Written by Grove Collaborative

What Are Reusable Cotton Swabs & Rounds? Everything You Need to Know

Last Updated: June 29, 2022

Tired of throwing cotton swabs or rounds into the trash after only one use? Check out these innovative, eco-friendly options to make your daily routine more green.

Of the vast array of personal care items, cotton swabs and rounds may be the unsung heroes of the day. Not only are they extremely versatile for daily use, but you can also purchase in bulk and simply toss in the trash when you’re finished. But is the latter part of that really a good thing?

Given how mindlessly the average person goes through cotton swabs and rounds a year, consider the impact that might have on our ecosystem. Producing enough cotton to keep up with the demand will further tax harvesters, while also creating a larger load on our environment. They gotta break down somewhere right? That’s usually the ocean or landfill, over a period of as much as 500 years. Sure, it’s easy — but at what cost?

Enter the reusable cotton swab and cotton round. These two eco-friendly alternatives are changing the bathroom game by allowing you to use them, clean them, and then use them again. It sounds great, but some people may be turned off by the “ick” factor of reusing these handy beauty and personal care tools. But clean your ears carefully so you can hear us out: The eco-friendly cotton swab (and less controversial round) is going to be your new favorite sustainable swap.

Reusable ear swabs: What are they and why switch?

What’s wrong with cotton swabs?

One of the biggest problems with single-use ear swabs is that they’re a disposable item that people rarely consider when trying to live more sustainably. They’ll use them and dispose of them, without considering the bigger picture. Some people even flush them down the toilet, which harms marine life. So the first step is being cognizant of what we’re actually doing to the environment — and then, it’s time to change it.

Most specific data points are inconclusive due to the fact that swab sticks are often misidentified as lollipop sticks or thrown under the vage umbrella of “sanitary items” alongside wipes, diapers, and condoms. However, we do know that 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. Plus, the plastic from used cotton swabs can harm marine life by ending up in their bellies, which can make these animals sick from the fragments damaging their digestive systems.

You also can’t recycle single-use cotton swabs due to two reasons:

  • They’re made out of both cotton and plastic.
  • Their small size will jam up the recycling machine, compromising the whole process.

From a supply-and-demand perspective, purchasing single-use items perpetuates the problematic system of factories producing these items. If we put our money where our more eco-friendly mouth is, we can send them the message that fossil fuels aren’t needed to produce these items. In fact, by opting for reusable personal care items, we can even start putting fossil-fuel dependent factories out of business, creating a healthier planet for generations to come.

That’s definitely worth making the swap, don’t you think?

Alternatives to cotton swabs

Luckily, a number of companies are rethinking the disposable cotton swab in favor of eco-friendly alternatives. One is LastObject, which produces LastSwab. With a textured tip that gently adheres to ear wax for smooth and easy removal, the LastSwab basic works just as well, if not better than, its traditional counterpart. And for all the makeup-loving klutzes, there’s even a beauty version with two distinct tips — rounded and tapered — to help you correct even the worst eyeliner mess. And best of all, you can get up to 1,000 uses out of these babies. That translates to roughly three years of waste-free primping. What’s not to love about that?

What are LastSwab’s reusable swabs made of?

This reusable cotton swab from LastObject features soft tips made of medical TPE (thermoplastic elastomers) and rods made from polypropylene (PP) that's reinforced with glass fiber – all in a recycled, ocean-bound plastic case.

Ocean-bound plastic refers to the plastic that ends up in the ocean within 30 miles of a coastline. By recycling this plastic, we are able to lessen the likelihood of marine life injury, as well as fill the existing need for new personal care items. This effectively closes the loop of supply-and-demand, supplying new products by using the source of the problem. Nifty, huh?

How do you use reusable swabs?

Exactly the same way you would use any cotton swab; just nix the part where you toss it at the end. For the basic swab and ear cleaning, insert it gently into your ear safely — not too far, obviously. You can also generally use LastSwab as you would a disposable cotton swab for tasks like nail polish removal/cleanup or cleaning projects, but keep in mind that the reusable swabs aren’t heat resistant.

For the LastSwab Beauty version, the same deal applies: Use the reusable swab the same way you would a disposable one. Try using it with makeup remover to clean up errant mascara or eyeliner, or for help applying false lashes. If you’re sharing LastSwab in a salon setting (or, say, across an eco-conscious bridal party), make sure to thoroughly clean between users.

Uses for LastSwab reusable swabs

Almost anything you’d typically use a cotton swab for is up for grabs! This includes:

  • ear cleaning (as seen with LastSwab basic)
  • makeup correction (LastSwab beauty)
  • art projects
  • instrument cleaning
  • nail polish touch-ups
  • cleaning hard to reach nooks and crannies

Limitations of reusable swabs

As in every hero origin story, the very attributes that make LastSwab so special are also its kryptonite. In this case, the tips aren’t very absorbent, which makes them less than ideal for jobs that traditionally require absorbent cotton buds.

The swabs are also not heat resistant, so keep them away from any hot liquids or substances. But literally anything else you can think of is fair game!

How to clean reusable ear swabs

Wash your reusable ear swab with hand soap and water before popping it back into its nifty little case for next time. Yes, really: Just good ol’ soap and water is all you need. You can run it under the faucet and rub it with your fingertips to help if there’s any stubborn gunk on there that needs a little extra help. You can also use a disinfectant like rubbing alcohol to sanitize your swab, letting it soak in the sanitizer before air drying.

Reusable cotton rounds: What are they and why switch?

What’s wrong with cotton rounds and pads?

Let’s be honest: Sometimes, cotton really sucks. Or at least the “cotton” you experience in rounds, which is actually typically a mix of synthetic fibers and single-use plastics. Even though it’s a mix of other synthetic ingredients, this process still puts a lot of strain on the agricultural industry that harvests cotton because the demand for these disposable items is so high. Plus, the process of harvesting cotton requires a lot of water, which could create significant risk of water shortages by 2025.

When you think about how mindlessly most people dispose of these items (sometimes after only mere seconds of use), imagine this daily habit creating a lifetime of waste. And all this, from just one person. Now, multiply that by the population of the world. See what we’re getting at?

Cotton rounds also tend to have pieces that often separate and get stuck places, while over-absorbing makeup and moisture – causing acne, skin dehydration, and irritation. If that’s not enough to convince you, typical cotton rounds usually contain pesticide residue and anything else that was used to grow the cotton – meaning it’s not just cotton you’re applying to your face.

Eco-friendly alternatives to cotton rounds and pads

Just like with cotton swabs, a few boundary-busting brands have introduced sustainable alternatives to traditional cotton rounds and pads. Marley’s Monsters, Cocokind, and LastObject all make reusable makeup remover pads and cotton rounds that will do the job better while saving the planet from unnecessary environmental strain. That’s a win-win! Here’s what you should know about these brands and the products that will clean up your routine.

LastObject is a brand actively transforming single-use items you use daily into sustainable, reusable products you can keep for a long time. In the cotton-pad world, the brand’s washable rounds can be used to apply toner or whatever other products you’d use a traditional pad for, and then you can wash and use them again. The trick here is that they’re 30% cotton and 70% Scandinavian wood – but we promise that they’re still plenty soft and durable, as each pad is good for at least 250 uses.

Marley’s Monsters products are made in Eugene, Oregon and often come in an assortment of bright and whimsical colors. While these eco-friendly cotton rounds made from flannel aren’t multi-hued, they do come with a ton of uses built right in — and that’s something to smile about. Use these to apply nail polish, pamper yourself with your favorite facial products like toners and serums, or to boost the typical makeup removal process. These washable and organic sustainable cotton rounds are two-ply and durable, so you’ll help save the planet when you purchase a 20-pack. And when you’re done, just pop ‘em in the washer and dryer. Easy peasy!

Cocokind reusable rounds come with a cute mesh bag to hold each super-soft eco-friendly cotton piece. In a pack of 14, you get up to 800 uses. These makeup remover pads are 70% bamboo blended with 30% cotton, so it’s likely going to feel slightly different than their flannel counterparts. But we think you’ll love them just as much! They work the same as the cotton rounds you’re used to, and you can rest assured that whichever brand you choose, you’re contributing to a healthier future for everyone — starting with yourself.

How do you use & clean reusable cotton rounds?

Just like you would a disposable cotton ball or pad: Use for makeup, serums, anything at all you put on your face or nails. The only difference is that instead of tossing these in the trash, you can machine wash them (warm with like colors, please and thank you) and add them in the dryer too. Couldn’t be easier, really! Just enjoy the eco-friendly softness on your face and the way products respond better to the more efficient cotton surface.

Shop reusable cotton swabs and rounds on Grove

Read more from Grove

Join thousands of happy customers creating a healthier home. Get started to select your free welcome set!
Claim My Offer