Without regular and diligent cleaning, your wonderful new meerschaum will become a soggy, ill-tasting mess, and will no longer provide you with the smoking pleasure you desire. To eliminate such problems, you need to embark on a regimen of regular cleaning and maintainance for your meerschaums.
One of the joys of owning and smoking a meerschaum pipe is watching it slowly change color, from a milky white of a virgin pipe to the rich, warm amber or dark golden-brown that comes with time and enjoyment. When you first get a meerschaum pipe, be careful that your hands are clean as you smoke it through the initial few bowls. Meerschaum pipes are often coated in beeswax which aids both in the coloring process as well as protecting the pipe itself. As the bowl heats during smoking (and be careful not to get it too hot - while much more resistant than briar to "burning out", it can still be damaged) the beeswax softens. If your hands are dirty, the beeswax will pick up that dirt. Though some suggest not touching the bowl of a meerschaum pipe at all while smoking it, holding it only by the stem, others consider this a little extreme. Just take care that your hands are clean and dry, and all should be fine.
A sample 'Coloring' regimen:
There are many different ways to go about coloring your meerschaum pipe, but one of the simplest is as follows:
Smoke your meerschaum several times a day for about two weeks. Unlike a briar pipe, meerschaums do not need long periods of rest between smokes, and can safely be smoked multiple times in a day. Do, however, allow the pipe to cool between bowls. After the first two weeks, your pipe should be noticeably heavier than when you began, owing to the amount of tars and oils now absorbed within the meerschaum. Now put your pipe aside for a period of about one month. During this rest, the beeswax will wick the tars and oils towards the surface of the meerschaum, bringing about the beginnings of a warm, smoky color with them. Repeat and enjoy!
The care and cleaning of your pipe begins with your very first smoke, and should continue forward from there. Before each smoke, run a pipe cleaner, either bristle or regular, through the stem to dislodge any leftover ash and dottle, and gently tap your pipe on a cork knocker or the palm of your hand to remove these obstructions from the bowl. Be especially careful when tapping a meerschaum pipe to hold it by the shank, never by the stem! It should also be noted that you should take care not to let the end of the pipe cleaner jab into the bottom of the bowl when clearing the shank and stem - this can gradually wear into the meerschaum. A gentle, controlled motion is best.
It is always good to care for your pipe as you smoke it as well. You can begin by paying careful attention when lighting it. Keep your flame source over the tobacco, so that it does not char the rim. Unlike a briar pipe, it is near impossible to remove this rim charring from a meerschaum, so it pays to be extra careful in this department. It is also during smoking that you will most notice if a more thorough cleaning is in order. If a smoke begins to taste sour, salty, or otherwise just plain bad, it is probably time for a good cleaning. See "Periodic Cleaning" below.
First, a warning: Always remove a stem from a meerschaum pipe by twisting it gently clockwise while supporting the shank with your fingers. At the end of each smoke, your pipe should be given a good cleaning. Dump out the ash and dottle, and run a bristle pipe cleaner around the inside of the bowl to remove any possible cake build-up. Unlike a briar pipe, understand, a meerschaum requires no cake, and in some instances a cake can in fact be detrimental to a meerschaum, either slowing the coloring process, or, with too much build-up, causing the pipe to crack. Clean out the stem by pushing a bristle pipe cleaner down through it once, then back out, and either turn the pipe cleaner around or use another, repeating this process until the pipe cleaners come out clean. Moisten a another pipe cleaner with saliva and rub the mouthpiece with it to remove any buildup there. Blow gently through the stem of the pipe to dislodge any loose, leftover ash, and wipe your pipe down with a soft, dry cloth. Place the pipe back on its rack or stand and allow it to cool.
You will want to, on occasion, give your pipes a more thorough cleaning. Most smokers do this fairly regularly, some going so far as to do so after all of their pipes have been smoked once, thus providing a regular fresh, clean rotation of pipes. You will have to experiment a bit with how often you do this cleaning to find what works best for you. To start this more thorough cleaning, carefully remove the stem of the pipe from the bowl and lay them both on a paper towel. Dip a regular pipe cleaner in alcohol and run it through the stem, starting from the tenon, towards the mouthpiece, pulling it all the way through. It will most likely come out with a bit of black or brown gunk on it. Follow this pipe cleaner with a second, dry one, and repeat until the moist pipe cleaner comes out the same color it was when it went in. Push one final dry pipe cleaner through to remove any remaining moisture, and set the stem aside. This extra care shown to the stem will both reduce the likelihood of a blockage forming, as well as ensure a cleaner, purer flavor from your smoke.