Warning Signs That a Tattoo Shop May Not Be Clean.

Warning Signs That a Tattoo Shop May Not Be Clean.

Most people venturing out for a new tattoo are focused on the process of getting a tattoo, not how clean the tattoo shop is. The pain, the possible bad mood of the artist, how much to tip… it can be a crisis for some people. On top of that, you are permanently marking your body and in doing so, opening yourself up to possible infectious agents that can cause discomfort, illness, possibly hospitalization and worse yet, death.

Take one stressor off your plate and make sure the tattoo shop you are going to is clean before committing to that new tattoo. Here are a few things to look for when walking into a tattoo shop to determine if it is clean or not.

  • The tattoo shop looks dirty –

Dirty Tattoo Shop

If you walk into a tattoo shop and you see visible dirt, dust on surfaces, unwashed floors or overflowing garbage cans, it’s time to leave.

  • Food in the tattooing area –

Food is not permitted in work areas, regardless how small the shop is. 

  • It stinks, and not the good, clean stink –

Overflowing garbage dump

If you walk into a shop and the smell of something foul overtakes your senses, there is a good chance that shop has not been cleaned well enough to ensure safe tattooing.

  • Handling products without gloves –

Image result for tattoo no gloves

The use of disposable gloves are ubiquitous in the body modification industry and should be changed regularly. If you see artists setup for your tattoo without wearing gloves, or handle products to be used in a tattoo without gloves, something is afoot. Handling objects without proper barriers increases the chances of cross contamination, which in turn points to a dirty tattoo shop.

  • Their setup should include barrier films and plastic covers – 

tattoo barriers

Creating a barrier from potentially infectious materials coming into contact with commonly used products or tools are a minimum safe practice for tattooers. These barriers need to be new and freshly applied to all surfaces, machines, bottles, clipcords and other things during the tattoo process. If the shop you walk into doesn’t seem to use barrier films, chances are that it can be considered less clean than other tattoo shops.

  • Staff that are visibly ill – 

sick person

You don’t want to work with an artist who has diarrhea, is vomiting or is coughing all over the place. Healthcare can cost a lot so don’t put yourself in a position that costs you time and money. Stay away from shops that have fallen ill. It should go without saying that you should stay away from tattoo shops if you feel sick.

  • The shop should give you a full tour –

All tattoo shops should be appreciative of the discerning clients want to explore the shop. If they process items onsite (onsite sterilization), have them show you their machine, sterilization logs and explain their practices. If they refuse to do so, be wary of how clean the shop may be. 

  • Single use means single use – 

Image result for single use tattoo supplies

Most of the products that come into contact with your skin during a tattoo procedure are single-use. Ask to check the expiration dates on single-use items like needles, disposable supplies and ink. If a shop is willing to use products that are expired, or attempts to reuse single-use items, they may not take your health seriously.

  • Does your state have health code or licensing requirements?

If your state has licensing requirements for the shop or artist, make sure they are up to date. (Most cities/states/provinces require a business license at minimum. Check with your local authorities to see how they keep the public safe from unlicensed tattoo shops) 

  • Has your artist gone through Blood Borne Pathogens (BBP) training?

blood borne pathogens certificate

A certificate of completion in BBP is a requirement in most places for an artist to practice tattooing. This course trains people in the fundamentals of safe practices when biological contaminants are in play.

  • The rates are far below what industry standard for the area- 

Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good. If a deal looks to good to be true, it most likely is and you can wonder how they save money to make the product so cheap. Most likely from skimping on a cleaning budget. Be safe and never sacrifice your safety for a cheap tattoo.

  • Do they have sharps containers – 

sharps containers

Look for red containers with a biohazard symbol on them. These containers are where used needles and other sharp instruments are placed after use for safe disposal.  If a shop doesn’t have any,or if the sharps containers are overflowing, something may be seriously dangerous about getting a tattoo at that location.

  • The shop is difficult to find information about – 

We live in a digital world and most established shops have a digital footprint. If you can’t find any information on social media, or with a search online, chances are the shop may not be legit. If it is not legit, chances are it may not know how to operate in a sterile fashion.

  • Is the shop dark – 

How bright and light is the shop? By having light colored walls and floors, you are better able to see if blood or other substances have splashed out of the work area and are in need of cleaning. Light walls, accompanied with enough light to properly see what the artist is doing, ensure artists are able to keep you safe before, during and after the procedure.

  • When in doubt,  trust yourself – 

Never let yourself be pushed around when you are spending money. This is even more true when you are spending money on body modification. Trust your judgement and walk away from any place that doesn’t treat you as well as you deserve.

Thumbs Up!

Photo by Donald Tong on


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