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Quality swabs for medical sector, tech industry, and more

Article - April 6, 2023

Taking advantage of its unique technology, Sanyo provides high-quality cotton products for a wide range of applications.


“When it comes to cotton swabs, it’s Sanyo.”

Tsutomu Hibi, President, Sanyo Co., Ltd.   

Since 1967, the Japanese company Sanyo has developed into a market-leading manufacturer of cotton swabs for general, medical and industrial applications – and the range of uses for its high-quality products is expanding beyond these fields, too. A firm that boasts a 40% market share in Japan, Osaka-based Sanyo also has a growing presence overseas; indeed, 30% of its sales now come from exports.

Sanyo is defined by its quality commitment, says president Tsutomu Hibi. “One might look at our product and say, ‘it’s only a cotton swab’, but our mission is to pursue the ultimate ideal of a cotton swab,” he declares. “When we created the machine for producing our swabs, we went beyond the level of quality typical of the low-mix, high-production style of Swiss or Italian machines. They tear away the cotton and wrap it around a stick, but our method is fundamentally different. We compress the cotton into a very tight state, allowing us to make many different types of buds: small, extra-large, pointed, etc. We focus on quality. We want to make better and better products.”

Customers notice the difference when using Sanyo’s cotton swabs, Mr. Hibi says: “We ground the top of the stem into a rounded shape because some people say that if it’s pointed, it hurts their ears. The cotton is wrapped very softly, and the stem is harder than ordinary ones. The cotton never comes off the stem. With cheaper Chinese products, it may come off and be left in your ear.”

Aside from Sanyo’s extensive portfolio of cotton swabs for general uses such as aural hygiene, the company’s HUBY industrial swabs have become indispensable in a number of sectors. For example, they are an important cleaning implement used by computer and smartphone makers, as well as car manufacturers. In the medical sphere, meanwhile, the HUBY-COTIX medical assistance swab is used by healthcare professionals in areas including ENT (ears, nose and throat) and gynecology.

Sanyo’s medical products also feature the Dr. HUBY®︎micro, a tool for laparoscopic surgery that was developed in collaboration with Osaka University. “One day, Professor Nakajima – a famous doctor at Osaka University Hospital – showed me a surgical implement with a cotton tip that’s five millimeters in diameter,” Mr. Hibi recalls. “He mentioned that in some cases if you make a big hole, the patient will be left with a big scar and stitches are necessary. He wanted to use a three-millimeter tip instead. At that size, you can just use a bandage right after surgery. By leveraging technologies we fostered in the invention of the industrial cotton swab, what we came up with was the Dr. HUBY®︎micro. The cotton itself is very small and is shaped like a dumpling, so it won’t be left in the abdominal cavity. There's no fluffiness, so even minute fibers won’t be left behind.”

Sanyo’s efforts in the development of medical products have also led it to create a swab whose scope of use has moved beyond the firm’s three main business areas. Initially introduced as a tool for COVID-19 testing, the HUBY-COTIX specimen collection swab has come to be applied to many other kinds of tests, Mr. Hibi notes: “For instance, it can be used by the police to check whether a person has been drinking alcohol.”

As Sanyo looks to expand not only its portfolio of cotton swabs but also its global reach, the company is targeting growth in Asia, Europe and the United States – albeit there are different priorities for different regions. In the general-use market, for example, the focus is on Asia. “At an exhibition in the U.S. in 2015,” Mr. Hibi remembers, “general consumers visiting our booth said, ‘Why do you do that much with just cotton swabs? You just clean your ears and throw them away, right? Why do you work so hard to make them perfect?’ In Asia, on the other hand, there are more people interested in having high-quality products of this kind. By the time of our 60th anniversary in 2027, I’d like to have achieved double-digit growth of our market share in Asian countries.”