Maintaining a Sterile Work Environment | Painful Pleasures Community

Maintaining a Sterile Work Environment

Learn ways to keep your tattoo and piercing shop and tools clean, so that you can maintain a safe environment for your clients and staff alike. We discuss popular cleaners and what each can be used to clean, autoclaves, ultrasonic cleaners, resources for sterilizing clients' skin before modifying them, and other sterilization tools and techniques in this article, Maintaining a Sterile Work Environment.

by PainfulPleasures Last Updated: May 13, 2021

All-American AutoclaveThere are a variety of cleaners and tools you can use to keep your shop well-sterilized–so many that it’s sometimes tough to know which ones are really necessary. Unfortunately no one has yet developed a single cleaner to cover all the bases you have to cover when you own a shop, so it’s important to have at least a few different detergents, sterilization devices and cleaning tools on hand to make sure your shop is properly sterilized at all times. You also have to keep a variety of different skin cleansers and sanitizers on hand to ensure that your piercing artists and tattoo artists have their tools of choice available for prepping clients for their body modifications.


Products & Tools to Stock

In terms of cleaning products, you should always have the following (or comparable) items on hand for the reasons detailed next to each:

  • MadacideClean your tattoo chairs, piercing beds, counters, and other shop surfaces with this fast-drying disinfectant.
  • WavicideUse this to clean piercing tools and tattoo artists’ metal grips for 10 minutes before putting them in an ultrasonic cleaner.
  • Nylon, Steel or Brass-Bristled BrushesYou’ll want brushes on hand for times when you need to scrub tools before placing them in an ultrasonic cleaner and to scrub other items/surfaces in your shop, as needed. Keep a variety of soft-bristled and hard-bristled brushes on hand so you’re prepared to scrub any surface that may need it. (You wouldn’t want to use a hard-bristled brush on, say, a counter top, because you could scar it and create new havens for bacteria to grow in it.)
  • Ultrasonic CleanerAfter soaking in Wavicide, clean your tools with a detergent like Alconox in an ultrasonic cleaner for 10 minutes.
  • Sklar Instru-Guard LubeYou’ll need to apply lubricant to your tools with moving parts, like pliers, in between cleaning them in the ultrasonic cleaner and sterilizing them in an autoclave.Wavicide Germicidal Disinfectant for Cleaning Piercing Tools & Tattoo Tools
  • Sterilization Pouches or Nylon Sterilization TubingAfter lubricating your piercing tools and tattoo grips and letting them dry, encase them in sterilization pouches and heat seal the ends tightly before autoclaving them.
  • AutoclaveAutoclaves clean your piercing tools and tattoo instruments using steam at high temperatures. To keep tools sterile from the time they leave the autoclave to the time they’re used, keep them in their sterilization pouches until immediately before use on a client.
  • Skin Cleansers In addition to keeping your shop clean, you also have to ensure that your clients get the most sterile body mods possible by cleaning their skin before performing mods. Tattoo artists often prefer Green Soap while piercers sometimes prefer Microsan Soap.
  • Spore-Testing KitMake sure your autoclave continues to sterilize to the best of its abilities by checking your machine periodically with a spore-testing kit. Any high-moisture environment can become riddled with spores if not cleaned properly and regularly, which is why you also need to use autoclave cleaner on your machine frequently.


Cleaning Your Shop

After purchasing your cleaners and disinfectants of choice, stocking sterilization tools, and picking up any other cleaning necessities you may need, it’s time to get down to business and clean your shop. You can move from cleaning counters to sterilizing tools in any order you prefer, but here’s an outline of what to do that you can use as a checklist to ensure you cover all the major bases when cleaning your shop:

  1. Check your autoclave with a spore-testing kit periodically, and make sure it’s cleaned with autoclave cleaner at the end of each day.
  2. While wearing gloves, wipe down your counters, equipment, tattoo chairs, piercing beds, and other shop furniture that people touch frequently, as well as the outside of your shop equipment and machines, using either Madacide wipes or spray, or a similar disinfectant cleaning product. Use an Autoclave to Sterilize Tools in Between Every Use
  3. Prep piercing tools and tattoo grips using the full instructions in our Proper Tattoo & Piercing Tool Maintenance article. In short, soak them in Wavicide or a similar germicidal disinfectant soaking solution for 10 minutes, scrub them with brushes as needed, let them dry, clean them in an ultrasonic cleaner in the open position with a cleaner like Alconox or another ultrasonic cleaner detergent for 10 minutes, let them dry, lubricate your tools with moving parts, let them dry again, place them in sterilization pouches or nylon tubing (which you can learn to sterilize properly in our Sterilizing Nylon Tubing article), autoclave them, and then they’ll be ready to go for your next mod.
  4. Keep your shop clean throughout the work day by sweeping and wiping down counters and chairs as needed. Also, ensure that your artists dispose of used needles properly in Sharps containers. All disposables that have made contact with clients, like dental bibs, tape, gauze, etc., should be thrown away in a trash bag-lined trash can immediately after use, too. To make it easier for tattoo artists to clean up after each job, provide them with Petrify tea bags or squeeze bottles, so they can safely dispose of liquids. Petrify tea bags are also a good thing to put at the bottom of Sharps containers to soak up excess fluids.


Pre-Modification Skin Sterilization

There are multiple sterilization methods used for prepping clients for mods. Before you even begin sterilizing your clients’ skin, though, you have to mind your own. Wash your hands with an antibacterial soap and follow up with hand-sanitizing wipes or another hand sanitizer before donning gloves and beginning the skin prep process.Green Soap Wipes for Tattoo Skin Prep

Once gloved, tattoo artists will typically wash clients’ skin with Green Soap or a similar antiseptic skin cleanser, like Microsan Soap, before tattooing them. The latter is a good tool to use to wash a client’s skin before piercing them, too. Additionally, piercers should wipe clients’ skin with alcohol pads, and then prep the area to be pierced with Providone Iodine swabs for at least 30 seconds before piercing.

There are a variety of alternative skin prep tools available to you in our Topical Skin Prep & Skin Cleansers section. For instance, if you prefer to use Prevantics swabs rather than iodine as an antiseptic skin prep, you’ll find those amongst our skin preps and skin cleansers. For additional antiseptics, like antiseptic wipes, check out our Antiseptics & Ointments section.

Note of Caution for Tattoo Artists: Alcohol prep pads are effective for cleaning the skin before a modification, but alcohol is not the ideal thing to use immediately before you apply tattoo ink to a client’s skin. Alcohol facilitates ink flow into the skin, but it can carry the ink much further into the body than desired very quickly, too. Ink sediment is more likely to make its way to a person’s organs–where it can potentially build up to toxic levels if they’re tattooed frequently–when alcohol is used to prep the skin or as a thinning agent mixed with tattoo ink.


Affordable Sterilization Products & ToolsBuy Cases of Gloves in Bulk to Save on a Product You Use Every Day

At Painful Pleasures, we understand that running a tattoo and piercing shop and keeping it well-stocked can be an expensive endeavor, especially when you’re first getting started. We strive to make all necessary piercing tools and tattoo supplies as affordable as possible for independent artists and shop owners alike by offering tiered pricing across our 3 stores. Those placing orders of $100 or less can take advantage of wholesale prices available to the general public in our Retail Store. If you’re a tattoo artist, piercer, shop owner, or other industry professional spending $100-$499, shop in our Wholesale Store to take advantage of reduced pricing offered only to professionals. Those placing larger orders of $500 or more can shop in our Distributor Store to enjoy the best prices we offer industry professionals–prices often so close to cost that it’s tough to find a better deal anywhere, online or in stores.

Additionally, we offer many products in bulk (ex. gloves in cases); even those products that don’t come in cases can be purchased at a discount when you order larger quantities. Just look in the “Add to Cart” area on any product detail page to see if a price break is available for quantity purchase.

Finally, we’re constantly running special offers in our Sales & Deals section, where you’ll find everything from tools to body jewelry to apparel you can sell in your shop and more at reduced prices. Check there for shop supplies regularly, since we often put new products on sale each week.

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