MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Is There Cotton In Pill Bottles?

Ever wonder why there’s a giant wad of cotton shoved into your bottle of aspirin or acetaminophen or ibuprofen? There actually is a reason it’s there, though that reason should gradually be fading away.

It was in the early 1900s when the Bayer aspirin folks became the first to stuff cotton into their product bottles as a way to fill the empty space in the bottle to keep the pills from jostling around inside & ultimately crushing themselves.

By the 1980s, though, Bayer had begun selling coated tablets, which meant that it didn’t matter anymore if the pills bounced around in the bottle because the coating prevented them from disintegrating. So why do we still find cotton balls in bottles of over-the-counter pain relievers now, 40 years later? Because, after decades of having to fetch the fluff filling from inside our pill bottles, consumers were conditioned to expect it. Some folks even believed the cotton balls were an effective way to determine whether the package had been tampered with; others believed it preserved the “potency” of pills. So, to maintain their customers’ beliefs & trust, Bayer continued putting cotton in their bottles. And because Bayer did it for so long, a lot of other brands still do the same thing to this day.

For the record, though, the National Institutes of Health actually advises removing the cotton, as it actually pulls moisture into the bottle. Plus, not only is the “cotton” totally unnecessary…it’s likely not even cotton now. Most cotton clumps found in pill bottles these days are actually made of rayon or polyester.

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via Twitter (@AndyWebbRadio), or shoot me an email at andy@wfre.com.