How To Sterilize Tattoo Needles? (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Tattooing is quite a safe practice, as long as the tattooers are serious about keeping their place and equipment hygiene and sterile. While used needles are not recommended for reuse (it’s, in fact, a big no in tattoo shops), there’s no restriction to reuse them on yourself if you wish. 

However, there is a considerable risk of infections and contamination you should be aware of, and knowing how to sterilize tattoo needles properly is a must.

[alert-warning]If the equipment used to create your tattoo is contaminated with infected blood, you can contract various bloodborne diseases — including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), hepatitis B and hepatitis C[/alert-warning]

How To Sterilize Tattoo Needles Properly?

How To Sterilize Tattoo Needles With Autoclave?

What is an autoclave?

To properly clean and sterilize tattoo needles, you need an autoclave, also known as a steam sterilizer. Autoclave uses the combination of steam and high pressure to transfer the heat to the objects placed inside to kill germs and contaminants. It has a wide application from the surgical, cosmetic, dental, and tattooing industries.

Autoclave Is Widely Used For Disinfecting Equipment

Typically, tattoo artists do not reuse tattoo needles on different sessions or customers. However, in tattoo shops where metal tubes with a coil machine are used, there is still an absolute need for an autoclave to sterilize the tubes for reuse. 

This equipment can also be used to disinfect various removable parts of the tattoo machine (except the motor), so you’ll likely find one in any tattoo shop.

Step 1: Prewash the tube and needles

Put on your medical gloves. Gently scrub the needles and tube with soapy water before soaking them in hot soapy water for around 5 minutes. 

Step 2: Put the needles and tube in the autoclaving bag

Anything that goes into an autoclave should be in a pouch or bag intended for autoclaving. Place your prewashed tube and needles inside the bag.

There is usually an indicator strip that confirms the sterilization has been done by changing the color. Make sure you read the instructions first to know what color it is supposed to change. 

Step 3: Sterilize the equipment

Switch on your autoclave and set the medium water level, and place the bag inside. Most autoclaving cycles usually take from 1 to 2 hours to complete. However, not all autoclaves are created equal, so make sure you refer to the manual first to know the optimal sterilization time for your needles. 

3 Safe Alternatives To An Autoclave

Pre-sterilized disposables

As tattoo needles are not meant for reuse, pre-sterilized disposable needles are the go-to for most tattoo parlors. They are affordable, safe, and make sure there is no cross-contamination to customers.

Disposable Sterile Tattoo Needles

Chemical bath

If you don’t have an autoclave, you can sterilize your needles using a chemical bath. It is a more cost-effective option, and the germicides are also readily available to purchase everywhere. 

First, pour the disinfectant into a container and soak your piercing equipment in the solution. Then, wait for 12 to 24 hours to take the needles out and rinse them with running water.

Nevertheless, sterilizing with a chemical bath means a longer wait; it usually takes from 12 to 24 hours to complete, and in general, it is less effective than autoclaving. 

Due to these disadvantages of chemical baths, we do not highly recommend this method unless it’s an absolute need. You don’t want to risk infection by inefficient sterilizing.

Dry heat sterilizer

Dry heat sterilizer relies on a super high temperature to disinfect your needles. The main difference is this device uses heat alone for sterilization; thus, it takes more time and energy than an autoclave. 

To be specific, an autoclave typically operates at 270 degrees F in 30 minutes, whereas a dry heat sterilizer runs at 340 degrees F in 60 minutes to sterilize your tools.

If you already have a heat sterilizer, it’s great to use it as an alternative to an autoclave. Otherwise, we prefer autoclave to heat sterilizer considering the hidden operating cost in the long term. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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Reusing tattoo needles on different customers should not happen in a tattoo shop. Yet, if you’re self-tattooing, the choice is yours. Just make sure you know how to sterilize tattoo needles at home in the right way to stay out of any trouble later. 

We hope this article gives you essential know-how about the needle sterilizing process and some alternatives in case you don’t have an autoclave. It’s worth noting that disinfecting needles for reuse is quite costly, takes longer than just buying new ones or pre-sterilized disposables, and there is a real risk involved. So, choose wisely!

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