Are q tips compostable?

The Q Tip, otherwise known as the humble cotton swab, has had many uses over the years. They were originally invented in America to clean out ear wax, it has since been proven that this can cause a lot of damage to our ears. 

Since then new uses have been developed for the cotton swab, including removing makeup, applying fake tan to the body, and whitening solution to the teeth. 

It is reported that 1.5 billion cotton swabs are used every day around the world, and the majority of these end up in the ocean. 

As society has become more aware of the amount of the waste it produces, we’ve seen a movement towards more compostable and biodegradable products. 

People have now begun to ask if their everyday products, like cotton swabs, are compostable. 

We have put together this quick article to answer that question for you, and give you some practical advice about how to produce less waste in your life.  

So… are they compostable?

The answer to this question is slightly more complicated than just yes or no. 

When composting Q Tips, or cotton swabs, there are two main elements you need to consider: (1) do the cotton swabs contain any plastic, and (2) what have you used the cotton swabs for/what have the cotton swabs come into contact with? 

If your answers to both of these questions line up in the right way, then, yes you will be able to compost your cotton swaps – if not then you’ll have to make a few adjustments to do so.

Do the cotton swabs contain plastic?

Cotton itself is a compostable material. However, when looking at the compostability of cotton swabs it is the handle that needs to be examined. 

Up until the last few years it has been common for companies to use plastic-coated cardboard in the handles of their cotton swabs. This had helped the swabs maintain their shape in damp bathrooms. However, this type of cardboard is not compostable.  

Compostable alternatives

It has become a lot more uncommon for this type of cardboard to be used on cotton swabs now, however you should always check the recycling information on the back of any packaging. 

Try looking for cardboard or bamboo based cotton swabs. 

BAMBOO facts – not only is bamboo compostable, but is an extremely useful and eco-friendly plant. It has many uses because it is both strong and flexible. It is a great material for the environment because you can grow a lot of it in a very small space, and it grows incredibly quickly. 

If you cannot source any compostable cotton swabs, try just using cotton wool, or cotton pads. 

Here are a few brands that produce compostable cotton swabs: 

Q Tips 

Q Tips (the brand) have recently changed their packaging so their cotton swabs are now compostable.   

Sky Organics 

Sky Organics cotton swabs are not only compostable but they are also cruelty free and organic. 


These cotton swabs from Maxzone are made from nothing but cotton and bamboo. 


What have you used the cotton swabs for? What have they come into contact with? 

So, once you have acquired yourself a set of compostable cotton swabs (or a compostable alternative), you will next want to examine how you are using these swabs and what materials they are coming into contact with. 

You cannot compost a cotton swab if it has come into contact with whitening fluids, fake tan, cleaning fluids, or any other type of harsh chemicals. What shocks many people is that the vast majority of makeup with so heavy in chemicals that a cotton swab that has been used to remove it cannot be composted safely. 

Compostable alternatives

There are many makeup brands that pride themselves on being natural and chemical-free. We have listed a few of our favorites below, by switching to one of these brands you would be able to use cotton swabs to remove makeup, and still compost them afterward. 

Ingredients to avoid are silicons, petroleum jelly, parabans, and paraffins. 

Honest Beauty

Honest Beauty is a makeup company run by Jessica Alba that prides itself on being face, animal, and planet friendly.  


Farmacy is a cult-favorite brand that draws inspiration from the natural world around us. They use natural ingredients grown in the USA. 


ILIA is an award-winning brand that has made big waves in the beauty industry for its ability to use natural ingredients without having to compromise on quality. 

Eco-friendly alternatives 

If you don’t want to switch to more natural makeup, or you want to continue to use your cotton swabs to clean other non-compostable things – you may want to look at switching to a reusable ‘cotton’ swab to reduce your waste. 

Reusable Q Tips from Rnker

Rnker offers 5 different forms of reusable cotton swabs that come in over 27 color combinations. 

The average American goes through nearly 500 cotton swabs a year, making the simple change to a reusable one could not only reduce the amount of waste you produce but save you money too. 

For fake tan, we suggest switching to a reusable fake tan mitt like this one. When using cleaning products there are biodegradable alternatives. 


For a cotton swab to be compostable it must not contain any plastics and must not have come into contact with any harsh or over-processed chemicals. 

There are many plastic-free cotton swabs on the market, however if you cannot source these then cotton pads or cotton wool will make a good alternative. 

If a cotton swab has been exposed to fake tan, whitening fluid, or any cleaning chemicals then it cannot be composted. It can also not be composted if it has been used to remove chemical-heavy makeup. 

You can switch to natural makeup and cleaning brands to make your cotton swabs safe for composting. Otherwise, a good alternative is to switch to a reusable ‘cotton’ swab.   

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