Tattoo Sterilization for Beginners

Tattoo Sterilization for Beginners

Not sure how to sterilize your tattoo equipment? Don’t have an autoclave? Beginner looking to begin tattooing and don’t want to spread disease? Here are some things realize before you begin tattooing.

Tattoo Sterilization is an important process.  In fact, it is THE most important thing to consider when giving a tattoo.  A bad tattoo can be covered up or fixed later, but a case of Hepatitis or HIV can be a death sentence. 

There are some things you want to know before you begin tattooing, especially before you begin tattooing other people.

While you are setting up your tattoo station, machine, needle, inks, etc… be VERY aware of cross contamination.  Make sure your area is clean, sterilized.  Do not tattoo in a carpeted or dusty area.  Wash your hands thoroughly before you begin.  Wash, shave, and sterilize the area to be tattooed well.  Change your gloves everytime you touch something other than your client and your tattoo machine.  If anything touches a client, then it cannot touch another client until it has been sterilized.

You need to wear gloves and safety glasses while handling any equipment that has someone else’s blood on it.  If you choose to wash your own equipment, treat every used grip/tube/tip like it is coated with Super-HIV.  Do not wash your equipment if you have any cuts or breaks in the skin that water could enter.  Play it safe.

You need to thoroughly scrub your equipment with the proper tip/tube cleaning brushes and lots of soap.   This will remove MOST of the ink and grime, but there is still a lot left that you can’t see.  To really clean your tips/tubes/grips you need to immerse them in an ultrasonic cleaner.

Heres the deal, boiling water doesn’t kill everything.  So don’t think that just because you boiled your tips, tubes, and grips that they are safe to use.  Some germs can survive a boiling procedure, others are re-introduced to your tattoo equipment when you remove it from the pot.  Also there are germs in the air that can and will land on your equipment while it dries or after you store it.  Also, boiling water can coagulate proteins and ink residue on the equipment, protecting germs from any chemical sterilizers you might later apply.

Alcohol and chemical “sterilizers” are hit or miss.  Some germs and bacterial spores can live through an alcohol bath.  Alcohol can also coagulate proteins and provide protective shells for some germs.  Don’t think that just because you soak your kit in alcohol that it is sterile.  Also, unless you have an ultrasonic cleaner, there might be germs hiding under layers of invisible grime that you missed during the cleaning.  And these germs are protected from your chemical sterilizer.  However, there are compounds such as Glutaraldehyde that can sterilize your kit properly — just know that they are expensive, take hours to work, need to be handled properly, and have a short shelf-life.

They only really safe route to go with re-useable tattoo tips/tubes/grips is an autoclave.   The autoclave uses steam at pressure to penetrate and kill germs, then seals the equipment in a bag to prevent any germ contamination while you store the tips.  The downside is that autoclaves are expensive, require maintenance and need to be used properly to ensure that germs are killed.  They are really only an option for the professional tattooist, not a beginner.

So how do you learn to tattoo without spreading disease?

You use pre-sterilized disposable tubes each time you tattoo.  They are inexpensive and guaranteed to be sterile.  You still MUST be aware of cross contamination if you use disposable tips.

One final thing you may want to consider for yourself is a full regimen of vaccinations for communicable diseases as well as the Hep A/B vaccines.

Liked it
ladybaby, posted this comment on Jul 8th, 2009

Very important information. we just assume that the equipment is safe when we get a tattoo.

nancy, posted this comment on Aug 3rd, 2009

very helpful information, thanx!

James, posted this comment on Sep 2nd, 2009

HI is there any way of ultrasonic cleaning then using a pressure cooker for sterilization process?

danny, posted this comment on Nov 15th, 2009

how do i sterilize the actaul machine itself or will a bag over it just work please answer me on thank you

3ERN, posted this comment on Jan 29th, 2010

Finally a relief from all the ego bashing at all the other sites. This was informative and helped me decide on what to go for beginning this endeavor. Interesting that when I took my Blood Borne Pathogens online course they said diluted alcohol was good for sterilizing surfaces. I think my route will be;
-Disposable grip/tip combos
-Barrier bags for my machines
-Pig Skins or ears (because the rubber ’skins’ arent a good Guinea Pig. -pun intended )
I think this will do until I can afford a small autoclave or find someone who works in a lab? Or just might stay in the disposable everything category when I finally feel safe and comfortable about someone’s body.
We ‘beginners’ can employ the safe means that ARE possible without a shop OWNING your talents and using and abusing through so-called apprenticeships!

paul, posted this comment on Jan 30th, 2010

it\\\\\\\”s great to finally have a site where us beginners can come to to get some advice on perfecting the art that we all work so hard at…

Paul, posted this comment on Feb 25th, 2010

I really don’t understand why “most” of the tattoo artists out there bash on any newcomers to the art. Unless its the mighty dollar again.

Its very nice to find a site that trioes to help new artists instead of discouraging them.

Thank you.

irene, posted this comment on Sep 19th, 2010

Hi, Thankz alot, it was really awsome to get some
im new at tattooing, but iv done so much art like,
Painting, sketching, screen printing, graff and clothing..
now starting on tattooing and airbrushing.. :)

thankz again!!..


Btriex, posted this comment on Jan 10th, 2011

I’d just go 100% disposable all the time. As safe as you are going to get, plus clients feel safer and better about seeing you rip open a sealed sterilized one-use needle/tip. Plus all the time/effort/equipment saved trying to properly clean, sterilize, store… and even then there is still a ???? if it’s actually 100% sterile. There’s a reason why sterilization techs at hospitals get paid.

Tubes are at most a couple bucks each… big deal.

Also invest in a sharps container for your used needles. Don’t throw your used needles in the trash where some unfortunate person can get stabbed with biological hazardous waste. When container is full, call the local pick-up and for a minor fee they will properly dispose of it.

I should have added that to the article, bah.

Russ, posted this comment on Jan 9th, 2012

well said.. customer safery is serious. Guys, give up on the additions or modifications to your food cookers. Do it right or not at all. Russ

Rich, posted this comment on Feb 7th, 2013

well put on everything. being a tattoo artist for just passing 5 years now, dispossible everything is the way to go! its cheap and most effective for safety for everyone. i still see the look of relief from people everytime i pull a packaged tube and needle out to start their tattoo. keep slingin ink safely and it can go for as long as you want without wondering if someone is in danger from you just doing something you love to do.

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