Tattoos and Sanitation Checklist

In Michigan, tattooing has just recently begun being monitored by the health departments. The Livingston County Health Department completes the inspections here in Fowlerville. Even with this new statewide policing though, there are still some lingering bad habits that can be seen in some tattoo shops around the state. While, our county has exceptional tattoo shops, below are some of the things to look out for if you end up in a tattoo shop elsewhere in the state.

Needles & Needle Cartridges

Needles or needle cartridges should be disposed of after each tattoo into a biohazard “sharps” container. Only new needles should ever be used. You should be able to witness your artist taking the needles out of their original packs when he’s setting up for your new ink. If he doesn’t have anything to hide, he’ll let you watch.

Single Use Markers and Stencils

Unless your artist is free-handing the design, he will use either a transfer paper or markers to draw the design onto your skin. Generally, you will approve the positioning of it from this phase of the process. Make sure that the markers and transfer paper being used is single-use… as in disposable. Don’t let someone draw on you with a Sharpie that he just used to draw on a previous customer or worse yet, his boots. It’s a Universal Precaution that is often overlooked.

Gloves and Hand Washing

Obviously your artist should wear gloves when he tattoos you. Watch him though. Make sure he’s washing his hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap prior to putting new gloves on. Make sure he uses paper towel to shut off the water, not the hands he just got clean. If you’re allergic to latex, let them know so they can wear another type of glove. Here at The Shop, we don’t even use the  latex kind because we don’t want to risk the allergies.


The general rule is, if there’s ink on it, there’s blood on it. The area should not have any ink stains anywhere. All ink should be placed ink caps on his work tray for the tattooing process before it begins. Once the process has begun, he shouldn’t grab the bottle of ink for a refill without removing his gloves, washing his hands first and then rewashing and re-gloving before touching you again.

The Machine’s Cord

If there’s a chance the artist’s tattoo machine cord will touch your body, make sure they use a cover. Imagine a cord without a cover sliding up against someone else’s skin, then the ground, then your skin. That’s just disgusting.

Paper Towel

Paper towel is needed to wipe as you go during the tattoo process, however, observe how your artist grabs it. Usually we will set up plenty of fresh paper towel at the station for ease of use. What if that runs out though? Paper towel should be on a dispenser so that his hands never touch the rest of the roll or the inside of the role. If you see this happen, he should just go ahead and throw that roll away, and rewash and re-glove.

Cross Contamination

Every tattoo artist when cleaning up his area should have what he considers a dirty hand and a clean hand. The artist should not use the hand he was rinsing tubes with to open a drawer, regardless of the status of his gloves. He should be using only his clean hand to touch surfaces that are considered “clean.”

Ultrasonic Cleaner

At The Shop, we only use disposable supplies. Some shops still use reusable tubes though. When reusable metal tubes are taken off the machine, they are deposited into a bleach sanitation tub while they await the next step, which is to be placed in an ultrasonic cleaner. The shop has to have one of these. It prepares the tubes for the autoclave. It sends a super speed sound waves through the metal and it breaks down contaminants. It doesn’t however provide adequate sterilization. For that, you need an autoclave.


At The Shop, we only use disposable supplies. Some shops still use reusable tubes though. Your artist will have a functioning autoclave that is regularly spore tested that he will clean his tubes and such in. (At the Shop, we send out our spore tests once a month.) These get placed in little baggies. On the baggies, there will be a little area built into it that shows if it’s been through a sterilization process. Ask to see it if you have any concerns. This goes the same for piercings. Ask to see the baggy. Scratchers will tell you that they boil the stuff in bleach or something along those lines. Well, that’s not good enough. It simply won’t keep all bloodborne pathogens off the equipment.


Before your tattoo, ask to use the bathroom. Just like at restaurants, the cleanliness of a shops bathroom is a good indicator of the cleanliness of the shop’s artists.

Go ahead and ask your artist about their sterilization procedures, make sure he knows and follows them. If he gives you crap or doesn’t know the basics, just turn around, walk out the door and come see me for your new tattoo.

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