How to Properly Sanitize and Disinfect Implements

Sanitize and disinfect: you may have heard these words a thousand times together, but do you really know the difference between the two, and what they really mean? Not only is understanding these terms inside and out important to the credibility of your salon, but to your clients’ health.

Sanitize Vs. Disinfect:

Sanitize simply means “to clean,” as in, removing all visible debris from a surface. When you sanitize, you remove the majority of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, while disinfection kills the remaining amount. You must sanitize before disinfecting, or the bits of debris that come off in the disinfecting solution break down the solution’s active ingredients, and make it less effective.  

Disinfection requires soaking the implement in disinfectant solution for a full ten minutes. This step kills any leftover pathogens on the tool, making it safe for you to use on your next client.

Types of Items:

Single-use tools (orangewood sticks, cotton balls, and disposable toe separators) must be thrown out after use on a client.

Multi-use tools are divided into porous, non-porous, and self-disinfecting, which determines how they should be handled:


  • Porous (absorbent) items: towels, cushioned abrasive files and buffers
    Should be disinfected with: 70-90% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol
    *Note: If one of these porous materials comes into contact with broken or infected skin, it should be double bagged and thrown away into a closed receptacle.
  • Non-porous (non-absorbent) items: Metal, glass, and fiberglass tools like metal nippers, cuticle pushes, and electric file bits
    Should be disinfected with: hospital grade disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
    *Note: Any non-porous implement that comes in contact with broken or infected skin must immediately be sanitized and disinfected.
  • Self-disinfecting items: nail polish, primers, liquid monomer, and gels
    Should be disinfected with: Nothing! The containers these products come in do not support the growth of pathogens due to lack of water or high-alcohol content.
    *Note: Cuticle oils do support pathogen growth, so it’s best to dispense these in a dropper where brush does not come into contact with the finger.

Steps to Sterilize and Disinfect:

1.) Using a clean scrub brush and liquid soap, scrub implements and abrasives until all visible debris is removed.
2.) Under lukewarm running water, thoroughly rinse implements and abrasives until all traces of soap are washed off. With a clean or disposable towel, completely dry each item.
3.) Fully immerse in an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant for at least 10 minutes, or for the amount of time specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure all surfaces stay submerged in the disinfectant for the proper amount of time; removing them early doesn’t give the disinfectant the proper time to work and you risk spreading pathogens that weren’t killed. To disinfect porous abrasives and buffers, spray them with 70-90% isopropyl or ethyl alcohol solutions and let them sit for at least five minutes.
4.) When the time is up, use tongs or gloved hands to remove implements and rinse them, if necessary. Dry the tools with a clean or disposable towel, or allow them to air dry by placing them on a clean towel and covering them with another clean towel. For a thick, foam-cushioned buffer, hold it between two clean towels and press out the moisture. This ensures that the buffer is completely dry.
5.) Properly store all sanitized and disinfected implements to avoid contamination. Airtight containers or zipper bags promote the growth of bacteria, and are therefore inadequate for storing clean implements. A lined drawer is sufficient, as long as it is clean, labeled, and only used to store other clean implements. Once you use an implement, it can’t go back in the drawer; place it in a separate, labeled container, where it’s away from clean items and ready to be sanitized and disinfected.

For tabletops and electrical equipment, wipe down the surface with a damp towel to remove visible debris. Then wipe down with a disinfectant wipe or towelette.

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