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


Tattoo Checklist -Client Version

Whether you’re getting ready to sit through a marathon session or a single needle prick, here’s a checklist to make sure you’re prepared for the big tattoo day. We also attached a printable link at the bottom of the page to make sure you have a friendly reminder to post on your fridge.

Shower. Be a good client

oval mirror near toilet bowl

You dirty fucker. Please go into your tattoo session bathed and smelling neutral. No heavy cologne/perfume. Also, don’t shave your tattoo area unless specified by the artist. If you sever your kneecap while trying to trim the chewbacca growth you acquired during your trip abroad, you can’t get tattooed.

Loose fitting clothes that aren’t white or light in nature.

woman in white shirt

Please don’t wear white clothes. You may look chaste and virginal but you will get ink on them. Also, being comfortable is key when being stabbed so make sure you have clothes that are loose fitting for your tattoo. If you are a texture person, silk is amazing.

Good night’s sleep.

photo of person holding alarm clock
Photo by Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush on

Sleep is key to your body having the tools to fight off pain. If you are sleep deprived you will not enjoy the tattoo process as it will feel like you are being tortured. Get around 8 hours of sleep before your tattoo appointment, or just like, everyday.

Be a good client – No alcohol or drugs please.

photo of man smoking blunt

You can’t give consent while intoxicated, no matter how little you feel you have imbibed. Your coherence is key when making a life-long decision, and we are pretty sure it is illegal to be fucked up in most states. So, hold off on that martini and bong rip until after your tattoo session. Even better, recharge your brain a bit by letting off for 72 hours. This will give your body time to stock up and store those rad endorphins that you burn getting fucked up. Marijuana included.

Have a good breakfast.


Eating gives you strength and feeds that endorphin producing monster of a body so you can sit through any length of tattoo session. Don’t leave yourself dealing with hunger pains, eat something.

Hydrate yo’self

sunset cup water drink

Water. The element of life! Drink it. You will lose fluid during your tattoo. The magic of water also helps with the inflammation you get during a tattoo, which in turn decreases pain. Less inflammation, less pain. It’s a win win.

Tattoo Snacks

woman sitting on beige floor tile

Having a boost of fuel during your tattoo can help some people sit longer. Keep the snacks light, somewhat infrequent during the tattoo session. Also, check with your tattooist to see if they have any issues with the snacks you want to bring in with you, or if it’s even okay to bring food in at all. If it’s not okay to bring snack into the tattoo area, plan to take a short break if you need to fuel up.


white headphones

Sometimes, listening to music is the best. If you are someone who zones the hell out listening to music, bring something to focus on while getting tattooed. Keep it light, no heavy shit, and relax your session away.

Travel to and from Your Tattoo

automobile automotive blurred background car

If you are planning a larger session, or if you have had issues like:

  1. Fainting while giving blood
  2. Lightheartedness
  3. Low blood sugar

Get a ride to and from the tattoo appointment. Or, if you just like to ride in style, grab an Uber and help your local rideshare provider. Feeling frugal and eco friendly? Take the goddamned bus.

Taking Breaks – Be safe a client!

watch on a wrist

Taking breaks can be great but, if you take too many, or too often, your body goes into repair mode. This means your tattoo will hurt more than if you just sat through the mild discomfort. Take a break for 5 minutes every 1-2 hours to stretch your legs and get some blood pumping. If you make it 3-4 hours and the pain is getting to you, take a 30 minute break and grab a meal. When you come back, you’ll be ready to sit until the end of your session.

Paying for you Tattoo

Handful of cash money

For most tattoo establishments, bring cash as it is preferred. Ask ahead if there are any other options, especially if you’re uncomfortable carrying rainmaker money on your person.

Tipping Your Artist – Should you as a client?

person who may be a client doing thumbs up

Tipping is complimentary.  What does complimentary mean? If you want to compliment their service and work, give them money. 20% for small tattoos where the artist has gone above and beyond is standard. 10% good work but a bland experience. 0% for anything else. Its complimentary!

Thanks for reading, and here is the printable link. Tattoo Checklist- Client Version



Rian Othus got his initial break into the tattooing industry in the early 2000’s. He worked in many locations throughout the United States and Canada. The opinions expressed on this site are based on his experiences and time spent in the industry. Some are also from amateur scientific study.

The journey to increase his knowledge began on the road. At times Rian had to travel far from home. Others, he had to beg to get any information. It was an amazing journey and it paved the way for Rian to start analyzing the tattoo industry to figure out where he fit into it.

These articles are written to engage and educate those who are out in the wild world of tattooing, working in a shop or just enjoying the culture. He admits that some of the articles may be very specific regarding who they are written for, but hopes that anyone who reads them is able to take things from a different angle or better understand what someone else may be experiencing.

Rian Othus


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