Cotton swabs are handmade items that consist of one or two small cotton swabs attached around one or both ends of a small stick made of wood, paper, or plastic. They are often used to clean the ear, although doctors do not recommend this use.

Other uses of renewable cotton buds are first aid, cosmetics, cleaning, and crafts. Many countries have banned versions with plastic handles in favor of biodegradable alternatives due to concerns about marine pollution.

The most common use of a cotton swab is to clean the ear canal by removing wax from the ear. Cotton swabs are also widely used for applying and removing makeup, and for household purposes such as cleaning and making crafts. 

Cotton swabs are also commonly used outside the field of personal hygiene:

They are widely used in the manufacturing of plastic model kits for various applications in applying decals or painting. For this purpose, there are special brands of cotton swabs, which are characterized by strong cotton heads and different sizes of these ends.

These can be used to measure surface energy in the melon test. This use is problematic because manufacturers differ in the binder used to secure the cotton to the stem, which affects test results.

These are often used along with alcohol to clean laser diode lenses from optical instruments. They are also used to clean larger computer parts such as graphics cards and fans. These were widely used in the past to clean video game cartridges.