Cotton swabs, made of a small wad of cotton wrapped around both ends of a short rod, are commonly used in a variety of applications including first aid, cosmetics application, cleaning, and arts and crafts. Leo Gerstenzang created the cotton swab in the 1920s after attaching cotton to toothpicks. The product eventually went on to be called the “Q-tip” which became a generic trademark for cotton swabs in the USA. The product is often used to clean the ear although doctors have said for used that it is unsafe.
The original swab has a single tip on a wooden handle that were often used in medical settings. They were usually about six inches long and packaged sterile with one or two per sleeve. The swabs produced for home are usually only three inches long and have cotton on both sides. The handles were originally wood but later were made of rolled paper which is still pretty common.
Medical-type swabs, used to take microbiological cultures, are swabbed onto an infected area then wiped across the culture medium where bacteria from the swab may grow. Often they are used to take DNA samples from the inner cheek, to apply medicines to a targeted area, or to apply cleaning substances like betadine.
Recent innovations have led to the use of a double-tipped cotton swab that have tubular plastic handles that are filled with medicine that is dispensed when one end is broken.