How to sanitize your tobacco pipes?

Updated November 21, 2016

With the wide variety of aromatic tobaccos available, it is not surprising that pipe smoking is considered a form of leisure. Pipe smokers have become a diverse group in recent decades. Pipe smokers know that pipes require occasional maintenance. Dirty pipes, whether new or used, should be sanitised before use. Sterilising a pipe is relatively easy and can be achieved by one of several methods. For serious cleaning, a pipe retort kit is advisable. This article describes the means by which to clean and sanitise a pipe.

Clear the airway. The first step in cleaning a pipe is clearing its airway. Run a clean pipe filter through the stem and into the bowl. Toothpicks can be used to manipulate and clear accumulated tobacco matter and moisture.

Check the bowl. You need to check the bowl and access build up, which is called cake. The suggested thickness of a cake is anywhere from the size of a dime to the size of a nickel, depending on the size of the bowl. If the cake is smaller than you desire, use the pipe reamer to widen the bowl. Use the edge of the pipe tool if the pipe reamer proves difficult to use.

Add potable spirits. Potable spirits or pipe solvent should be added to the interior of the bowl to dissolve tar and sterilise the pipe. A pipe cleaner dipped in this solution is advisable for cleaning the stem. Allow the pipe to dry.

Put on safety glasses and gloves. If you're using a retort kit cover the top of the pipe with a wad of cotton, fill the glass bulb with alcohol, attach the rubber bulb to the pipe stem, and heat the bulb with a butane torch until it simmers and enters the pipe.

Wait. You will want to wait for the warm alcohol to fill the pipe and remove the heat. The alcohol will recede, carrying all of the tar and accumulated matter. Repeat with the same fluid, as necessary.

Finish. Use a clean pipe cleaner to check the airway and clean the rest of the pipe with a dry rag.


Used pipes are often called "estate pipes" and should always be sanitised before use. While commercial pipe solvents are available, their alcohol content tends to be lower than spirits and thus less effective at breaking up tar. Water does not break down pipe gunk and should not be used.


While rubbing alcohol cleans well, some may question its use on a surface that will touch the mouth. Also, it may over-dry the briar. Never clean a pipe with paint thinners, naptha, lighter fluid, or similar toxic chemicals as it can lead to poisoning. Never ream wood from the inside of a pipe. It has been treated so that it does not burn while smoking and will create a fire hazard once removed. Use extreme caution when using a pipe retort kit. Wear safety glasses and gloves, and follow all instructions.

Things You'll Need

  • Pipe
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Toothpicks
  • Adjustable pipe reamer or pipe tool
  • Potable spirits or commercial pipe solvent
  • Pipe retort kit
  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves
  • Rag
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author