Updated on August 24, 2022
Cleaning a pipe after smoking is a fairly simple task, but it can also get rather involved if more intensive cleaning is required. In this article, we'll explain exactly how to clean your pipe so you can enjoy your tobacco without any hassle. You’ve just finished smoking a delicious bowl. Now it’s time to clean your pipe so that it stays in pristine condition:
Remove the dottle from the chamber by using the spoon-like part of a pipe tool. Be careful not to gouge the cake or the wood.
Feed a pipe cleaner through the stem and shank. Every other bowl, it's a good idea to dip a cleaner into Decatur Briar Fresh to keep tar from building up in the airway. If a cleaner passes all the way through to the bowl without disassembling the pipe, there is no reason to take it apart each time. If the cleaner gets tied up due to a severe bend, or just because of the design of the pipe, you will need to remove the stem from the shank. On occasion, a piece of tobacco or some other object may get lodged in the draft hole which will clog up the pipe. A piece of a wire coat hanger will poke through most obstructions, but, if necessary, use a small drill bit with a piece of rough-surfaced tape wrapped around the end that normally goes into the drill chuck. With a little pressure and a twisting motion, you should be able to clear any blockage.
PLEASE, do not remove the stem while the pipe is still warm. If you do so repeatedly, it will stretch out the tenon and it will eventually become loose.
In most cases, the above is all the cleaning routinely required. Once a week or so, it's a good idea to remove the stem, bend a pipe cleaner into a "U" shape, dip it into a pipe sweetener like Decatur Briar Fresh and swab out the mortise to remove any built-up gunk.
From time to time, more involved cleaning is desirable. Give your pipe some time to cool down after smoking, then disassemble it. Once your pipe is disassembled, you can dip a nylon shank brush into a pipe sweetener and thoroughly scrub the draft hole in the shank to help avoid souring the pipe.
Acrylic stems require little maintenance, but vulcanite stems, while marginally more comfortable, will occasionally need some work. After each bowl, a quick wipe with Decatur No-Ox Stem Oil (you only need a single drop on a cloth) will reduce the occurrence of oxidation. Even then, over time the stem may dull. Decatur Haze-Away and Shine-Brite can handle moderate dulling and oxidation without the need for any machinery. If the oxidation is heavier, it should be brought to a repair person for buffing.
If you want to polish your briar pipe, the best bet will be to use the Decatur Polishing Cloth, which is impregnated with silicone to add a quick and easy shine. The shine will not be a high-gloss type. For a more long-lasting shine, Decatur No-Buff Wax will do the job nicely without any hazing from wax buildup. Just wipe on the wax and let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes and wipe off the wax with a soft cloth. If you want a mirror shine, a slow-speed buffer and carnauba wax are required, but this is something best left to a professional, as it takes extraordinarily little to damage or burn a pipe with a buffer. Even professionals will occasionally press a little too hard on the wheel, launching a pipe across the room. Do not use furniture polish to shine your pipes as the odor will become very noticeable when the pipe gets hot.
Reaming a pipe should be done when the cake becomes about the same as the thickness of a nickel. Using the correct type and size of reamer, slowly cut the carbon back until it’s about the thickness of a dime. Choosing a reamer will depend on how many pipes you will ream in a year. The inexpensive Buttner-style reamer will handle light work, but it tends to bend easily. Dan Chlebove of Gabrieli Pipes, who does our estate pipe restoration prefers to use the Decatur Ream-All set, and considering how many pipes he does in a year, it's a safe bet that it will be more than durable enough for your use at home. For oddly shaped chambers, such as opera pipes (oval chamber), and conical chambers, such as Nording freehand, the Decatur Pipe Knife, with a three-sided blade, is your best bet. It will work on any shape of chamber by laying one of the flat surfaces against the cake, and it will shave out excess carbon with a light rocking motion.
With the steps we've shown you here, you can keep your pipes in great shape without spending too much time or effort. Make sure to check out our other Pipe FAQ articles for further guidance on becoming an expert pipe smoker!