality cleanroom wipes and save with our competitive prices.

If you need cleanroom supplies, we can help.

Contact us today (800-899-1255) for even more information on finding the products you need for your cleanroom or controlled environment.