A pipe cleaner is a type of brush originally intended for cleaning smoking pipes. Besides cleaning pipes, they can be used for any application that calls for cleaning out small bores or tight places. Special pipe cleaners are manufactured specifically for cleaning out medical apparatus and for engineering applications. They are popular for catching drips, tying up things, colour coding, and applying paints, oils, solvents, greases, and similar substances.
“Craft” pipe cleaners however are usually made with polyester or nylon pile and are often longer and thicker than the “smoking” type, and available in many different colors. Craft pipe cleaners are not very useful for cleaning purposes, because the polyester does not absorb liquids, and the thicker versions may not even fit down the stem of a normal pipe. Because “sharp” ends of a pipe cleaner are needed to push ends into backing material to hold up objects they should not be left for children under five to play with, unless under supervision.
Creative crafters can make flowers, plants, and animals out of pipe cleaners, as well as using them for other activities. Most craft stores sell assortments of pipe cleaners pre-packaged, or allow crafters to pick out individual pipe cleaners from bins.