When it comes to body piercing, safety is always paramount. As a result, any good piercing shop should have an autoclave on site. Autoclaves are directly responsible for ensuring safe piercings.
What is an autoclave?
Piercing shops use autoclaves to sterilize equipment. Any piercing equipment that is not single-use goes into the autoclave. It’s a self-locking chamber that kills any bacteria on equipment.
Autoclaves are also serve the same purpose in the medical industry. They are professional tools that prevent the transmission of pathogens.
Other industries use autoclaves as well. They play a role in everything from packing parachutes to growing quartz crystals for electronics. But for piercing shops, the purpose is to prevent spreading pathogens. This is why autoclaves are necessary for piercing shops.
How do autoclaves work?
An autoclave is a pressure chamber which sterilizes equipment with steam. The operator places the equipment into the autoclave. The chamber locks and it treats the equipment with high-temperature steam (121℃+) for a set time.
All the tools are scrubbed and run in an ultrasonic to remove all debris before sterilization. They then go into sterilization pouches. They are processed inside the pouches and remain in there until they are used. The pouches ensure sterility of the piece once removed from the autoclave.
Our Toronto & Vancouver piercing studios uses two autoclaves. A large one for processing tools, and a small fast one for processing decorative jewellery. The cycle for a processing tools is 30 minutes.
The pressurized steam cleans away tiny debris from the equipment. At the same time, the high-temperature steam sterilizes the equipment so it comes out clean, safe, and ready for use. The concept of using heat and pressure for sterilization dates back to the late 1600s but the first true autoclave wasn’t introduced until 1884.
This is common practice in safety-conscious piercing shops. In tattoo shops, however, autoclaves are falling out of favour.
Why are autoclaves used for piercing and not tattoos?
Some tattoo shops still use autoclaves, but most are moving away from this. The reason for this is that most tattoo equipment is for single use only. Equipment comes in sterile packages and is disposed of after use.
A lot of piercing equipment, however, is built for multiple uses so it needs sterilization. Some piercing equipment cannot be cleaned in an autoclave. Artists should avoid these tools.
For example, most piercing guns are plastic. Plastic melts in autoclaves, so you cannot sterilize piercing guns. This is one of the reasons to avoid piercing shops that use guns.
Why to use needles instead of piercing guns
Piercing with needles is safer. There are a lot of reasons to choose piercing needles over guns, but they mostly come down to safety. Piercing guns cannot be properly sterilized, so they put people at risk of contracting diseases like hepatitis and HIV.
In most cases, even when shops have older metal piercing guns, they still don’t autoclave them. If they had proper training in piercing and piercing hygiene they wouldn’t use a piercing gun. The best piercing artists use needles.
In addition to safety, needles are more precise. They allow for greater accuracy and less painful piercings. As well, piercing guns have a blunt end that stretches and pulls the skin around the piercing. This can cause permanent damage or discomfort.
For the health of your body, and for the best looking piercing, it’s best to avoid piercing guns.
Practicing Autoclave Safety
Deciding where to get a piercing is one the most important health concerns. While picking a good piercing shop is important, you can take extra steps to ensure the studio practices proper autoclave safety.
If you have any concerns about safety, ask your piercing artist to show you the autoclave and ask to see how it’s run. In addition to seeing how they run the autoclave, you can see how they maintain it.
Piercing studios keep an autoclave log and spore test records. Logs and records ensure the autoclave is safe, sterile, and operating correctly. If you have any concerns, ask to see the records. If a shop doesn’t have the records, it’s a likely sign they are not maintaining their autoclave properly.