Let me be totally honest here. I don’t use q-tips. The thought of having something in my ear smaller than my pinky finger gives me the willies. 

That is not to say I live in a q-tip free household. I do not. My husband uses q-tips like they are going out of style. Apparently he has ‘itchy ears’, an affliction I do not have luckily.

Finding an environmentally friendly q-tip is important to me because I don’t like waste, even if it’s not my own, I feel responsible.

We only have one planet, right? Switching q-tips (or totally giving them up) might seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but I am of the mindset of ‘start small for big change’ and it doesn’t get much smaller than a q-tip!

Let’s start with the 411 on regular q-tips.

Are Q-tips biodegradable?

Yes, as a matter of fact they are biodegradable when composted. See below for explanation.

Can you compost used q-tips? 

Yes, According to the Q-tip FAQ page:

Q-tips® cotton swabs are made with 100% pure cotton (non-sterile)- all natural materials (unlike some other cotton swab brands). The applicator is made of bonded paper and paperboard which is sustainably sourced and specially manufactured to retain its form and to allow for flexibility and safety in use. Adhesive is used to maintain the attachment of the cotton fiber to the applicator.

Are q-tips bad for the environment?

Being so small and light, q-tips end up littering our oceans, not unlike straws.

Although q-tips are now made out of paper (Yay!), they used to be made from plastic and not all countries have made the switch to paper just yet. This means that there are still q-tips that end up polluting our oceans and particularly harming seahorses.

So, to answer the question: Yes, q-tips are bad for the evironment, BUT they are making an effort towards a more eco-friendly product.

What do I use instead of q-tips?

Here’s the thing. I don’t think q-tips are the worst thing on the planet (or for the planet for that matter). They are biodegradable when composted and the inner packaging is recyclable. I mean, it could be a lot worse. 

If you set up a little pail or container for compostables in your bathroom, q-tips would stay out of the trash altogether. 

There is still the plastic outside wrapper that is non-recyclable, so by no means is it a perfectly environmentally friendly product.

As well, I understand if the thought of a single use item leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I get it. I don’t like having packages of stuff hanging around and buying the same thing over and over again.

I try to look for as close to a zero-waste product as I can find.

Luckily, there are a couple of options for you.

Bamboo q-tips the humble co. bamboo cotton swabs

The Humble Co. has a great environmentally friendly q-tip alternative for those who just can’t give up the ‘tip.

Features include:

  • Biodegradable 
  • Fair trade
  • Sustainably grown bamboo stem
  • Organic cotton tips
  • Packaging is recyclable paper

With no plastic used in the packaging, these bamboo q-tips have an environmental leg up on traditional q-tips.


LastSwab is a reusable, sustainable and sanitary alternative to cotton swabs, buds and Q-tips.

Features include:

  • Corn-based carry case
  • Easy to clean (soap and water)
  • Two versions: one for cleaning, and one for makeup

Keep in mind that there is a glaring negative when it comes to LastSwab. Unfortunately, it is made from rubber and plastic, which makes it unrecyclable at the end of its life.

On a postitive note, LastSwab lasts a lot longer than a box of q-tips, so the waste is minimal in comparison to the plastic wrap of traditional q-tip boxes. They also have a reusable q-tip specifically for makeup removal, which is a bonus.

While this product is not a perfectly environmentally friendly q-tip alternative, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and worth checking out.

My (Un)Professional Opinion

Honestly, the easiest solution to q-tip waste is to simply stop using them. You don’t need them, if used incorrectly q-tips cause more harm than good.

If you use q-tips for makeup removal, try using a cloth instead. The environmentally friendly alternative to q-tips is still not totally eco-friendly as you have to throw it in the garbage when its life expires. 

What do you use to clean your ears? Does the thought of jamming a q-tip in there give you the willies too? Let me know in the comments below.

Cheers, and have an awesome day!


  1. Kristen Belden

    Thank you for your post. It’s very helpful. I am a q-tip or “cotton tip applicator” user and have been for years. Like your husband, I get itchy ears and there’s nothing like a q-tip to cure it. Additionally, I’m a hearing aid user, and when you have a receiver in your ear ~16 hours a day, it’s important to have minimal wax buildup and little-to-no moisture.

    Attempting to be more environmentally friendly, I purchased “LastSwab.” It’s a great product, and I think would work really well for someone who uses q-tips for makeup application or itchy ears, but for my purposes it just didn’t work. Why? It doesn’t absorb moisture at all. I need dry ears, and if I get some water in my ears from the shower or swimming, it needs to come out before the hearing aids go back in. I was super bummed. I really wanted the LastSwab to work.

    I’ve switched to an all cotton q-tip like you mentioned above and do compost them after use. It’s not perfect, but better than nothing.

    • Kathy

      Thank-you so much for sharing your experience. This is valuable information that will benefit others, especially fellow hearing aid users. I am sorry that the LastSwab did not work out for your needs but I am glad that you found an eco-friendly option that works for you! Many people would have just went back to their conventional q-tips. I appreciate you finding a green option instead.

    • Katie

      I have a similar issue and was both pleased and saddened to read about your experience with the LastSwab. I use Qtips to dry my inner ear and had considered buying the LastSwab. I’m happy to have read your informative comment before buying something that I ultimately would have found useless (for my needs).

  2. Mark ward

    Thank you for the post and comments. Bamboo swabs are so much better for the environment! Just an easier way for people buy a product that supports and eco-friendly lifestyle and environmental quality, sustainability.

    • Kathy

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Jim Lichti

    I love the suggestion to through cue tips in the compost. Thanks!

    I have sensitive ears and I clean them with a cue tip dipped in white vinegar almost daily. I probably wouldn’t die if I stopped … but I did have a roommate once who struggled with ear infections, and it’s comforting to do something to counter that potentiality, however remote.

    The wax just seems to clog up my ears more as I age, and white vinegar takes care of the distraction it’s causing.

    • Kathy

      Thanks for your comment!


    A somewhat rustic solution to the Q-tip/ear cleaning conundrum, I use a thick wooden match and carefully wrap the end with a tiny piece of paper towel, then dip that end into vinegar or rubbing alcohol and gently and carefully clean water out of my ears. If one carefully, you won’t “lose” the paper in the ear.

  5. Menno Vorster

    Can q tips be safely disposed of by flushing them down the toilet?


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