Salon Sanitation

Soap and Water Go a Long Way

It’s easy to forget the basic in the clamor over salon sanitation, but just washing goes a long way toward keeping you and your clients healthy.

Disinfecting implements and work surfaces is only part of the salon sanitation equation. The most important step to head off the transmission of diseases is the easiest, simplest, and sometimes the most forgotten – hand washing.

“Hand washing is very important,” says Ju Lee Rollins, chief inspector/investigator for the Nevada State Boar of Cosmetology. “Everyone seems to have forgotten that basic fact. Washing with soap and water goes a long way toward preventing disease. It washes a multitude of sins down the drain – blood droplets, bathroom germs, and more.”

Soap and water provide an excellent level of cleanliness that can be achieved with other products, such as antimicrobial soap, which can kill more-resistant microorganism. Many supermarket-brand soap makers have come out with antimicrobial versions of their products.

Antimicrobial hand cleanser designed specifically for nail salons are also available. The soaps are usually blue and give off a medical smell. Some of the products work by leaving a film on the skin that fights germs for hours.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers salon-surface disinfectant; the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) registers skin disinfectant products. An FDA-listed antimicrobial liquid hand cleanser gives a high level of hand sanitation. You State may require you to use an antimicrobial cleanser. However, says Rollins, “During my work, I remind salons that we’re not in a medical environment. Soap and water themselves wash away most things. Health officials in Nevada okay this. You can’t really sterilize skin.” If there is a cut during a service, she says, that’s the time to apply an antiseptic such as alcohol to the cut and then cover it with a bandage.


“Waterless” cleansers and gels are not an alternative to washing with soap and water. These products are designed to be used on clean hands as an additional level of sanitation. In Nevada, says Rollins, “Technicians are allowed to use hand sanitizer between clients instead of washing with soap and water. But the hands should be clean already for these products to work.”

Waterless cleanser may be called “instance sanitizer.” They kill pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganism on the hands. Usually, the products’ active ingredient is alcohol, which can dry the skin, so many manufacturers of such products have added emollients to lessen any drying effect.

Barrier creams, which aren’t necessarily hand sanitizers, leave a lingering film on the skin that stays on even after washing with soap and water. Those products are regulated by the FDA. Janeice Spicer, a nail technician and a licensed vocational nurse in Dallas. Texas, wears an antiviral barrier cream and latex gloves when she works in the salon. She calls this, “double-gloving,” and says, “You can catch anything from anybody. I put on cream, then the gloves. I also wear mask. I change the gloves between clients, but you don’t have to wash your hands since you’ve been wearing gloves. You can though, and you won’t wash the cream off. I take these extra steps to reduce cross-contaminations.”


Washing your hands frequently should not cause your hands and nails to dry out excessively. If you find that your hands are becoming dry, shop around for a less-drying hand soap or apply lotion. (If you use hand moisturizers, apply them before lunch, during breaks, and at the end of your work day. This way, the oil on your hands won’t transfer to your clients’ nails.) Doctors wash their hands every 15 minutes, and are taught to do a much more thorough job washing than nail technicians. For that reason, many hand-cleaner manufacturers for the health care and nail industries have formulated hand soaps with emollients and lubricants so that hands won’t become dry with frequent washing.

However, the ingredients in hand cleansers that do the jo9b of cleaning can be drying. These included lye (in soap), chlorine compounds, and alcohol. Other ingredients, such as glycerin, are added to buffer the active ingredient so that it doesn’t dry or irritate the hands. The stronger the cleanser, the more irritating it can be. “I use hand cleansers several times every day in my job. The ones I use can dry a little, so I apply lotion afterwards,” says Rollins.

Laura Mix, both a licensed nail technician and a licensed medical technician in Sacramento, Calif., tried several hand cleaner products before finding one that worked well for her. “I think a cleanser that has a similar pH to the skin’s (slightly acidic) is the least damaging to your skin.” If the soap you use now is drying your skin, try other products and you may find one that leaves your hands in much better shape.

Nail technicians face a greater danger than dry skin if they don’t wash their hands frequently enough, Rollins says. “Skin irritation comes not from frequent hand washing, but from product filings being left on the skin. Nail technicians who don’t wash those filings off are in danger of letting them eat away at the skin.”


Just as wouldn’t apply makeup on a dirty face, you don’t wasn’t to perform a nail service on dirty hands. Even if your client bathed just before coming to the salon, her hands have probably touched door handles, keys, and many other items that can have germs on them.

Before you perform a nail service, ask the client to wash her hands and scrub her nails. If you provide a common nail brush for clients, it should be washed between clients. This can be dome simply by thoroughly rinsing and washing the nail brush, and subbing the bristles against the side of the sink or manicure bowl. Or, keep two brushes and have one soaking in a disinfectant while the other is in use.

If you feel unsure that your client has done a thorough job of washing her hands, discreetly examine her hands and nails for dirt. Soak the hands in a manicure bowl filled with soapy water. Then take your time cleaning up the cuticle area of the hands. The time it takes to do the cuticles allows the nails to dry sufficiently so that you can proceed with filing and other service procedures.

Spicer says it’s important to know correct disinfectant and sanitizing techniques, not only to keep a sanitary salon and to follow state board regulations, but to keep clients informed as well, says Spicer, “If nail technicians don’t know how to disinfect and sanitize, they won’t be able to tell clients the importance of it. Explain nail problems, or tell clients how to take care of their nails after a service. For example, I explain to clients that they should not attempt to glue back on a nail that has come off; tell them that moisture can build up and become trapped under the glued nail and an infection can occur.”

Taking extra sanitary measures takes only seconds. The increased confidence and professionalism that come from a practicing sanitation in the salon, far from scaring away clients, will give your salon the good reputation it deserve.

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