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How to Properly Maintain Your Tobacco Pipe

How to Properly Maintain Your Tobacco Pipe

Posted by Jack Rather on 10th Aug 2017

The history of tobacco pipes is a long one (3,000 years or more), but your tobacco pipe won't have many tales to tell if you don't clean it regularly and carry out proper tobacco pipe maintenance.

Pipe smoking is one of the most enriching ways to consume tobacco. Smoking a dirty pipe, however, throws all elegance right out the window. What's more, without proper cleaning your puffs are going to start tasting stale and acrid, ruining the flavor of your tobacco.

Finally, if you don't know the ins and outs of tobacco pipe cleaning, you run the risk of damaging your pipe.

Fortunately, once you have the right supplies and techniques up your sleeve, cleaning your tobacco pipe will become as enjoyable and ritualistic as smoking it.

Just got a new briar and are now wondering how to clean a tobacco pipe? Continue reading our guide on tobacco pipe maintenance and cleaning for everything you need to know to get started.

What Do I Need to Clean a Tobacco Pipe?

If you're wondering "what do I need to clean a tobacco pipe?" these are the basic items you should get:

  • Soft pipe cleaners
  • Bristled pipe cleaners
  • Alcohol
  • A shot glass
  • A pipe tool
  • A reamer

Let's look at each of these items in a little more detail.

Pipe Cleaners

When it comes to pipe cleaners, it's important to have both soft and bristled ones on hard. Bristled pipe cleaners are ideal for scrubbing out residue build-up and tar within the stem and shank. Soft pipe cleaners brush out loose residue and tar particles and are also great for absorbing excess moisture.

You can also invest in some extra-absorbent pipe cleaners if you're struggling to dry out your pipe after cleaning. Want to learn more about the best pipe cleaners to use? Check out our pipe cleaner compendium.


If you're wondering what alcohol to use for cleaning your tobacco pipe, you can choose between rubbing alcohol or liquor. Some tobacco pipe connoisseurs prefer to use solely liquor, as this is less harsh and damaging should you spill some on the finish of your pipe, though you should take care to keep any alcohol off the finish.

Liquors like brandy, rum, and whisky can also impart a subtly pleasant flavor into the cake of your pipe. If you prefer not to have any flavor residues, you can also opt for a neutral alcohol like vodka. If you do use rubbing alcohol, you want to use a higher purity alcohol—ideally 90% isopropyl grade or higher. 

Shot Glass

If you're wondering why you need a shot glass for cleaning your tobacco pipe, it's simply so you have a convenient receptacle to hold the alcohol. This will help you pour out just the right amount and avoid wastage and spillage.


If you don't have a reamer, you can clean your pipe without one, but we would recommend you pick one up as soon as possible. Reamers are specifically designed for shaving down cake without damaging the bowl of your tobacco pipe.

Pipe Tool

Pipe tools are essential for packing, smoking, and emptying a tobacco pipe. They can also be very handy for scraping into hard-to-reach corners during cleaning.

Pre-cleaning Tips

Before you start cleaning your tobacco pipe make sure you have some paper towels or rags to work over as things can get messy.

If you're using rags, make sure you wash these separately from any other laundry.

Finally, make sure that your pipe has completely cooled before cleaning if you're going to be separating the stem from the shank. Separating the stem and shank while your pipe is still hot can cause the stem to crack. It can also loosen the tenon and make the tobacco pipe cleaning process a lot messier than it needs to be.

Not letting your pipe cool before taking it apart is one of the top ways to ruin your pipe so always make sure it's completely cool before doing a deep clean.

Daily Tobacco Pipe Cleaning (After Smoking)

Making a habit of lightly cleaning your tobacco pipe after each time you smoke will make deep cleaning easy.

To start, moisten your finger on a paper towel, cloth, or handkerchief with saliva or water and run it around the rim of your tobacco pipe. This will help reduce the need for deep cleaning and keep it shiny and residue-free for your next smoke.

To clean the stem, simply run a pipe cleaner back and forth through it a few times. You can just use a soft pipe cleaner for this, or you can start with a hard-bristled cleaner and then use a soft one to finish up.

Lastly, use paper towel to wipe the inside of the chamber to gently dislodge any excess buildup. This also prevents carbon buildup, or cake, from developing too quickly. Cake is something most of us want a small layer of built up in a briar pipe, but not too much. This practice will allow you to go much longer between reamings. 

Deep Tobacco Pipe Cleaning

Along with daily cleaning, you should also do a semi-regular deep tobacco pipe cleaning. When to do this depends entirely on how much you smoke, and how much a particular pipe gets smoked. I'll usually deep clean my more frequented tobacco pipes every couple of months or so. This will help prevent stubborn residue layers from building up.

Again, make sure any pipe that is getting a deep cleaning was last smoked long enough ago that it has completely cooled off. 

The Rim

To clean the rim, soak a Q-tip in water or saliva and rub it across the rim of your tobacco pipe. Once you've done this, most of the tar stains should be gone and you should see the wood beneath.

Also, if you want to keep your pipe's rim relatively free of char or blackening, you can wet your finger and run it over the rim before lighting your pipe, giving it some protection from the flame. 

The Shank

Once the rim is clean you can move on to cleaning the mortise and shank. Use an alcohol dipped Q-tip to get all around the inside of the shank. Then feed through alcohol dipped cleaners, feeding all the way through the draft hole. Finally, go back over with dry pipe cleaners to wipe off any last residue and tar that's left behind. Do this until the cleaner is coming out clean. 

If you're worried about excess alcohol running into your bowl and out onto the finish, you can stuff the bowel with a piece of paper towel or cotton balls. 

The Stem

To clean the stem, soak a pipe cleaner in alcohol and run it through the stem from end to end. The direction to go is up to you. Some people find it easier to run it through from the tenon side, and others prefer to start from the lip end to prevent tar from collecting there.

To finish things up, run a dry pipe cleaner through once more to get the last residues out and dry off any excess moisture. Again, do this until you can run a pipe cleaner through without any discoloration. 

The Bowl

Lastly, take a look at the inside of your bowl. Has it developed an excessive layer of cake? If so, this is the time to bring out your reamer tool and remove it.

There are a few reaming tools that you can learn all about in our guide to reaming a tobacco pipe.

If reaming isn't necessary, simply wipe out the chamber with a moistened cloth or paper towel. If you want to be really thorough, you can use a pipe cleaning solution such as Briarworks Pipe Sweetener.

Letting Your Pipe Dry

Once you have cleaned your tobacco pipe, the next thing to do is let it dry for at least 24 hours.

This is one of the most often forgotten things around pipe smoking.

If you have a few or more pipes, it can be a good idea to keep them grouped in different cleaning rotations, that way you aren't without a good smoking instrument while waiting for your recently cleaned pipes to be ready to pack and light. 

Or hey, use the time to start breaking in a new tobacco pipe.

Now You Know How to Carry Out Tobacco Pipe Cleaning

If you were wondering "how to clean my tobacco pipe" now you know how to do daily cleaning and deep tobacco pipe maintenance.

Regular tobacco pipe cleaning will keep your briars in mint condition and ensure that every smoke is free of stale, sour flavors.