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What are the different kinds of swab shafts?

Published by Harmony Lab & Safety Supplies on Jan 09, 2024

Swabs and applicators are among the most versatile products used across various industries.

Yet, when swabs and applicators come to mind, most people only think of one type. In fact, there are dozens of different options available, for that very reason that there are many distinct purposes for these handy tools.

In choosing the applicator’s size and tip material, you can also select the material for the shaft. Base this on the most appropriate fit for your unique needs.

Here, we’ll discuss the four main types of applicator and swab shafts, as well as the unique properties of each:

Paper Shaft Swabs

If you’ve ever had a lollipop, you can imagine what an applicator with a paper shaft might look and feel like.

They’re typically white in color and are smooth to the touch. Choose your option for paper shaft applicators based on your application. Take into consideration the length and tip type, you’ll need.

Paper is among the more basic materials available for swab shafts. With smaller tips, you can clean sensitive components in critical environments, as the materials are anti-static.

Use paper shaft applicators with more extensive tips in some medical applications, such as gathering specimens during exams or collecting cells to perform laboratory research. Paper shaft swabs are also ideal for cleaning hard-to-reach places throughout offices and other workplace environments.

Wood Shaft Swabs

Like paper, is also considered to be a “no-frills” option for a shaft material. Most wood is sourced from birch trees, making them a sturdy and inflexible choice for industrial environments.

Some medical offices also choose wood shaft applicators for cleaning minor abrasions and similar practices.

Because it doesn’t take much force to fracture wood, this type of applicator is not recommended if there’s a risk of breakage.

Since these shafts are made of natural materials, there’s a risk that they can introduce dust or contaminants into the environment. Thus, wood shaft swabs are not intended for use in cleanroom environments.

That being said, wood swab shafts are an excellent, budget-friendly choice for basic applications. There are sterile wood swabs that can be used in many medical applications.

There are some types of wood shaft swabs that do boast low particulates for cleaning sensitive components. Like the other types of shafts listed here, they are available in varying lengths and quantities. And they can also arrive pre-packaged to prevent the risk of contamination.

Plastic Shaft Swabs

Plastic shafts are a step above wood and paper for many reasons. First, they have non-porous properties and will not produce dust or contaminants. Making them ideal for sensitive environments. Additionally, they are more flexible than wood, and you can break them cleanly if needed.

Because they are synthetic, plastic shaft applicators are ideal for collecting microbiological specimens. They are also used in hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices for patient care purposes. Such as wound dressing and cleaning. They also are a go-to choice for collecting cells for DNA testing.

The most common type of plastic used in applicator shafts is polystyrene. Though some users prefer a different kind of plastic: polypropylene. While it is also a synthetic material, it’s pretty different from polystyrene because it is much more resistant to breaking.

In industrial settings, many companies choose to go with polypropylene due to its increased durability. Of course, users who want peace of mind knowing the applicator shaft won’t break can also use this option in other environments.

Metal/Wire Shaft Swabs

Lastly, we have the type of applicator shaft that’s the most unique: metal wire.

Wire shaft swabs are most commonly found in healthcare environments. The diameter of the shaft can be designed to be much smaller than that of wood, plastic, or paper. For situations where a standard swab would be too large, the fine-diameter wire shaft swabs come in handy.

Aluminum is commonly used in swab shafts due to its malleability. In medical situations where cells must be collected from sensitive areas like the ear, nose, throat, or other exposed areas, the flexible, small shafts help ensure patient comfort. Additionally, these applicators fit well into transport tubes to make examination and lab testing seamless and hassle-free.

Wire shafts are more flexible than other materials, so consider that when choosing the right type for your needs. They should not be used in environments where conductivity might pose a risk.

What Swab Handle Do You Need?

With so many options available, knowing which type of applicator shaft is best for your needs can be challenging.

To help you decide, we’ve come up with a brief list of questions that should help narrow down your choices:

  • In what type of industry or environment will you be using the swabs?
  • Is conductivity/ESD a concern?
  • Will you be collecting cells from a person? If so, from a sensitive area?
  • Are specimens sampled onsite or at a lab elsewhere?
  • Do you need to worry about dust or contaminants?
  • How durable do you need the applicators to be?

Still, overwhelmed with your choices? Start by visiting Harmony Lab & Safety Supplies and searching for swabs based on your intended use.

Choose among the following purposes: critical environments, fiber optic cleaning, forensics, gun cleaning, print head cleaning, sign machine cleaning, and crafts and hobbies.

A broad range of sterile swabs intended for healthcare environments is also available. For convenience, many swabs can also be purchased in varying quantities.

No matter your unique needs, a swab is available for you! Visit us at Harmonycr.com to find the right swab for the job. Or give one of our supply specialists a call, and we’ll help you find the right swab.