How to smoke a pipe #2: Cleaning
A quick internet search will yield a kaleidoscope of contradicting advice on how to smoke a pipe. In this series, we give you our two smoke’s worth. Follow it, disagree with it, share it...Read Part One on pipe rotation to see how it all started.
Care and cleaning of your smoking pipe
Proper cleaning and maintenance is critical to keeping your pipe clean and sweet for years to come. If a pipe isn’t properly cleaned, it can develop a sour taste, burn too hot and eventually build up too much cake, causing the pipe not to function properly.
What is cake?
Cake is a carbon deposit left behind by smoked tobacco. It is not charred wood. Cake on the inside of the pipe bowl is important because it insulates the briar and makes it less likely you’ll burn your smoking pipe. In addition, cake sweetens the smoking experience, because the carbon deposit is created by sugars in the tobacco.
A small amount of cake will yield a superior smoking experience, but too much creates other problems. Just like Goldilocks, it’s got to be “Just right!”
How often should I clean my pipe?
Tobacco pipes typically need to be cleaned at three intervals; first, a basic cleaning after each smoke; second, an alcohol-based cleaning can be done every few smokes for a more thorough cleaning; finally, the pipe should be disassembled and cleaned carefully once a month or so--depending on usage.
10 Steps to cleaning a pipe
After each smoke
- If you’re planning to remove the mouthpiece, make sure the pipe is cool to the touch before beginning to clean it.
Then, turn the pipe over a cork knocker, holding by the bowl, gently knock any ash or leftover tobacco into the ashtray. We like the Peterson Green Pipe Ashtray for this step.
- Gently push a pipe cleaner back and forth through the stem to absorb moisture and clean ash from the pipe stem and mouthpiece. This process should be repeated until the pipe cleaner comes out clean--typically two or three pipe cleaners.
- Next, use a pipe cleaner or paper towel to ream the bowl. Some pipe smokers say they use a dull pipe knife to scrape the bowl after each smoke, but others only do this when the cake is starting to thicken--try both and find which works best for you. Be extremely careful not to scrape too much cake off of the bowl or you’ll damage the briar.
- Finally, especially for smooth briar pipes, use a pipe polishing cloth to shine up the exterior of your pipe.
Every few or so bowl
5. Ensure your pipe is completely cool. Then, use alcohol (rubbing alcohol works, but we prefer rum or brandy) to clean the pipe more thoroughly. Soak a paper towel in your alcohol of choice and rub it inside the bowl. Then, soak a pipe cleaner in the alcohol and run it through the stem a few times.
6. Use a dry pipe cleaner to soak up any excess moisture from the alcohol, then leave the pipe to dry completely.
7. If the carbon cake is thicker than about 1.5mm, scrape down the cake before swabbing the bowl with alcohol.
Thorough pipe cleaning
Note: It’s essential to make sure your pipe is 100% cool before doing this type of cleaning
8. Disassemble any removable parts of the pipe (typically the mouthpiece and any filters).
9. Use a pipe brush to clean the bowl thoroughly. Then, swab with alcohol and set aside to dry thoroughly.
10. Consider using an oil (olive oil works great) to polish and treat the exterior briar. Allow all pieces to dry completely before putting the pipe back together.
Every tobacco pipe collector eventually evolves to a unique routine for the cleaning and care of their smoking pipes. We’d love to know what your ritual is! Please share in the comments below.
- Holiday Gift Ideas for Pipe Smokers (See What "Celebrities" Recommend)
- Introducing Silver Gray Pipes: An artist and her process [Interview]
- Pipe Collector Daniel Billings: His favorite awesome smokes
- Making Peterson Pipes in 10 Steps (+ awesome history from Mark Irwin)
- Tobacco Pipe Collector Eric Chilton's shares his fascinating story