What is the point of putting a cotton ball in a bottle of pills? The thought has more than likely crossed your mind at some point in time because anyone who has ever bought a bottle of aspirin or the like has come across a wad of the fluffy white stuff. As soon as you get done opening the box, the plastic seal, the childproof cap, and the vacuum seal, you eventually reach the contents of the bottle. Yet before you can shake out a pill, the cotton ball needs to be removed as well. What is the point of having a cotton ball there in the first place?!
To understand the meaning of cotton balls in pill bottles one must travel back in time and history to around the early 1900s. That was when the medicine company Bayer started mass producing pills and they needed a way to keep them whole and intact while in transit. In those early days pills were powdery and easily broke apart when they were jumbled around. That meant people had a greater likelihood of under or overdosing if they eyeballed the broken pills and took the wrong amount. It turned out that the simplest, safest, and most cost effective solution was to stick a cotton ball in the bottle and that is the origin of how and why cotton balls in medicines came to be.
These days there is no need for the cotton balls because pills are coated and that helps prevent them from breaking apart. However, Bayer continued the practice of placing them in bottles because their consumers had grown so accustomed to them that they expected to open the cap and see the white fluff inside. When they didn’t see any, people were really worried and assumed that perhaps the bottle had been tampered with. Rather than wean people off their cotton ball expectations, Bayer continued to stick them in bottles all the way up until 1999.
To this day many other companies continue the practice because people still expect to see a cotton ball. According to studies, consumers equate the cotton ball with a product’s freshness, but this assumption is not founded on any truth. In fact, cotton does not stand for freshness and it really is totally useless. And while many of us assume that it helps to absorb moisture and thus keeps pills for longer, it actually does the opposite and pulls moisture into the bottle. Experts say that consumers should take the cotton ball out and discard it immediately after opening. That way your medicine will truly stay dryer and fresher, and now you know why some pill bottles come with a cotton ball!