Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Clean, Disinfect,Sterilizing : a brief look into autoclaving body jewelry

There are major differences in the decontamination of jewelry which has become a source of some confusion relative to body jewelry. The following briefly explains the differences between of the methods of : cleaning, disinfection and sterilization. Let's take a brief look into methods of "decontamination" as relates to body jewelry 


 Auto means 'self",  clavis is Latin for "cleaning". A bit of a misnomer as an autoclave is not an every day household cleaning implement. 

An autoclave (as defined by Wikipedia ):

 "...an instrument used to sterilize equipment and supplies by subjecting them to high pressure saturated steam at 121 °C for around 15–20 minutes..."

Sounds Familiar!

These units have a broad design in both size and  application as well as method. The autoclave is primarily applied within the health care industry and has a wide scope of application within these institutions. Industries in which the autoclave is commonly employed include (but not limited to); Veterinary, medical, dental, piercing, tattoo and nail salon industries for the purpose of sterilizing associated tools and equipment. 

Autoclave use is most often used in the medical field.  Medical waste requires sterilization in favor over incineration (thermal oxidation) due to  environmental concerns . There are exceptions to this rule, for example, such as when dealing with pathological waste. An designated autoclave is used for medical waste only. 

As for piercing jewelry, the method for sterilizing new jewelry in an autoclave employs the use of an autoclave pouch. An autoclave pouch has a sterility indicator printed on the outside which changes color upon proper processing.
Example of pouch

Disinfection, Cleaning, Sterilization

It is important  to recognize the difference between cleaning, disinfection and sterilization in relation to proper jewelry and piercing care. Disinfection and sterilization are part of a decontamination process. 

In the absence of owning an autoclave, cleaning and disinfecting your jewelry is a wise (and hopefully ongoing) personal responsibility. Let's start there.

1. Cleaning is essentially part of infection control in the reduction and removal of surface  microbial contaminants. Simple, mindful cleaning begins with the removal of body jewelry and its components as applicable. Use clean water and antibacterial soap with a soft brush in and around the components to remove debris on a regular basis. Use a clean, disposable paper product to dry the jewelry and allow to air dry. In oral jewelry, it is wise to remove plaque accumulation from jewelry parts by soaking in clean, warm water before removing with a soft brush as it can be difficult to remove. 

Ultrasonic unit aids in the process of the removal microbial contaminants that may not be visibly removed. These can be purchased through online sources. 

2. Disinfecting is the process in the limited elimination of most pathogenic microorganisms (excluding bacterial spores). The most common type of disinfectant used in jewelry cleaning is alcohol. Pure alcohol is not favored as much as rubbing alcohol. Pure alcohol immediately coagulates a germ cell's outer wall which creates a protective barrier which does not effectively neutralize the inner protein. Therefore, the germ cell can reactivate. Rubbing alcohol works more slowly thereby allowing entry into the protein and killing the bacteria, before total coagulation of the outer wall is complete.

3. Sterilization -  Autoclaves utilize steam or gas to destroy microorganisms such as bacteria and spores which cannot be done through cleaning and disinfecting methods. 

Similar to the old fashioned pressure cooker, a steam autoclave boils water at a temperature higher (approx.20°C hotter) than the normal boiling point.

In my steam autoclave, the process is as follows:

The jewelry is inserted into the pouch and then into the autoclave for sterilization.  The chemical or steam indicator color change reflects successful exposure to time & temperature during processing. A symbol or lettering on the pouch indicates color change and should state as such. 

In my shop, I use an FDA approved Prestige unit accepted for piercing jewelry. The temperature specs for this unit are: 
Sterilizing temp': 121°C
Sterilizing temp': 250 F
Arriving at sterizing temp: 16 mins
Cycle time - total 26 mins

As a professional piercer I find it essential & morally ethical to autoclave-sterilize piercing jewelry.  I autoclave-sterilize body piercing jewelry (where applicable) prior to shipping to my Beltane Moon Etsy customers.Please keep in mind that all body jewelry in my shop jewelry is new and has never been worn. 

I hope this lends some clarity on the basic concept and mechanics of what an autoclave is and how it is used in my shop. If you have any questions, please contact me and I am more than happy to respond!

Copyright 2016, Beltane Moon 
Cite Reference for use