You’d know it’s time to deep clean a tobacco pipe when it starts to taste like charred tobacco and smell like heavy smoke at the start of a fresh light.
After a deep clean of your tobacco pipe as outlined above, you will find that your tobacco pipe “tastes” like new, and the fresh tobacco you place in the bowl is not tainted by the aroma of previous smokes and past residues…
Deep cleaning your tobacco pipe should be done after every 20 to 30 smokes or whenever it starts to taste bitter sour, on top of the regular dry cleaning with the pipe cleaner.
Some of the indicators that would suggest a tobacco pipe deep clean is in order are:
Fresh tobacco tastes like charred tobacco upon first light
Fresh tobacco smells like heavy smoke upon first light
Fresh tobacco tastes like a mix of past residues of old tobacco
Your throat feels coarse or down with an infection after a few smokes
You suffer from headaches and migraines after a few smokes
The following tools and materials will need to be prepared before starting the cleaning work. You should already own some of these (the first 3 items below) if you’ve been smoking pipe for a while, if not links to purchase this are provided at the end of this article:
tobacco pipe cleaners
tobacco pipe cleaning tools (see right)
9mm filter replacements
paper clip (optional)
sea salt granules (used for cooking)
cleaning or rubbing alcohol You may also use vodka in replacement of rubbing alcohol if that is more readily available in your home, although vodka may introduce an additional taste to your first smoke if not dried out completely. Depending on your preference, this may be good or…less good.
a long slender tube for containing the alcohol This is to contain and hold the alcohol for dipping into with the pipe cleaners so as not to contaminate the entire stock. A long slender tube is preferable so that only a little alcohol is needed to wet about an inch of the pipe cleaner with each dip. I use a cigar tube in the procedure below that I can keep capped to prevent evaporation. If you don’t have a cigar tube or test tube, you could also pour the alcohol into a glass and tilt the glass as you’re wetting the pipe cleaner.
Once you have set aside the required cleaning materials above, let’s start!
Cleaning the Tobacco Pipe
Our pipe cleaning work today will involve 2 parts – the dry cleaning which is regularly done with every couple of smokes, followed by the deep cleaning for a complete clean-out of all gunk and old residue.
I’ll be using my Stanwell pipe in this exercise.
A. Dry Cleaning the Tobacco Pipe (Physical Clean)
A1.Remove the stem from the shank of the tobacco pipe.
A2.Remove the old filter from the stem and discard.
A3.Push the the pipe cleaner through the mouthpiece of the stem and run it in and out repeatedly.
A4.Remove the pipe cleaner and bend the used end into a U. Place the U-bend into the stem on the filter side and rotate it within.
A5.The end of this pipe cleaner would have gathered some dirt by now. Now let’s start work on the bowl side.
A6.Look for the serrated blade on your cleaning tool set.
A7.Use the serrated blade to scrape the inner surface of the bowl to remove tough old residue on the inner wall of the bowl. Tap the loosened residue out.
A8.Depending on how clogged the shank is, and especially if a pipe cleaner won’t go all the way through, you may need to use an unbent paper clip and push some old residue out into the bowl to be removed.
A9.If the shank is clear of obstruction, run the pipe cleaner repeatedly in and out of the shank all the way to the bowl chamber.
A10.Bend the pipe cleaner to a U and clean the inner wall of the shank by rotating it around inside as done for the stem in Step A4. Use as many pipe cleaners as required to clean it.
If the pipe is not too dirty, you can stop here and resume using your pipe or store it away for the next smoke.
If you’ve not cleaned your tobacco pipe in a while, consider doing a deep clean as outlined in the next section below.
B. Deep Cleaning the Tobacco Pipe (Chemical Clean)
B1.Before we start, pour some alcohol into the cigar tube to just about one to one-and-a-half inch from the base of the pipe cleaner. We don’t need a lot.
B2.Take a pipe cleaner and do a quick dip into the alcohol solution. The pipe cleaner shouldn’t be soaking wet with alcohol, but just damp enough.
B2a.If you have accidentally soaked the pipe cleaner too much, remove some alcohol by dabbing it against a tissue or serviette.
B3.Place the wet end into the stem via the mouthpiece and run it in and out repeatedly as before. Despite the cleaning done earlier, you may be surprise to still find further residue on the cleaner.
B4.Again as before, bend the wet end into a U…
B5.…and rotate it within the stem on the filter side.
B6.Dip a clean end of a pipe cleaner into the alcolhol solution and clean the inside of the shank in the same manner as before.
B7.A solvent like alcohol sometimes help to remove more gunk than just a simple dry clean.
B8.Bend the wet end into a U and rotate it within the shank as done in Step A10. Once we’re done with this, it’s time to work on the inside of the bowl.
B9.Take a clean pipe cleaner and run it through the shank to seal the opening. Before proceeding to the next step, ensure that most of the residue on the inner wall of the chamber has been cleaned as shown in Step A7 above.
B10.Next, pour sea salt into the chamber of the bowl and fill it to the brim.
B11.Tap on the outside of the bowl to make sure that the sea salt fills all gaps in between granules (like what we do with tobacco inside the bowl). If the level drops, fill up with more sea salt until the brim.
B12.Use a pipette or a metal straw to draw some alcohol out from the tube…
B13.…and drop it onto the sea salt in the bowl. There should be enough of alcohol drops to moisten all the sea salt from bottom to top and from centre to perimeter. The sea salt should only be thoroughly damp and not soaking wet with alcohol.
B14.Leave the sea salt in the bowl overnight.
B15.After a few hours, the sea salt granules in contact with the inner wall would have turned brown.
B16.After 24 hours, more of the sea salt should have turned brown like this.
B17.Use the reamer on the cleaning tool to dig in and remove the sea salt from the chamber.
B18.Empty the bowl completely and make sure there are no sea salt granules left behind.
B19.Remove the pipe cleaner. Looks like the alcohol on the pipe cleaner removed further residue from the shank. Allow all trace of alcohol to evaporate from the bowl and shank before use. Wait 10 minutes before using the pipe.
B20.Place a new 9mm filter into the stem. If you’re using the Vauen filter or similar like the above, the blue side faces the mouthpiece and the white side faces the shank.
B21.Push the stem back into the shank and assemble the parts of the tobacco pipe together.
B22.You now have an odourless like-new tobacco pipe waiting to be used in the next smoking session!
After a deep clean of your tobacco pipe as outlined above, you will find that your tobacco pipe “tastes” like new, and the fresh tobacco you place in the bowl is not tainted by the aroma of previous smokes and past residues.