Tattooing Safely: A Guide for Tattoo Artists | Painful Pleasures Community

Tattooing Safely: A Guide for Tattoo Artists

Tattooing safely is critical for artists and clients alike. Check out our complete guide to safey, hygienic tattooing.
by Danny Tress Last Updated: November 25, 2022

Tattooing safely is about protecting your clients’ health by maintaining a sterile work environment. However, it’s also about looking out for yourself, both legally and in regard to your own health. In this guide to tattooing safely, we’ve outlined some of the most critical things you need to pay attention to and utilize to protect yourself as much as your clients.

(And if you’re a client and want to ensure you’re getting the safest tattoo possible, we’ve got tips for finding and vetting tattoo shops and artists who practice safely.)


Tattoos are perfectly safe for most people when you follow best hygiene and safety practices. In relatively rare cases, tattoos have caused complications like infections, scarring, and transmission of bloodborne illnesses. But artists who are meticulous about tattoo safety can avoid these complications.


By nature, tattoos are an invasive procedure and come with some risks. Clients and artists alike should be well-versed in those risks so they know how to avoid them.  


Skin infection is one of the more common complications resulting from a tattoo. Skin infections usually occur when…

  1.  The artist isn’t following best practices for sterility and hygiene (like mixing ink with non-sterile water or not cleaning their hands or client’s skin properly).
  2.  The client isn’t keeping up with a good aftercare routine. 

Bloodborne Illnesses

Used needles always carry the risk of transmitting bloodborne diseases like HIV, hepatitis B or C. Using sterile needles, avoiding accidental needle sticks, and properly disposing of used needles in a sharps container all but eliminates this risk. In fact, there are no confirmed cases of HIV being transferred through tattooing in the U.S


Some clients are prone to keloid scarring or other skin complications like granulomas. Sometimes, it’s impossible to avoid these complications altogether, but most clients know if they are prone to these types of scars. Consequently, they can make an informed decision to pursue tattooing and risk scarring or not. For most people, however, the risk of scarring is minimal if they chose a professional, licensed tattooer.

Allergic Reactions

Many clients wonder if tattoo ink is safe. In most cases, the answer is yes, but allergic reactions to ink are possible. By using only top-quality inks you can minimize this risk. Many of the best brands try to minimize or avoid materials that could pose risk of a reaction.

MRI Interference

In rare cases, the ink in tattoos can interfere with MRI machines, making it difficult for professionals to interpret the results.


Tattoo artist going over a contract with a client

If you’re a client searching for the perfect shop and artist, safety should be one of your top priorities. You can start with internet reviews of different shops, looking for one that has a reputation for cleanliness and professionalism. From there, you can check out the shop in person by scheduling a consultation. Look around and verify that things look clean and organized. 

Shops that don’t appear clean and well-managed may not be following proper safety guidelines either. Try to notice whether all artists are wearing gloves when tattooing, if their work stations look clutter-free, and if the shop keeps antiseptic and green soap in stock. If the shop is checking all of those boxes and is backed up by great reviews, odds are the shop is practicing safely. Check out all our tips on choosing the right tattoo shop and choosing your artist before you make your final decision.


As a tattoo artist, the #1 way to protect yourself and your clients is to maintain a sterile work environment. You should treat every tattoo you do the same way a doctor would treat a medical procedure. That means stocking up on certain supplies to keep your workspace clean, tools sterilized, and you and your clients safe. Here’s a list of items that you should always have on hand to use in between and during every tattoo you do:


Wear them when cleaning/prepping to do a tattoo, and then throw them away, wash your hands with antibacterial soap, and put on a fresh pair before you begin working. Be sure to change your gloves any time you have to take a break or touch something outside of your sterile field.

Cleaners & Disinfectants 

You should clean reusable metal grips and other tools with Cavicide, which is a germicide disinfectant soaking solution. Wipe down your tattoo chair and the rest of your work area with Madacide fast-drying disinfectant (available in spray and wipe form). Use AutoClean Autoclave Cleaner & Enhancer to sterilize your autoclave. Bottom line: there are a lot of things you need to keep clean in your shop, and there’s an ideal cleaner for each of them. Check out our Infectious Control: Cleaners & Disinfectants section to find the best of the best supplies for keeping your shop as clean as possible.


Tattooing safely means properly sterilizing your tools. So, invest in a good autoclave that you can use to properly sterilize your tools in between clients. You’ll also need sterilization pouches to use with your autoclave. Make sure you understand all of the sterilization methods as well.

Sharps Containers 

Prevent accidental needle sticks and properly dispose of needles in Sharps containers. There are a variety of Sharps recovery solutions available, so you can choose the right size container for when you’re traveling vs. working in your shop. Read our Sharps Disposable Recovery System article for more information on how the Sharps program works.

Ultrasonic Cleaner 

This is a good tool to have on hand as a supplement to your autoclave. Some tools should be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner with a cleaning solution, others with water. Follow the instructions provided with the ultrasonic cleaner you choose.

Topical Skin Cleaners 

It’s important to thoroughly cleanse each client’s skin before you start tattooing them. Green Soap is one of the most popular pre-tattooing cleansers, but it isn’t your only option. You should avoid straight rubbing alcohol, though, because while it can assist ink in entering the skin more easily, it can also cause ink to be carried further into a person’s system than desired.

Antiseptics & Ointments 

Make sure you always have a good supply of things like antiseptic soap on hand, as well as A&D Ointment and/or Bacitracin and other first aid supplies to use as needed — things like Providone Iodine Prep, ammonia inhalant pouches in case a client faints, and antiseptic wipes.


Disposable items make it much easier to maintain a sterile work environment. So many of the supplies you’ll need for tattooing are available in convenient disposable form like clip cord covers, tattoo sleeves, and medical cling film wrap. You’ll also want to keep a stock of gauze, skin markers, face masks, exam table paper to line tattoo chairs (or just spray them down with Madacide in between clients), and so on.

Disposable tattoo tubes are another convenient way to keep things sterile and safe. While you can purchase reusable, autoclavable tattoo grips, steel tubes and tips, it’s a lot easier to find a disposable tattoo tube. They have all the components you need in one convenient unit you can use and then throw away. 

Of course, new, sterile needles are essential for clients’ safety. We sell sterile tattoo needles and tattoo needle bars by the case in every style and configuration combination. 


Tattoo artist chair with package in the foreground

The word “safety” should have multiple meanings for you as a tattoo artist. You have to concern yourself with your clients’ safety, of course — you have to maintain a sterile work environment, wear gloves when prepping and tattooing, and so much more. But what about protecting yourself? Tattooing safely also means taking precautions to keep yourself out of trouble, both legally and health-wise. Here are some necessary precautions:

  • Obtaining and maintaining a license to tattoo, if it’s required in your state
  • Keeping your shop up to code and clearly displaying your business licenses
  • Following OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogen Standard, not just for your clients, but also to protect yourself and your shop employees. (If you need help navigating OSHA’s requirements or finding proper educational materials, the US Department of Labor provides a plethora of information on bloodborne pathogen training and OSHA resources.)
  • Turning away clients who are intoxicated. (Alcohol is a blood thinner, so there can be excessive bleeding if you tattoo someone who’s been drinking. Additionally, tattooing an obviously intoxicated person could pose a legal issue for you when they sober up and decide you did something terrible to them when they weren’t in their right mind.)
  • Verifying that clients are of legal age. To learn about each state’s stance on tattooing and its requirements pertaining to tattooing minors, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ article, Tattooing and Body Piercing for Minors
  • Having clients sign tattoo release waivers before working on them
  • Minimizing hazards to your own health with actions like disposing needles properly in Sharps containers
  • Tattoo Aftercare (You can share this link with your clients or use the information to create your own tattoo aftercare handouts to give clients as they leave.)

Continue tattooing safely 

In general, tattooing safely is a matter of closely following hygiene and sanitation practices. Do this for every single tattoo, and you’ll build a reputation for being a clean, safe, and professional artist that clients can trust. At PainfulPleasures, we make it easy and affordable to stay stocked up on the supplies that keep you and your clients safe. Visit our Tattoo Medical Supplies section to make sure you have everything you need.

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