Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Can I Do When My Pipe "Turns Sour"?

A pipe, properly cared for, will probably outlast its owner. Occasionally, however, a pipe may begin to taste bitter or "sour." Sometimes this is caused by not allowing the pipe sufficient time to "rest" between smokes; other times, no cause can be determined with certainty.

In any event, such a pipe can usually be rejuvenated by applying the "Professor's Pipe-Sweetening Treatment," publicized by Dennis Congos.

First, find some salt (non-iodized is preferred, but not essential), some alcohol (preferably "Everclear," or some other form of near-pure, non-denatured ethanol), and a place to rest your pipe in a semi-upright position.

Insert a pipe cleaner into the stem of the pipe so that it extends into the shank. Fill the bowl to the rim with salt and drip or carefully pour alcohol into the bowl until the salt is just saturated. Try not to get any alcohol on the pipe's exterior, as this may damage the finish; any spills should be wiped up immediately.

Leave the pipe alone for a day or two. After this time the salt will have turned brown from the absorption of "tars" from the bowl. Thoroughly clean all salt from the bowl and set the pipe aside overnight to dry completely. Your pipe will now be revitalized, and all traces of bitterness should be gone.

WARNING: Many people swear by this process, but the procedure is not risk-free. Some people have had pipes crack after this treatment, particularly when they allowed the salt and alcohol mixture to enter the pipe's shank and/or when they left the mixture in the pipe for several days. Any pipe with significant monetary or sentimental value should be sent to a professional pipe repairperson.

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