Tattoos and piercings are wounds, and fresh wounds are entryways through which bacteria and viruses can invade your body. Protect yourself by thoroughly checking out the tattoo and piercing shop you’re considering before getting a new mod. Don’t settle for anything less than a super-sanitary shop, or you could go home with a bonus gift that you really don’t want.
How do you know if the shop where you’re considering getting a new tattoo or piercing is sanitary enough? Rate it against this checklist. If the shop gets a check for each item we’ve listed, it should be up to snuff—a place where you can comfortably and confidently get modified without fear of taking home bacteria or viruses in addition to your new body mod.
What to Look for When Touring the Shop
When you walk in the front door of the tattoo and piercing shop where you’re considering getting a new mod, these are the two things you should check for first:
Business License(s) – The shop should have their business license(s) prominently displayed near the front door of the establishment.
General Cleanliness – Is the waiting area tidy? If there’s trash or a noticeable accumulation of dirt and debris on the floor and/or counter tops, think twice about staying.
Next, ask to speak to the piercing or tattoo artist with whom you want to work. See if s/he will take you on a quick tour of the facility. As you walk around, ask what types of cleaners are used in the shop. Your artist should mention things like Madacide and Wavicide. Madacide is a quick-drying antibacterial cleaner that many shops use to wipe down counter tops, chairs, tattoo and piercing tables, and other surfaces. Wavicide is a germicidal disinfecting cleaner used to pre-clean tools before they’re autoclaved. Even if the shop doesn’t use these exact brands of cleaners, they should use similar products to clean the shop and their tools.
Scoping Out Your Artist's Workspace
When you enter the piercer or tattoo artist’s workspace, there are several things you should look for, including:
Certificates & Licenses – Your tattoo or piercing artist should have all of his or her certificates and licenses (where required) prominently displayed. At minimum, look for a bloodborne pathogens certificate and a first aid certificate. S/he may also have professional training certificates up, and if your state requires that tattoo and/or piercing artists be legally licensed, you should see that information posted, too.
Red Sharps Containers – There should be a red Sharps container on a wall or on the counter top within the piercing room. Sharps containers are the appropriate receptacle for used needles, scalpel blades and other sharp, one-time-use body modification tools. Once full, these containers are mailed away to a medical waste disposal center. If you don’t see a red container in the room, ask the piercer where they keep their Sharps container(s) and ask to see them.
Autoclave – Some shops use chemical baths or dry heat sterilizers to clean tattoo and piercing tools and body jewelry, but autoclaves are a superior sterilization tool. An autoclave uses pressurized steam to cook off any microorganisms clinging to tools and jewelry, usually within as little as 15 minutes. Piercers often use cassette-style autoclaves to clean piercing tools and body jewelry in front of their clients while they wait, so there may be an autoclave in the piercing room. A tattoo artist may or may not use an autoclave, depending on whether or not s/he uses metal grips and other tools intended for repeated use. Some tattooists strictly use disposables, in which case the presence of an autoclave isn’t as significant. It’s still worth asking if the shop has an autoclave, though, or if they use an alternative sterilization method when it’s needed. If they have an autoclave, ask to see it. You might also consider asking when they last ran a spore test on it.
Disposables – Any disposable medical supplies your tattoo or piercing artist uses should be contained until the time of use. You may see a box of gloves mounted on the wall from which your artist would pull a clean pair at each stage of the body modification process, should you decide to get your next body mod there. If you do get modified there, your artist should open all sterile disposables in front of you immediately before use. This includes things like needles and disposable tattoo grips. If your piercer autoclaved tools earlier instead of in front of you, they should have been autoclaved in sterilization pouches and kept sealed until needed. Additionally, the tattoo or piercing table or bed you’ll be on during the modification should either be covered with a fresh sheet of exam table paper or wiped down with Madacide right before you hop on it.
There’s one more area you might ask to see before you decide if this is the tattoo and piercing shop for you: the clean room. Most shops designate a closed-off area within the shop as their clean room, and they keep it sterilized from floor to ceiling at all times. People entering the room will don gloves and masks to preserve the sterile environment as much as possible. This is where your artist would do major cleaning, like scrubbing down tools with bristled brushes and germicidal disinfectant before running them through an ultrasonic cleaner and then an autoclave.
Making Your Decision
As you tour the shop, make sure that everything is tidy, that supplies are stowed in an orderly way, that all appropriate certificates are on display, that the shop is using sterile disposables and an autoclave, and that they have a clean room. If it’s a small shop and they don’t have a clean room, that shouldn’t necessarily be a deal-breaker for you; if you know they have talented artists there and everything else seems to be orderly, clean and, when called for, sterile, this could be the tattoo and piercing shop for you. As long as your inspection goes well, you’re happy with what you see in the talents’ portfolios, and the pricing is in line with your budget, then you’ve found yourself a great tattoo and piercing shop!