How to Sterilize Tattoo Needles | Questions You’re Afraid to Ask

One of the hardest parts about being a self-taught tattoo artist is getting information on how to tattoo correctly. Of course, getting your questions answered by professional tattoo artists is the best way to get up-to-date info on sanitation, tattooing techniques, and more. 

The problem is, asking a professional the questions in this article will most likely just get you the cold shoulder - or they might just be too embarrassing to ask in the first place. To help, we’ve compiled a list of questions you don’t want to ask tattoo artists…and answered them for you.

In this article, we’re breaking down:

  • How to sterilize tattoo needles 
  • What room in the house is best for tattooing
  • Where to buy cheap tattooing equipment
  • And more!

How Do I Sterilize Tattoo Needles?

how to sterilize tattoo  needles with EO gas
tattoo needle for tattoo artist

Here’s the short answer: you can’t.

Tattoo artists never reuse tattoo needles. In the past, tattoo artists would sterilize tattoo needles in the shop’s autoclave - a machine that is still used in shops today to sterilize other tattoo equipment, like metal tubes.

However, to be safe and to avoid cross contamination and contact with bloodborne pathogens like hepatitis B,C and HIV Aids, tattoo artists don’t even attempt to sterilize tattoo needles. They use brand new needles on every client. 

When you buy tattoo needles today, you buy pre-sterilized disposables. These needles have been sterilized in EO gas and have an expiration date right on the packaging so you know it’s safe to use. (If the expiration date is passed, you need to dispose of them.)

You can get safe to use tattoo needle cartridges here.

You can get safe to use traditional tattoo needles here.

What About “Disinfecting Tattoo Needles?”

boiling water cannot sterilize homemade tattoo needles
pressure cooker cannot sterilize tattoo needles
bleach is not how to sterilize tattoo needles
ethanol does not sterilize needles

You might see information about “disinfecting” tattoo needles. Disinfecting something is different from sterilizing it. Disinfecting needles only kills some of the germs and viruses, meaning it can still give someone a deadly disease. Sterilizing gets rid of all viruses, microorganisms, etc. 

There are some online resources that will say you can sterilize tattoo needles on your own. This is not true. These methods DO NOT sterilize needles properly:
  • Boiling water
  • Ultrasonic cleaner
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Chemical baths
  • Kitchen ovens (even at extremely high temperatures)
  • Pressure cookers
  • Bleach
  • Alcohol
  • Medical ethanol
  • Holding it over a flame
  • Over the counter disinfectants

When it comes down to it, if you want to be taken seriously as a tattoo artist, you will not reuse tattoo needles, even if they’ve gone through an autoclave machine. Nowadays, tattoo needles are so easy to get that there is no need to make your own or try to clean them.

Used needles can not go in the trash can. They must be placed in a biohazard sharps container.

Can I Just Make Homemade Tattoo Needles? 

tattoo needle jig for making tattoo equipment
tattoo needle for tattoo artist

Even if you make your own needles (which requires you to solder sharps together - a process that can release toxic fumes), they will not be sterile and they will not have the same precision as needles made by a machine.

If needles are not perfectly crafted, they can cause extra trauma to the skin and make your tattoos look bad.

What Room in the House is Best for Tattooing?

working in a tattoo parlor

Homes are not a great place to tattoo. Ideally, if you have a private studio, you have a separate space that is up to code for tattoo shops in your region. 

However, if you’ve been in the tattoo industry for a while, it’s likely you’ve heard of people “tattooing out of their kitchens.”

At first glance, if you had to tattoo in a home, this seems like the best place. Most bedrooms and living rooms have carpets and seating with cloth fabric - breeding grounds for germs and viruses - and tattooing in a bathroom seems straight up gross.

However, kitchens are high-traffic areas in most homes, meaning there’s plenty of germs and bacteria around, and you’re exposing the place you eat to bloodborne pathogens. In fact, health departments do not allow any food or drinks in the tattoo stations in a shop.

It’s tempting to stay in the kitchen because of the running water, but it is unsafe to use tap water during any part of the tattooing process. Sterile or distilled water only.

If you are dead set on tattooing at home, you should work in a room set up specifically for you to practice in with a floor that can be sterilized (no carpet), a metal chair, and everything covered with barriers.                         

Remember to always wear gloves and to clean the tattoo area with Madacide and Cavacide before and after.

Where Can I Buy Cheap Tattoo Equipment?

With tattoo equipment, you get what you pay for. We do not recommend buying a cheap tattoo machine off Amazon or eBay, because a low quality machine will make it harder for you to do your best work. 

However, you don’t have to go and get an expensive setup as a new tattoo artist. We recommend getting a cost-effective beginner tattoo machine (usually between $150-250). 

If you don’t have any tattoo equipment and want to try a beginner tattoo kit, we recommend only using the needles and inks on fake skin. Most tattoo kits use cheap ink and needles that may not be sanitary (even if they say they are).

How Can I Tattoo Myself?

It’s possible to tattoo yourself. In fact, most artists tattoo themselves before tattooing clients. However, new artists should only tattoo themselves after getting plenty of practice tattooing on fake skins before you try. 

Once you’re ready - and you have a safe environment to tattoo yourself in - we recommend starting out with a small tattoo on the top of your thigh. It will be easy to cover (chances are your first tattoo will not be your best) and easy to reach. 

For more information, check out these videos on tattooing yourself from the Tattooing 101 YouTube channel:

Can I Give Myself a Permanent Tattoo Without a Gun?

tattoo needles being used in tattoo parlors
tattoo needles used for stick and poke tattoo

The only way to give yourself a permanent tattoo without a machine is with a “stick and poke” tattoo. While stick and poke tattoos are very similar to traditional tebori tattooing, they take a long time, require several passes, and it is difficult to get a straight line. 

If you do a stick and poke tattoo, you still need to use a pre-sterilized tattoo needle and make sure you’re working in a clean area.

How Can I Remove a Permanent Tattoo at Home?

qualified medical practitioner removed a tattoo
tattoo artist uses tattoo equipment to create a fresh tattoo

You cannot remove a permanent tattoo on your own. You can either get it lasered or get it covered up with a new tattoo. 

When getting a cover up, make sure you’re going to an artist who has experience doing coverups. They are completely different from just creating a great design. Your artist will have to masterfully hide lines and create a design that makes the eye go to different areas, which will help hide the tattoo underneath. 

Tattoo artists should have several years of tattooing under their belt before attempting to do a cover up. The last thing you want to do is try to get a cover up tattoo over a previous cover up. At that point, it’s very difficult to save it and make it look good. 

Learn to Master Tattooing

artist applying a tattoo in a tattoo parlor

Keeping clients safe is the #1 priority for professional tattoo artists - and it’s where a lot of self-taught artists get confused. Finding step by step guidance can be pretty hard to come across, especially for the more detailed parts of tattooing. 

However, the only way to become a professional in the industry is to learn from someone who’s already been there and is willing to show you the way, step by step.

There’s a ton of information out there that promises to teach you to tattoo, but a lot of it is missing steps, outdated, or just plain wrong. This is why most tattoo artists trying to learn online pick up bad habits that can take years to unlearn.

If you want to learn how to tattoo the right way, you can still do it online and at your own pace.

We created the Artist Accelerator Program to give aspiring artists all the lessons and techniques they need in an easy-to-follow, 9-step roadmap that can take anyone from complete beginner to professional tattoo artist in as little as 90 days.

Inside the program, you’ll learn the skills tattoo artists use every day, get personalized guidance from professionals, and put together a portfolio that gets you hired. 

Skip the years of trial and error and start building a career you love today.

Click here to check out the Artist Accelerator Program.

Looking for a tattoo apprenticeship?

Tattooing 101's Artist Accelerator 90 day program is the closest thing to a real apprenticeship

  • 500 video modules
  • Professional tattoo artist coaches
  • Private mastermind community
Nathan Molenaar

Nathan is a licensed professional tattoo artist with over 8 years’ experience working at studios across the globe, including Celebrity Ink, the world's largest tattoo studio chain.

When he's not tattooing, he spends his free time sharing his experience and knowledge with aspiring artists who dream of pursuing a career in the tattooing industry.

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