This article is from the Piercing FAQ, by Anne Greenblatt with numerous contributions by others.
Disinfectants and "cold-sterilization" solutions destroy many
microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, fungi) but do not destroy bacterial
spores. Disinfection does not replace autoclave sterilization.
Disinfectants should be used on hard surfaces (ie. trays, countertop,
chair) and reusable, non-autoclaveable tools, such as plastic
calipers, before and after each procedure. Product usage instructions
vary and some may not be suitable for all surfaces or
applications. Some disinfectants are toxic and require special
disposal, making them inappropriate for soaking jewelry prior to
Prior to sterilization, instruments contaminated with blood and other
debris should be cleaned in an ultrasonic cleaner. The ultrasonic
cleaner uses cavitation (implosion of microscopic air bubbles produced
by ultrasonic vibration) to remove debris.
The ultrasonic cleaner is usually filled with a disinfectant or
Jewelry should not be placed directly in the ultrasonic cleaner or
with tools or other jewelry because it will be scratched.
Sterilization is the process of killing all microorganisms including
bacteria, bacterial spores, fungi, and viruses. Improper sterilization
can result in the spread of infectious bacteria and bloodborne viruses
such as Hepatitis and HIV.
Boiling is not an appropriate method of sterilization.
The most complete and reliable method of sterilization is the steam
autoclave or chemical autoclave. The steam autoclave uses pressurized
steam; the chemical autoclave often uses Ethylene oxide. Steam
autoclaves are used by piercers more frequently than chemical
autoclaves because of the hazards associated with Ethylene oxide.
Pressure cookers may also be used for sterilization but with many
disadvantages. Pressure cookers are not as reliable as autoclaves in
maintaining temperature and pressure and do not display time,
temperature or pressure (PSI). Pressure cookers will not dry the
sterilized items; wet sterilization bags are susceptible to
If a pressure cooker is used, items should be processed for at least
30 minutes at 15-20 pounds pressure. Internal indicators which
indicate that heat and steam have penetrated the packaging and reached
the instruments should be used inside every sterilization bag.
While Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards
(December 6, 1991; 29 CFR 1910.1030) recognizes dry heat sterilizers,
they have several disadvantages. Sterilizing items in a dry heat
sterilizer is extremely time and energy consuming. Some jewelry and
piercing equipment cannot tolerate the high temperature required for
Instruments to be sterilized are placed in self-sealing sterilization
bags or sterilization tubing sealed with indicator tape. The tape and
the outside of the bag or tubing are marked with external indicators
which change color when exposed to heat and steam. Internal indicators
which indicate that heat and steam have penetrated the packaging and
reached the instruments can be used as an added precaution.
Sterilization bags should be allowed to dry thoroughly before being
removed from the autoclave. Wet bags are susceptible to contamination.
Sterilizer Monitoring and Testing
Sterilizers should be spore tested at least monthly. Spore testing
kits contain two bacteria spore samples, one of which is cycled in the
autoclave and the other used as a control. Spore testing systems are
available for in-studio testing or testing by an independent
Association of Professional Piercers
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Hospital Infections
"Sterilization or Disinfection of Patient-Care Equipment: General
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
"Occupational Exposure To Bloodborne Pathogens Standards"