Body Art: Reduce Cross-Contamination

man with tattooed back

Reduce Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination is the act of spreading bacteria and viruses from one surface to another. Since bloodborne viruses can live on objects and surfaces for up to a week, germs could be spread when surfaces are not disinfected the right way or if equipment is not cleaned and sterilized between clients.

Some examples of cross-contamination are:

A piercer places his tools on a counter that has not been disinfected and then uses the tools for a piercing procedure without sterilizing them.

A tattooist, while working on a client, answers the phone without removing her gloves. By not removing her gloves, the artist may spread bacteria and viruses from the gloves onto the phone. Other people using the phone could then be exposed to a disease.

Here is some additional information for preventative practices that may reduce cross-contamination in the body art industry:

Body art worker putting on gloves
  • Gloves should be changed when it is necessary

    Gloves must be removed and thrown away whenever a tattooist or piercer leaves his or her work area.1

    Gloves should be changed if they tear.2

    Disposable gloves must not be washed or reused.1

  • Hands should be washed often
    Body art worker washing hands

    Hand washing can get rid of most the disease-causing organisms on a person’s hands.3

    When wearing gloves, heat and moisture build up. This creates the right conditions to allow bacteria to reproduce. To lessen the spread of viruses and bacteria, tattooists and piercers should wash their hands before and after wearing gloves.2, 3

    Gloves are not a substitute for hand washing

  • Surfaces should be disinfected often

    Body artists should disinfect surfaces, such as the client’s chair and counter space, between procedures.3

    The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of registered disinfectantsexternal icon that are made to kill certain bacteria and viruses. EPA-registered tuberculocidal disinfectants are best for cleaning surfaces contaminated with blood.4

    The germ that causes tuberculosis is one of the most difficult to kill. Any disinfectant that claims to be able to eliminate the tuberculosis germ can also kill HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.4

    Many disinfectants need to stay on surfaces for a specific amount of time to fully disinfect the surface before being wiped down. The instructions included with the disinfectant should note the amount of time needed to properly disinfect an area.2

  • Reusable tools and equipment should be cleaned before being sterilized
    Body art worker washing equipment

    Cleaning is the first step in removing viruses and bacteria from equipment.3 Reusable tools and equipment should first be washed before being sterilized. 2, 3 If washing tools manually, piercers and tattooists should use a brush or similar tool whenever possible.4

    Ultrasonic cleaners work well to clean tools in hard-to-reach places and reduce the amount of time contaminated equipment is handled.3 Shop employers should check with the owner’s manual to be sure the machine is cared for correctly.

  • Use disposable “single-use” supplies whenever possible

    Disposable supplies, such as pigment caps, razors, rinse cups, and sterilized pre-made needle bars, should be used once and disposed of. By not reusing disposable supplies, the possibility of being exposed to blood while cleaning them is avoided.

  • Sterilization machines must be regularly tested and serviced

    Autoclave machines use steam, pressure, and temperature to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Gauge readings and the color change of indicator strips on autoclave packaging are not reliable ways of ensuring an autoclave is sterilizing correctly.

    If the machine is not well cared for, it may not reach the conditions needed to sterilize reusable equipment well.

    Routine spore tests can check if an autoclave is sterilizing correctly.3, 5 Employers should contact their local health department to find out how often spore tests should be done.

    The employer should also ensure the autoclave is regularly serviced. The owner’s manual should provide information about the maintenance schedule.

  • Tattooists and piercers must attend bloodborne pathogen training at least yearly1, 6
    spore test strip

    OSHA regulations require employers to provide yearly bloodborne pathogen training at no cost to employees with the option of taking the course during work hours.1 If the training is done during non-working hours, employees must be compensated for their time.1 Record of training must be kept by employers.1, 7

Contents of this web page represent recommendations by NIOSH. They draw upon regulations and other materials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the U.S. Department of Labor, upon guidelines by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and from findings and recommendations by NIOSH. Sources for these recommendations are cited in footnotes. In considering these NIOSH recommendations, users should also be aware of applicable state and local laws that may impact their implementation.


1 (29 CFR Part 1910.1030) Bloodborne Pathogen Standards.external icon Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

2 CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) [1989]. Recommendations for prevention of HIV transmission in health-care settings. MMWR 36(SU-02);001.*

3 CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) [2003]. Guidelines for infection-control in dental health-care settings. MMWR 52(RR17-6); 1-61 *

4 CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) [2003]. Appendix A: Regulatory framework for disinfectants and sterilants. MMWR 52(RR17-6); 62-64.*

5 OSHA [2001]. Enforcement procedures for occupational exposures to bloodborne pathogensexternal icon. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, CPL 02-02-069 – CPL 2-2.69.*

6 OSHA [2003]. Model plans and programs for the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens and Hazard Communications Standards. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.external icon[29 pages, 520 kb]

7 CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) [1989]. Guidelines for prevention of transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Hepatitis B Virus to health-care and public safety workers; A response to P.L. 100-607 The health omnibus program extension act of 1988. MMWR 38(S-6); 3-37.*

* This guidance is written for healthcare workers, but may also be relevant to other work settings where contact with blood is possible.

Photos courtesy of Chris LaChance

Page last reviewed: September 25, 2013