Dirty, Neutral, Clean: The Basics of Shop Procedure


Dirty, Neutral, Clean: The Basics of Shop Procedure

by K. A. Kristmanson

Knowing how shop procedures work is beneficial, not just for those who are interested in becoming an industry professional, but for clients as well. Being informed can help protect you from a sub-par or unsafe shop environment, and—as discussed in last week’s post—blood-borne pathogens like tuberculosis and strains of Hepatitis.

The Basics

In lay terms, you can think of the three as the following:

Dirty: an object or surface that has come into contact with biomaterial (blood being the main concern).

Neutral: an object or surface that is not sterile but has not been contaminated by bio-material.

Clean: an object that has been sterilized using an autoclave, or surface that has been decontaminated using an intermediate-level disinfectant that is effective against infectious diseases such as HCV.

Photographed by William Rafti of the William Rafti Institute. [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
All dirty objects are treated as if they are infected by blood-borne pathogens. This is to avoid the spread of disease, and to make the shop a safe place for every new client. A hypodermic needle used to pierce a client’s ear would be an example of a dirty object. Many of these objects are disposed of. Needles go into a sharps container, as shown on the right. Other disposable objects are placed in a specific garbage bin which should be labelled as bio-hazardous. However, some dirty tools (like forceps and tubes) are sterilized after each use.

For more information on sterilization, check out last week’s post.

A neutral object can become dirty if it comes in contact with bio-material. For example, the chair where the client sits to be pierced or tattooed would be a neutral surface until one of these services is performed. It would be neutralized with an intermediate-level disinfectant before the next client sits in the chair. This is a simple wipe down with a chemical like CaviCide.

A clean object is no longer considered sterile if it comes into contact with a neutral surface or object. When you wash your hands, they are now considered clean, but if you touch a neutral surface, your hands will become neutral and will need to be washed again before they are gloved.

Practice & Metaphor:

There are a few ways to learn to think of your workstation in the terms of dirty, neutral, clean. The one that worked for me was to picture the pathogens as thick, gooey peanut butter. Imagine this:

You walk into a shop, shake hands with your piercer, and they guide you to their station. You sit down, they mark you with their pen, and then they use forceps or a receiving tube for the needle. Your piercing is done, and you walk away with a smile.

Now, go back, and pretend that your piercer has peanut butter on everything that is dirty.

Your piercer didn’t wash their hands after their last client. Now, when they shake your hand they smear peanut butter all over it. You take off your glasses or tie back your hair, and streaks of peanut butter get all over your face.

Then, the piercer takes out their tray, puts old-peanut butter-covered forceps in your mouth or nose. Lastly, they use a dirty, crusty peanut butter needle to pierce you with.

Gross, right? Even if you like a good ol’ PB&J sandwich, it’s not as appetizing when its coupled with blood and broken skin.

Now, if you want to put this into practice, I wouldn’t recommend using food products. Instead, you can take a jar of Vaseline and coat everything that would touch the client’s blood or broken skin. Try to keep one gloved hand “clean” by not touching any of the Vaseline, while you take down your station with the other.

One last thing…

Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward. Even if you aren’t actually dealing with real contaminants, you should get into the practice of always washing your hands after taking down your station or doing any other clean up. When your next client comes in, wash your hands again before you glove them, even if you haven’t touched anything dirty in the meantime. Remember, neutral should be treated as dirty when it comes to your hands. Keep them clean before and after piercing a client.