Pipe Smoking—The Cleaning Process

“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis

Now that we’ve had such an enjoyable smoke, let’s clean out that pipe!

Smoking Pipe Cleaning Kit from Carey’s Smokeshop.
We’ll start with a general, after you smoke your pipe, cleaning. You’ll need some pipe cleaners (who knew that this is what they were really for instead of making crafts!), paper towels, cotton swabs, and a cloth (preferably a microfibre cloth). Now, you could get away with a shorter list (only pipe cleaners and maybe the cloth), especially if you’re smoking your pipe on the go, but this is a good list for a standard cleaning.

First, you want to make sure the pipe is completely cool before taking it apart. Taking the stem out of the stummel before it’s cooled could damage your pipe.

Next, using the pick of your pipe tool (a pipe cleaner will do, too), stir up the ash and dottle. Put your hand over the bowl and shake it a couple of times. This will distribute the ash along the walls of your pipe and start creating something called “cake.” Cake is a protective coating in the bowl of your pipe. You want to the cake to be about as thick as a dime.1 Now dump out the dottle and ash from your pipe but don’t tap it against a hard surface. Again, this might damage the pipe by either marring the stummel or, worse, breaking it right at the tenon and mortise. I’ve found that just tapping the stummel with my hand works just fine. Now gently blow out any remaining ash or dottle.

In this next step, we’re going to assume there aren’t any obstructions in your pipe—filter, deep bend, etc. We’ll address those situations momentarily. Now take a pipe cleaner2 and run it through the stem to the bowl, scrub it with some quick back and forth motion, and take it out. Using either the other end of your pipe cleaner or another one, do the same thing again. Keep repeating the process until the pipe cleaner comes out clean.

If your pipe has a filter or is a some type of system pipe, remove the stem from the stummel. If there’s a filter in the stem, remove it and run a pipe cleaner through the stem. Repeat this process until the pipe cleaner’s clean. Now repeat the same process with the stummel. If your pipe has an additional reservoir in the shank, like a Peterson System Pipe, use a cotton swab or twisted paper towel to clean out the reservoir.

Finally, using the cloth, wipe off the stummel and stem. Put your pipe back together and place it in your pipe rack. You’ll need to give your pipe a rest for a day or so between each smoke, so it’s best to have a couple of different pipes to rotate between smokes.3
Neerup Leather Pipe Cleaning Kit

For a more thorough cleaning, you’ll need some more items: bristle pipe cleaners, shank brush, stem oil (or an equivalent), bowl sweetener (or high grade grain alcohol), and metal polish (if needed). Depending on how often you smoke your pipes, a deeper cleaning will be needed from time to time (obviously, the more times you smoke your pipe, the more times you’ll need to do a deep cleaning).

Lay out an old hand towel or some paper towels and disassemble your pipe. Dip a bristle pipe cleaner in some bowl sweetener (or high grade grain alcohol) and run it back and forth through the stem a few times removing all the gunk in it. Follow this with a dry pipe cleaner. Repeat this process until the moist pipe cleaner comes out clean.

A word of caution before cleaning the stummel. Be careful not to get any sweetener or alcohol on the outside of the bowl. The stains used on pipe bowls are alcohol based and getting your cleaning solution on them could strip the stain from your pipe.

Turning your attention to the stummel, do the same thing as before—moisten a bristle pipe cleaner with bowl sweetener (or high grade grain alcohol) and run it through the airway a few times removing the gunk. Now use a dry pipe cleaner to remove excess moisture. Continue this process until the moist cleaner comes out clean. Now get a shank brush (cotton swab or a bent pipe cleaner will work, too), dip it in the cleaning solution, and scrub out the mortise.4 Replace the stem into stummel and set your pipe in the rack for a day or so to dry out the alcohol.

Well, that’s it for the pipe side of this series! I hope what I’ve written has been helpful. For other great articles on the subject, check out the articles at Smokingpipes.com. For a really good video series, check out Bradley’s YouTube series over at STUFFandTHINGS.

In our next post, we’ll start the theological side of this series.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

1. Some pipes, though, already have a protective coating and won’t need this step. My Savinelli Oscar Tiger 404 is this way.

3. This needs a little fleshing out. If I’m on a trip and I only take one pipe with me, I’ll let it cool completed down—let it rest for an hour or so—before I load it and smoke it again. I will, however, follow the cleaning routine I’ve outlined above in between each smoke. Also, I’ll give that pipe a rest the next day and not smoke it at all. What I normally do, though, is take more than one pipe with me! That way, after I smoke one, I can clean it up, let it rest, and smoke the other one.

4. If the brush is small enough—you can get them in different sizes—you can do use it in the airway, too.


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