What is the cotton in pill bottles for?

Bottles of tylenol, excedrine, and such always have some cotton in them. Anyone know why that is.

There aren’t enough days in the weekend. – Steven Wright

Mostly to keep the pills from rattling around and breaking.

It’s just a natural byproduct of pharmaceutical harvesting.

You see, for years, drug companies searched for the best way to make their pills. In the mid-1800’s the Tylenol family hired Jacques Tanqueray, who introduced them to the production processes of the gin industry. Other pharmaceutical dynasties of the day (the Sudafeds, the Dymatabs, etc.) quickly picked up on the new method.

While the distilled spirits industry moved to the bathtub method in the early 20th century, most pharmaceutical companies found this too slow.

Even today, the most advanced tablet gathering machines still pick up some of the cotton in which pills are grown.

The cotton is on the top because the heavier pills settle on the bottom.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

I thought you were supposed to wrap each pill in a little cotton before swallowing. I’ve just perfected the metering out of cotton so-as there’s none left.

well, we really shouldn’t be to concerned about this topic anymore.

this week, bayer stopped putting cotton in their bottles. oh well, now you know why they used to put cotton in the bottle.

I had heard, perhaps incorrectly, that the cotton helped absorb moisture so the pills wouldn’t break down in effectiveness. Not replacing the cotton would lead to less effective pills after a time.

Tthen again, I think I read this in a Dear Abigal “One Vote” Van Buren column, so take it for what it’s worth.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

I read the story on Bayer no longer using cotton in most of the product line but they will still use it for chewable (ie. children’s) aspirin because breakage is still a concern with these pills.

For a while. But not so much anymore, apparently. :slight_smile:

I can’t believe that Cecil never covered this . . . but David Feldman did.


From When Do Fish Sleep?, pp. 89-90:

The main purpose of the cotton stuffed in medicine vials is to prevent rattling and subsequent breakage of pills during shipment? But why cotton? Because of its absorbency, cotton helps keep medications dry. . . . moisture will destroy most drugs.

More and more often these days, especially in large bottles of medications, I find those little packets of dessicant . . . which I guess works better than cotton balls to keep the interior dry.

your humble TubaDiva/SDStaffDiv
for the Straight Dope

Wow… we were all correct. It tastes great and it’s less filling!

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Doggone it, this was covered in one of the first Mailbag items, but it doesn’t seem to be in the Archive.

The “breakage” argument is inadequate for several reasons:

  • I had an unopened see-through bottle of pills with cotton stuffing. I shook the bottle. The pills jumped around. If the cotton had a damping effect on the pill collisions, it was small (although, I grant you, there would have been more jumping around if the cotton were replaced by empty space. But experimentally, the cotton may have reduced the “breakage” possibility, but didn’t come even close to eliminating it.

  • I find cotton in bottles of capsules and caplets and all those guys, who don’t suffer from breakage.

I can’t remember what we concluded, there were several theories, not least of which was that the cotton may have started as an anti-breakage device, but has become tradition.

That’s not dessicant you fools, just add boiling water and its gravy. Sheesh.

It only hurts when I laugh.

Desiccants? You means those little packets that say “do not eat” in Chinese? I’d say putting them in a bottle of medication is a disaster waiting to occur. Just think of the old lady who doesn’t bother reading the instructions but just swallows whatever is in the bottle…

I opened a bag of cotton and there were lots of pills on the top.

Fun trick with cotton ball. Light it, put it in your mouth & put it out. Looks freaky but its completely safe. Ive done it dozens of times. Little cotton ball ,try it. Honest.