The regular employment of pipe cleaners is important to my smoking process, as I'm sure it is to yours. We depend on these simple devices to keep our pipes clear of moisture and avoid gurgle, which is dissonant to the ear, but far worse when reaching the tongue. There's no coming back from that flavor, not immediately, anyway.
A tiny droplet of post-combustion tobacco moisture (I'll call it PCTM for now, though the simple term "schmutz" may be more accurate and supportable) is enough to send my taste buds into full lockdown. In defense of potential catastrophic environmental contamination, my taste perception shuts off immediately and I can't enjoy tobacco again for hours because I'm reeling from the inhospitable experience.
That's not only distasteful, but it makes me mad. I hate being deprived of my tobacco for any duration. I made the mistake of trying Samuel Gawith's 1792 Flake for the first time on an empty morning stomach at a pipe show once; it was excessively strong for my expectations, and I couldn't smoke for the rest of the day. I was so angry that I've since then boycotted the US Postal Service, which was created in 1792. Some call it petty, but I call it courageous repudiation, because I invested decades on a relatively pointless education that did little but expand my vocabulary.
The character of PCTM is so abominable that I'm surprised it has not yet been weaponized by the military/industrial complex for $20 worth of national defense at a cost of $200 billion. Even government supervision couldn't make PCTM worse, though, so there's little political motivation in pursuing a drone-delivered, tobacco-schmutz flavored assault aerosol.
Anyway, I use a lot of pipe cleaners, but I keep my tobacco pretty dry and more often use them for draft maintenance than for moisture control. I'm an artless tamper. I try to be conscientious, but sometimes I tamp with too much enthusiasm and compact the tobacco at the heel, especially after it's become moist from smoking toward the last quarter, and a pipe cleaner opens the space in the heel at the smoke hole, moving aside any tobacco flakes that have fallen across the opening and reopening the draw.
I tend to use larger particles of tobacco at the beginning of bowl filling to avoid that effect as much as I can, then use the smaller particles at the top of the bowl for easier lighting, available because I rub out flakes to a fairly fine consistency and end up with some variety of dimension. It's an infrequent problem for ribbon-cut enthusiasts. Still, there's no perfect way to keep the tobacco itself from interfering with the draw, and pipe cleaners help maintain consistent airflow.
I often insert a pipe cleaner without feeling the need for one, just to make sure everything is okay without constant monitoring and mental supervision. We're programmed for mental shortcuts and using pipe cleaners is one of mine. It keeps my pipes going without requiring that most distasteful of human endeavors, conscious effort.
But moisture can be a stealthy adversary, sometimes utilizing guerilla warfare tactics to blindside me. I can get moisture at the lip button even without a warning gurgle, because pipe moisture is devious. It can adhere to the sides of a smoke channel and creep up the stem without signaling its approach, advancing surreptitiously to emerge with triumph and aggression at the lip button.
Pipe cleaners remove that possibility when used regularly, and help maintain open airflow. I appreciate their existence. Frankly, I'm astonished that pipesmoking enjoyed any popularity before the advent of these simple instruments.