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Sterilization Methods:

Tattooing and Piercing

In general, all tattooing needles, piercing needles or jewelry that enters an already aseptic part of the body (such as the bloodstream, or penetrating the skin) must be sterilized to a high sterility assurance level, or SAL. Examples of such instruments in the mainstream medical field include scalpels, hypodermic needles and artificial pacemakers. Anything that applies to the medial and/or dental fields, while they may not be regulated in your state in regards to body modification, should be regulated in your working environment. Preparation of tattoo equipment and piercing supplies require not only a high sterility assurance level, but also well-designed containers to prevent entry of adventitious agents after initial product sterilization. Understand that sterilization is the ultimate process, killing all life. Now consider sanitization and disinfection, which kill partially and selectively, depending on the processes used. Both reduce the number of targeted [pathogenic] organisms to what are considered "acceptable" levels - levels that a reasonably healthy, intact, body can deal with. An example of this class of process is Pasteurization.

An autoclave is generally considered to be the only form of sterilization appropriate for a body modification studio, although some low-volume home studios may use chemical sterilization. It should be noted that cleaning is the most important part of sterilization - unclean tools may not sterilize properly. Cleaning can be achieved by first putting your tools in a ultrasonic with proper cleaning tablets or Alconox and scrubbing them at least once during the ultra sonic cycle. Then with gloved hands remove your equipment and pat dry it. These tools are still contaminated with microbial bacteria! So make sure you’re setting them on your “dirty” stainless tray and not on any surfaces that cannot be sterilized. After your tools have been properly bagged,an autoclave sterilizes through a combination of pressure and heat. While it might be difficult to justify the cost if you're just tattooing yourself or your fluids-exchanged partner from time-to-time, there is no excuse for not using an autoclave for your non disposable multiuse items and equipment if you're tattooing friends. No special paperwork is required to buy them—consider them essential. That said, as with all things, you have to use them properly. They must reach and sustain the required heat and pressure. They must be packed properly. They must have water in them. They must be spore tested from time to time, about once every 10 hours of cycle time, to ensure they are functioning properly. Any studio which does not employ proper sterile techniques should be always be avoided.

Chemical Sterilization (Chemiclaves)
Chemical sterilization using gluteraldehyde based chemical agents is an effective way to sterilize in a studio environment, but care must be taken to follow the instructions precisely. A common mistake people make is not leaving the tools in the chemical bath long enough because they contaminate the bath by adding additional tools part way through the cycle. If given a choice between a Chemiclave and an Autoclave, choose the Autoclave. The chemical steam that often pours out of a Chemiclave when retrieving your tools is poisonous and unless great care is taken and extra ventilation is installed in your clean room, it’s just not worth the long term health risks.

Boiling water is generally unable to fully sterilize jewelry, needles, or other body modification equipment. Boiling water is 100 degrees Celsius. Although this will theoretically kill most organisms other than endospores and some viruses in half an hour, because endospores are not killed and the consistency is poor, no health boards consider boiling as a viable form of sterilization. The CDC (center for disease control) has permitted boiling of needles and medical tools for an hour in extreme cases in areas where autoclaves and other more functional methods are not available. They emphasize the additional difficulty of controlling contamination from the containers for the boiled items, as well as the tools used to transfer them (since you can't boil something inside an autoclave bag ). After the item is boiled it is then transferred to a sterile field to dry, and then placed in a sterile container if possible. It should also be pointed out that while in theory boiling mostly works, in real-world tests at dental clinics still using boiling as their method of sterilization, staphylococcus bacteria were found on tools that had been boiled - and this is one of the most common bacteria linked to infections in new tattoos and body piercings. It must be emphasized that boiling as a sterilization procedure is not recommended and is utterly unacceptable in a professional context. For self-piercing or tattooing: This might be an acceptable way to clean equipment and jewelry that have been used on either no one or only on you, but this is definitely not an acceptable way to clean tools that have come in contact with anyone else. You can take this a notch up by using a pressure cooker (since one could argue that a steam autoclave is essentially just a fancy pressure cooker). However, realize that because a pressure cooker doesn't have the gauges and monitoring ability that an autoclave does, you'll never really know how effective your sterilization cycle was. It’s just not worth the risks.

While bleach is far a more powerful anti-microbial agent than alcohol, bleach kits often don't kill Hepatitis, and sometimes don't even kill the AIDS virus. Avoid it as a sterilization practice. Rubbing Alcohol Rubbing alcohol will disinfect and to some extent sterilize. However, most of the microbes we worry about (things like Hepatitis) aren't going to be killed using rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol might be a marginally acceptable way to clean your own supplies in lieu of a ultra sonic, but if these supplies have been handled by or used on anyone else, alcohol isn't going to cut it. That means that if you use a steel tube or grip when tattooing a client, alcohol alone isn't going to get rid of his or her germs afterwards. So again, don’t solely rely on it.

Don’t even think about it. We’re not cavemen. Using a flame to sterilize needles or any other body modification implement is generally considered unacceptable. There is little real world data available on the effectiveness of direct flame in killing microbial life, so don’t do it. So now you’re armed with all this information, with all the sterilization possibilities, and the threats of bacteria. The fear of blood borne pathogens, cross contamination, dirty needles, HIV and AIDS, but you can’t afford an Autoclave…AHHHHH!

Relax. We’ve got you covered, literally. [click through to machine covers and disposable needle tube combos below:]

Machine Covers
Clipcord Covers
HB Germicidal Sani Clothes
Protective Barrier Film
Sanitary Procedure Cloth
Ear Loop Face Mask
Disposable Needle Tube Combos