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Mike Riina: How to Recognize Aseptic Technique in a Tattoo Shop

By Mike Riina
Aseptic technique… Sounds fancy… It’s not.

Let me first start by saying, I am in no way an OSHA instructor, nor am I qualified to teach anything about blood borne pathogens, or principles of infection control. That being said, I’ve had these classes every year for 10 years. The stuff taught in these classes is smart, easy to remember, and can save your life. I wonder why then, so many tattoo artists continue to do inappropriate things like let their clients wander the studio un-bandaged, bumping into shit, or preparing their set up without gloves…

Thank you TLC for putting such ridiculousness on television for people without knowledge of the subject to form opinions. Here are some very simple, basic things a client can look for in a tattoo artist’s aseptic technique…

When you enter the studio:

    • Does it look tidy?
    • Does it smell clean?
    • Is your artist trained in said blood borne pathogens and principles of infection control?
    • Is there a visible certification?

    • Is the studio properly licensed by local and state authorities?
    • Did you fill out paperwork/release from?
    • Did your artist wash his/her hands, and don gloves before he/she dealt with their set up?
    • Is all equipment properly covered: table top, mayo stand/work station, clip cord, foot switch, machines? Admittedly a machine bag is the last of barriers I started using. But a tattoo machine is a dirty instrument (most can’t be run through an autoclave) and one should try to protect their clients to the best of their ability. As well as themselves.

    • Were the needles and tubes removed directly from the sterile package, with gloves on? I once saw a tattooer on TV do their WHOLE setup without gloves on. Including opening the packages. Effing gross for your clients guy. Seriously.

    • Did your artist properly dispose of your needles? Into a sharps container?
    • When done did they use an approved cleaning/disinfecting agent to wipe their equipment and tattooing surface?

  • If they are using reusable equipment (steel tubes), do they have an autoclave? Does it work properly and can they explain its use to you? (Our studio uses all disposable equipment, just to remove the hassle and dirtiness of cleaning tubes.)

Then there are some things so basic, they’re ridiculous… I worked next to a guy once who answered his phone with dirty gloves on. If your artist is answering his/her phone while gloved, or picking up something dropped on the floor to use, you need a new artist. Period. Regardless of talent/skill level, every tattooer should be striving to do the cleanest procedure they can… Hepatitis, HIV, TB, MRSA and other, more general, staff infections are no joke. That shit can kill you. For realsies

(Mike can be found at Eclectic Art Tattoo in Lansing, MI.)

Related TAM Blog Post:

Guen Douglas: How to Properly Examine a Tattoo Portfolio

13 responses

  1. Very well put, thanks for sharing this. Going to link to my studio FB page. Excellent advice!

    September 7, 2011 at 7:59 PM

  2. These are good practices that we as professionals should be employing and I like to think most of us do so. The one thing I would add is this. In the shop I work at we make it a habit to inform our customers of each of these steps we take, and why we take them as well as their importance in getting a safe Tattoo. I believe that a educated customer is a better customer and of course if this helps point out people in our industry that are not following these standards and the educated customers walk away then all the better. Chances are they will be walking back to your shop

    September 7, 2011 at 9:37 PM

  3. Lisah

    Loved the entry and I will think about this next time I’m in the tattooshop…

    September 8, 2011 at 2:37 AM

  4. thanks guys…. very good lesson.

    September 8, 2011 at 3:08 AM

  5. LibrarianMarien

    I would like to add: If their bathroom isn’t spotless, and I mean obsessively-compulsive clean, find a new artist.
    If a shop can’t be bothered to maintain such a small (but important) thing absolutely sanitized, where else are they cutting corners?

    September 9, 2011 at 7:06 AM

  6. Ta2Artist4vrlol

    Over 90% of tattoo related infections and disease transmission are due to clients being dirty fuckers. Almost always AFTER they leave the tattoo shop.

    It is important to take all the necessary precautions. However, MRSA and other diseases/bacteria commonly live and pass by nose and mouth. Do we have our clients and all tattooers wear face protection too? Do we not shake hands with our clients? I’ve seen tattooers geared up with plastic aprons and sleeves and bag everything they can and STILL break down incorrectly (touching things with dirty gloves) contaminating their machines, ink bottles, spray bottles etc. Those same super cautious assholes, that are geared up looking like they’re hunting ET while tattooing, are the ones raw dogging convention whores and not washing their hands when they pee.

    A client that comes into a shop or gets tattooed at a convention has no business in the clean room checking your packages to make sure the color changed in the autoclave. It is the artists responsibility to be clean, safe and professional. It’s the clients own fault when they go to a house tattooer or walk into a sketchy ass skid row shop and get tattooed by joe nobody because it was cheaper than the snobby shop up the street. It is not the clients job to ask for my cpr card. When you go to a doctor, barber, dentist, etc. you trust that they are clean, safe and professional because that’s their job. Nothing is worse than some know it all client telling you how to do your job. It starts with them asking questions about your autoclave to them asking what inks you use because they read on some tattoo blog that some artist said that specific brands react poorly with the skin… And that 45 bug pin mags are better than regular ones and that green soap isn’t vegan and i heard there’s glow in the dark ink and can you do this tattoo in white and can you do it facing me because it’s for me?

    Protect it from those who don’t respect it.

    One rag one bucket!

    September 10, 2011 at 12:46 PM

  7. mike

    Agreed on the bathroom, informing your clients, and high maintenance know it all clients sucking. And YES absolutely most infections happen AFTER the client leaves. Its still important to take necessary precautions. Oh. And fuck doing your tattoo upside down so you can see it because its for you. But ya, I think the client has every right to ask questions on cleanliness. Period.
    Protect it from those who don’t respect it.

    September 11, 2011 at 11:17 AM

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  10. Good job, I’m a tattoo artist and BBP instructor, and you nailed it!

    November 19, 2013 at 4:08 PM

  11. I am a registered nurse contemplating my first tattoo. I have been looking around at shops and paying attention to the cleanliness and general feel of a shop, but I have a question no one seems to be able to answer. Why don’t tattooists wear a mask and eye protection? I know they wear gloves, but isn’t it possible to get aerosolized blood/body fluid from being so close to the work? I would love a serious answer to this. thanks

    November 19, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    • It is mostly an artist preference, some artists do wear such PPE. While it is possible to transmit Bloodbourne pathogens in such a manner, it is highly unlikely. the CDC has no cases on record.

      November 20, 2013 at 10:44 AM

  12. Thank you for the post. I have bookmarked this for permanent file and will use it as a checklist when I go to get my next tattoo.

    December 8, 2013 at 10:01 AM

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