IStock
IStock

15 Swab-Worthy Facts About Q-Tips

IStock
IStock

Next to toilet paper, nothing in your bathroom may be as indispensable, useful, and plentiful as Q-Tips. The trademarked cotton swab has been a staple of medicine cabinets since 1923. Check out some facts that may have you looking at the cotton-topped sticks in a new light.

1. THEY WERE ORIGINALLY CALLED “BABY GAYS.”

Polish inventor Leo Gerstenzang was struck by the idea of a mass-produced swab when he saw his wife stick cotton balls on both ends of a toothpick and use the makeshift tool to clean out their child’s ears. He marketed them under the name Baby Gays from 1923 to 1926, when the name was changed to Q-Tip Baby Gays, and eventually just Q-Tips. (The “Q” stands for “quality.”)

2. THEY WERE DIPPED IN BORIC ACID ...

Wanting to promote the idea of the Q-Tip as a personal hygiene instrument, Gerstenzang had his factory workers dip the swabs in boric acid before being shipped out. The chemical has antiviral and antifungal properties and was used to sterilize the swabs.

3. … WHICH ONCE RESULTED IN A GOVERNMENT SEIZURE.

In 1939, U.S. attorneys reported that a sample size of Q-Tip shipments contained only a trace of boric acid; the swabs themselves were contaminated with micro-organisms. Declaring Q-Tips were misbranded as sterile, the government seized over 200 packages and the product was destroyed.

4. THERE WAS AN ENTIRE “Q” LINE OF GOODS.

Gerstenzang initially offered an entire line of infant care products with the “Q” prefix: Q-Talc, Q-Soaps, Q-Oil, and Q-Cream, which came in a kit labeled Q-Things.

5. THEY STAYED WOODEN FOR DECADES.

Q-Tips were made using a wooden stalk until 1958, when the company bought Paper Sticks Ltd. of England, which made paper sticks for confectionary companies.

6. YOU REALLY AREN’T SUPPOSED TO USE THEM IN YOUR EARS.

IStock

Though the company originally endorsed the Q-Tip as being useful for cleaning out earwax, the medical community didn’t agree. Speaking with National Public Radio in 2008, otologist Dennis Fitzgerald summarized concerns by saying that swabs of any kind tend to push earwax further into the ear canal, cause abrasions on the skin of the canal that can lead to infection—and even the very occasional impalement if someone happens to hit your arm while you’re cleaning. Chesebrough-Ponds bought Q-Tips in 1962 and added a warning about using them in the ears in the 1970s.

7. THEY’RE GOOD FOR CLEANING FAUCETS.

Unilever, the current parent company of Q-Tips, suggests that consumers can clean the gunk from their faucet edges and nozzles using the swabs.

8. THEY GOT A LITTLE SALTY WITH JOHNSON & JOHNSON.

In 1958, Q-Tips sued Johnson & Johnson for trademark infringement, arguing that the latter’s Johnson’s Cotton Tips were derivative of their own swabs. In its ruling for injunction in favor of Q-Tips, the court found that J&J’s use of “tips” as opposed to “swabs” was intended to “come as close as it thought legally possible to Q-Tips and bask in the reflected popularity of plaintiff's name.” The company also slapped down Twin-Tips and Tips for Tots in similar fashion.

9. THEY CAN HELP GET A ZIPPER UNSTUCK.

IStock

According to the personal grooming experts at Cosmopolitan, a Q-Tip dipped in shampoo and rubbed into the area where a zipper is caught on a jacket can loosen the entanglement and help resolve your clothing crisis.

10. IT’S PART OF POLICE LINGO.

When police officers arrive at the scene of a crime and emotion or adrenaline threatens to override their training, dispatchers or other officers will use the code word “Q-TIP.” It’s an acronym for “Quit Taking It Personally,” and it’s intended to remind them to maintain control of the situation.

11. THEY MIGHT HELP YOUR CELL PHONE CHARGE.

Q-Tips’ official list of recommended uses includes cleaning the battery contacts on your cell phone and charger to provide a dust-free connection between the devices.

12. BABIES CAN USE THEM FOR PAINT BRUSHES.

Tiny hands find Jackson Pollock-sized brushes difficult to grab; Q-Tips recommends using the swabs for arts and crafts projects when a regular brush is too large.

13. THE JAPANESE PREFER BLACK SWABS.

Not strictly Q-Tips, Japanese cotton swabs are sometimes found as black-tipped sticks. Why black? According to one Japanese travel blog, the color makes it easier to see what kind of wax or other assorted gunk you’ve pried out of your orifices.

14. THEY CAN HELP DETECT NICKEL IN JEWELRY.

Some people can develop a local allergic reaction to nickel in jewelry, causing redness and irritation. To see if your bracelet is among the offenders, you can rub a Q-Tip containing ammonia and dimethylglyoxime (a compound that detects nickel) on the surface. If it turns pink, it’s probably lousy with the metal.

15. MAN VS. Q-TIP DID NOT END WELL.

When Buddy Stanley walked into Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis on December 25, 2007, a discarded Q-Tip on the floor proved hazardous: Stanley claimed he slipped on the swab, fell, and injured his shoulder and lumbar areas. According to the Madison Record, he sued Barnes for $50,000 for “failing to warn him” of the danger. The case was dismissed in 2013.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
How a Hairdresser Found a Way to Fight Oil Spills With Hair Clippings
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images
Mark Ralston, AFP/Getty Images

The Exxon Valdez oil tanker made global news in 1989 when it dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the waters off Alaska's coast. As experts were figuring out the best ways to handle the ecological disaster, a hairdresser from Alabama named Phil McCroy was tinkering with ideas of his own. His solution, a stocking stuffed with hair clippings, was an early version of a clean-up method that's used at real oil spill sites today, according to Vox.

Hair booms are sock-like tubes stuffed with recycled hair, fur, and wool clippings. Hair naturally soaks up oil; most of the time it's sebum, an oil secreted from our sebaceous glands, but it will attract crude oil as well. When hair booms are dragged through waters slicked with oil, they sop up all of that pollution in a way that's gentle on the environment.

The same properties that make hair a great clean-up tool at spills are also what make animals vulnerable. Marine life that depends on clean fur to stay warm can die if their coats are stained with oil that's hard to wash off. Footage of an otter covered in oil was actually what inspired Phil McCroy to come up with his hair-based invention.

Check out the full story from Vox in the video below.

[h/t Vox]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
This Waterless Toilet Made of Mushrooms Could Be Key for Refugee Needs
iStock
iStock

In many parts of the world, toilets remain out of reach. An estimated one in three people in the world don't have access to a toilet, and one in nine people don't have access to safe water (in large part because of that lack of toilets). A group of students from the University of British Columbia have come up with a new way to give people without plumbing clean, safe places to do their business, and according to Co.Design the key is mushrooms.

The MYCOmmunity Toilet, which just won the 2018 Biodesign Challenge, is a portable toilet kit designed for refugee camps that uses a mycelium (a mushroom product) tank to eventually turn human waste into compost. Everything needed to set up the toilet is packed into one kit, which users can set up into a small, sit-down toilet with a traditional seat and a tank for waste. The appliance is designed to fit into a refugee tent and serve a family of six for up to a month.

The toilet separates solid and liquid waste for separate treatment. Enzyme capsules can be used to neutralize the smell of urine and start the decomposition, and poop can be covered in sawdust or other material to tamp down odors and rev up the composting process. After the month is up and the tank is full, the whole thing can be buried, and the mushroom spores will speed along the process of turning it into compost. The kit comes with seeds that can be planted on top of the buried toilet, turning the waste into new growth. (Biosolids have been used to fertilize crops for thousands of years.)

The University of British Columbia students—led by Joseph Dahmen, an assistant professor in the architecture school, and Steven Hallam, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology—competed against 20 other design teams at the 2018 Biodesign Summit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in June, taking home first prize. They hope to further refine the prototype in the future, and according to Co.Design, test it out at local music festivals, which, with their outdoor venues and high volume of drunk pee-ers, are the perfect venue to stress test waterless toilet technology.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios