You may have heard that it's important for every tattoo shop to have an autoclave sterilizer, but what is it and why is it so important?
An autoclave is essentially a pressure cooker primarily used in the medical field for sterilizing medical instruments. An autoclave must maintain a temperature of at least 246 degrees for 30 minutes in order to fully sterilize the equipment.
There are two major types of autoclave sterilizers - steam and chemical. Most dentists use chemi-claves, but steam is really the only kind acceptable in the tattoo field. There are different styles of steam autoclaves, all acceptable to use in the sterilization of the equipment. It is a good idea to ask to see the autoclave. Is it clean? More importantly, was the shop personnel more than happy to show it to you, or did they act like they had something to hide?
Also, keep in mind that the presence of an autoclave does not mean effective sterilization. Autoclaves need to be regularly tested to ensure that they are working properly. Ask to see the results of their latest spore test. These results should be no more than two months old.
Some non-professional artists will try to convince you that a pressure cooker designed for canning food is acceptable for sterilizing used tattoo equipment. This is not true. Kitchen pressure cookers do not reach the temperature or pressure required to effectively kill all blood borne pathogens. Do not trust anyone using a kitchen unit. Medical sterilizers are much larger and are designed specifically for killing bacteria and other pathogens.