Everyone at Drastic Changes Tattoo believes that the safety of our customers, clients, friends, and family getting worked on at the shop and our fellow tattoo artists working at the shop is of the utmost importance. We take the sterilization of our equipment and the cleanliness and sterility of the environment we tattoo in very seriously. This starts with the cleaning of our tattoo equipment. The parts of our machines that come into contact with blood and ink are called tubes. The tubes are first immersed in a cold soak of a detergent, an enzymatic cleaner, and an instrument disinfectant. They are then rinsed and put into an ultrasonic cleaner to further break down any blood or ink left on them after the cold soak. An ultrasonic cleaner is a cleaning device that uses heat, ultrasound (usually from 20–400 kHz) and a cleaning solvent (specialized detergent dissolved in water) to clean the equipment. The tubes are then removed from the ultrasonic, rinsed again, and then manually scrubbed by hand. This part of the process uses different sized brushes to scrub the tubes with an appropriate abrasive cleaning compound, and running water. After all traces of ink and blood have been scrubbed from the tubes and the removal inspected, the tubes are rinsed again. The ultrasonic is then emptied, cleaned, and refilled with fresh water and detergent. The tubes then go back into the ultrasonic for a final cycle to remove any last traces of the abrasive cleaning compound not washed away. After a final rinse under running water the tubes are then packaged in self-sealing sterilization packets and it is time for the final step in equipment sterilization, which is placing them on racks that go into the autoclave.

     The autoclave we use is a Midmark Ritter M7 Speedclave , it uses heat and pressure to sterilize equipment.  This autoclave will reach an operating temperature of 260 to 270 degrees Fahrenheit with 20 pounds of pressure per square inch at the beginning of the sterilization cycle. In this hostile environment the equipment will sterilize for 30 minutes, killing all biological organisms; including all blood borne pathogens, bacteria, viruses, and fungi.  The autoclave is spore tested to ensure proper working of its mechanism. The autoclave is then vented and the equipment is allowed to dry in self-sealed sterilization packets. The sterilization packets have color-changing indicators on the packaging ensuring that they have reached the necessary temperature for hospital grade sterilization. After thoroughly drying, all equipment is stored in its own clean, sterile compartments like a cabinet or tool chest away from the area where set up for tattooing directly occurs, so that the equipment has no chance to be cross-contaminated. Cross-contamination is when something comes into contact with or is possibly exposed to bio hazardous materials.
     The processes I have just described are done by the tattoo artist when the customer is not there. Tubes do not get cleaned and sterilized when people are getting tattooed or are waiting to get tattooed. These things are done behind the scenes. But they are as important as the things that are done while people are looking, like not cross-contaminating your equipment or workspace.  It is the things that you do when no one is looking that mean as much as the things you do when you are working on a customer. These things define what kind of person you are and what kind of ethics you have.

     The needles we use are all single use, pre-packaged and sterilized. They are opened up before the customer, set up in our equipment, and then used once in your tattoo, then disposed of in a medical sharps container at the end of your tattoo. The ink is dispensed into ink caps (small plastic disposable ink cups) which are set up with all the other supplies to be used during your tattoo. Ink bottles are stored in cabinets or a tool chest away from the area that is directly used for tattooing, to ensure the ink is never cross-contaminated. Everything that comes into contact with your body during the tattoo process is disposable; it is used once and then thrown away. This also includes; razors, water cups, paper towels, tongue depressors, gloves, ointments, markers, tape, etc. Most everything we use is single use and disposable. After it is used, it goes into our bio hazardous trash bins, where it is collected and incinerated by our waste disposal company.

     Things that aren’t disposable like our equipment (tattoo machines) or furniture (dental chairs or massage tables) are either bagged, wrapped in plastic, covered with a lap cloth, and/or wiped down with germicidal sani-clothes and/or sprayed with a cold sterilizer disinfectant like Madacide, left to dry for 10 minutes and then wiped down. This ensures that nothing that comes into contact with one customer will come into contact with another unless it has been cleaned and sterilized first. We tattoo our long time clients, friends, family members, and sometimes each other with the same equipment and in the same place we tattoo everyone else. It’s in our best interests to keep everything as clean and sterile as possible since we are the ones who are there all day, day after day, not only for everyone else’s safety but also our own.

     Most of all we practice safe tattooing. We do not cross-contaminate our equipment or the shop by touching everything with dirty, bloody gloves. We do not answer the phone, open doors, get more equipment or supplies, handle art or reference, or touch anything except the equipment being used on that specific customer with bloody gloves on. If we need to do any one these things, we take our gloves off, wash our hands, do what we need to do, then glove back up and get back to the tattooing. This is one of the most important things a tattoo artist can do, to keep everyone, from the customer to himself/herself safe and it’s amazing how many people are too lazy or too cheap to do this. Also if we see a customer touching their fresh tattoo we make them go to the bathroom and wash their hands. So if we ask you to wash your hands, it’s nothing personal, we are just keeping the studio from being cross-contaminated.

     It’s not just the big things that matter but also the small ones that add up to maintaining a sterile working environment. We take every precaution we can to ensure everyone’s safety. If there is a product out there to make things safer, we use it. A lot of this stuff comes with experience and being properly trained. Not just at the beginning, but also throughout your career as a tattoo artist. Some of it is common sense, but like they say “common sense aint so common.” Hopefully this answers any questions you might have about the safety and sterility of tattooing, if not please feel free to ask your artist any and all questions you might have about any aspect of sterility during the tattooing process.