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FYI Pipe cleaning for newbies/novices


Mostly Harmless
Staff member
Restoring a pipe can be done a number of different ways.
I do a lot of restorations and so I have a pretty professional setup, but that's not necessary.

You'll need nylon shank brushes, a reamer (or anything resembling a reamer), Everclear, salt and/or cotton balls, pipe cleaners, rags, paper towels, and a microfiber (or lens) cloth to clean your pipe.

  • Pull the stem off the pipe.
  • Run a Pipe Cleaner (PC) through the mortise and draught hole and into the bowl. Leave it there.
  • Soak some salt and/or cottonballs in Everclear. GENTLY fill the bowl to the top (I use a very small teaspoon). Avoid getting booze on the rim or any part of the finish on the pipe. If/when you do get booze on the pipe, gently dab it away with your moist microfiber cloth. Do not rub it. Let the pipe sit upright overnight.
  • Then gently remove the salt/cottonballs and ream the pipe. The alcohol will turn the cake into goo that is pretty readily removed. After reaming, you may have some seriously hard stuff in there. If you do, soak it again overnight and repeat. Be careful reaming as it's an easy way to screw up a pipe. Sandpaper rolled into a fine point also works but do not hit the inside rim- just straight up and down using the point.
  • Now to address the shank: Pour a shotglass full of Everclear (*cover it, and only pour a little, you'll foul it soon enough). Dip your shank brush into the Everclear and run it into the shank and bowl. Rinse, dip in booze, repeat until it comes out completely clean (*it is helpful to have several shank brushes to rotate through). This may take some work but don't settle for "pretty clean." Run some pipe cleaners periodically between using the shank brush. Change out the Everclear as needed.
  • Bend a pipe cleaner in half and dip in Everclear. Use it to go after any gunk inside the end of the mortise. Repeat until it is completely clean.
  • Now clean the stem: Do the shotglass/everclear/shank brush thing again, starting at the tenon end of the stem. Run the shank brush until it is completely clean, then run a few pipe cleaners.
  • Now reassemble the pipe. Run a few more Everclear soaked pipe cleaners through the stem and into the bowl.
  • Let it sit for a day and it's ready to be smoked.
  • But you should shine it up real pretty first (Halcyon II wax or Paragon wax work in lieu of a buffer).
If you want to make the stem look new and shiny, I rec you get some OxyClean and micro-mesh sanding pads.
  • Soak the stem in OxyClean for about an hour. Remove it and wash it off with fresh water, let it dry.
  • Do stepwise sanding with the micro-mesh buffs with the stem on the pipe (tape over the wooden shank). Be careful to preserve crisp edges and nomenclature. Sand until all oxidation is gone or until you are satisfied (it's not always possible to remove all oxidation).
  • Now you have to polish it. I use three types of drill mounted buffs to apply three different compounds; white, tripoli, and carnuba wax. You don't need to do that. You can use hand applied wax (Paragon is often rec'd around here) and/or Obsidian Oil, and some elbow grease.
Et voila! You're pipe is done dude.

It's late and I've prattled on long enough.
PM me if you have any questions.

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Ok well I just got a friggin sweet deal on a rusticated pete xl307. She is a dirty girl tho. What is good to use to brush all the dirt and grime out of the rustication?


Well-Known Member
Good post , spill ! I'd just add ... make or get a buffer as well , for maintenance of your clean [ exterior ] pipe . It makes your pipe glow and it's not even close to anything like work . If it were a difficult thing to make , I'd never post it ... but it's very easy

Kevin Keith

Professional Kibbitzer
My problem with using vodka for cleaning is that it is generally 40% alcohol these days. Regular rubbing alcohol is 70%. Thus it does a better job.
I want to say this about that. Some may wonder if isopropyl alcohol will leave your pipe smelling (or tasting!) like a doctor's office. It will not. When I don't have any grain alcohol in the house, I always have 91% isopropyl alcohol. It's perfect for cleaning dirty, old estates. It's cheaper than whiskey! I don't use it, however, for routine cleaning of my pipes, strictly for the first cleaning/sanitizing of a "new" estate.
I'm somewhat new to pipes. I've never purchased an estate pipe, but I see where many on these forums have. So are they just cleaning the stem as described above or buying a new stem?


If you want to make the stem look new and shiny, I rec you get some OxyClean and micro-mesh sanding pads.
Great thread Spill!

Question: When you mentioned "micro-mesh" sanding pads, what number are you mentioning we use on a vulcanite stem? Would it be 220, 440? Or something that mentions "extra fine?" And I would assume a decent place to go to would be a Home Depot or someplace similar? Also, would a small brick style sponge pad in similar grade of 440 or such be ok to use when sanding off the oxidation on the bit? Thank you...


Mostly Harmless
Staff member
400 grit wrapped around an emery board works fine for initial removal but micro-mesh goes up to something like 12,000 and leaves it clean and smooth as glass.

You will not find micro-mesh sanding pads at a hardware store. Order them online- Amazon sells them.

*I started out using a 3M Headlight Restoration kit, which is available at any autoparts store. Micro-mesh is MUCH better.
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