Salon Sanitation

Disinfecting Your Non-Metal Files

Examine the pros and cons of disposing of, saving, or disinfecting your files.

Although every state has different sanitation regulations for cleaning implements, you should be aware that because of heightened consumer awareness of professional nail care, you may need to reconsider how you handle your most frequently used implement — the file. Many manufacturers and the consumer press have warned the public that files should be either disposed of after each use, saved for one clients use only, or disinfected between clients. Not all files can withstand chemical disinfection, so be sure that once you’ve decided how to deal with the issue, you choose the right file. Files can’t withstand machine disinfection.

Simply disposing of files after each use reduces time, effort, and worry — everything but cost. “Any technician out there who is a professional won’t like disposing of files after each use,” says Richard Rosenberg, vice president of Isabel Cristina Nail Care Products (Teaneck, N.J.). “Using submersible files, where possible, is most appropriate because disinfec­tion of non-submersible files tends to ruin them.”

But Elizabeth Anthony, head of education for Micro Aseptic Products (Palatine, 111.), says that using inexpensive paper files only once is cost-efficient. However, she admits that technicians would be less likely to discard the more expensive sanitizable files.


Many technicians recommend reserving particular files for each client’s visits. However, Geoff Geils, executive vice president of Flowery Beauty Products (Greenwich, Conn.), says, “It’s a space issue as well as a health one. Where are salons going to keep all these files? Perhaps salons can sell client file kits and get the ball rolling for retailing.”

Gerri Cevetillo, group manager at Ultronics (New York City), advises technicians to store client files in the salon rather than allowing clients to take them home, or add a dollar charge to their service and tell the client to keep them. The dollar charge will help cover the costs of buying files for each client. However, if a client does take her own files home, she may allow someone else to use them, and if she returns with them contaminated, then you’re no safer than if you used files on many people without sanitizing them.

If you are going to store files in your salon, Geils warns that it’s important to keep the files dry, as moisture leads to mold and other growth. Files should not be stored in plastic bags because they breed bacteria, says Cevetillo, who advises storing the files in paper envelopes with the clients name printed on it. However, Rosenberg says that paper can also harbor bacteria. He is therefore adamantly against storing and reusing files.

Anthony doesn’t favor personal client files either. She believes it’s too easy to put files in the wrong envelope, or a technician could get scraped if the abrasive rips the package and exposes the file.

Even if a file is being used on one client only, if blood or any body fluid gets on it, the best thing to do is throw it out, just to be on the safe side. Even if a scratch doesn’t bleed, it may produce a shiny layer of interstitial fluid, which contains microorganisms and viruses. Considering the number of these minor scrapes, clients are cut more often with files than with nippers or other implements, says Anthony.

Anthony explains that some viruses can be reactivated after fluid initially dries, which is why soiled files should always be thrown away. For example, the hepatitis virus can survive on a dry surface for two to three weeks and be activated if the file becomes wet. The AIDS/HIV virus, however, can’t be reactivated by moisture.


A technician can safely reuse washable files after they’ve been washed with soap and water and sprayed with a disinfectant. It’s essential to cover the entire file with the disinfectant to ensure total protection. Washable files will generally hold up to this process.

Files that are meant to be washed are made with an adhesive that will hold up to contact with water but will dissolve if immersed. Larry Feldman, vice president of sales and marketing at Realys (Huntington Beach, Calif.), warns technicians that many manufacturers say their files are washable without explaining the difference between washable (which means that files can get wet) and submersible (which means they can soak in liquid without falling apart). If you have any doubts about your files, drop one in water for five minutes and see what happens.

Don’t drop the file in a disinfectant solution to test it, because some submersible files can still be damaged by certain chemicals. For example, some disinfectants may be suitable for metal and solid plastic implements only. You need to find a disinfecting solution that won’t destroy the file’s structure and meets your state board’s approval.

Rosenberg says that phenolic-based compounds can get into nooks and crannies that some other disinfection products can’t reach, and they don’t leave a permanent residue once they’re rinsed off. Phenols are safer than quaternary ammonium compounds, or quats, which “leave, a very definite film, mostly on metals, that won’t come off unless it’s scrubbed off,” says Rosenberg. However, Anthony says that phenolics can soften and loosen plastic, including the resin adhesive on some submersible files.

If you use an absorbent, cushioned file, use a disinfectant that doesn’t harm the skin or eyes because it could be an irritant while the file is still wet. The threat is minimal once it has dried. If filings get in one’s eyes they would irritate them. Feldman says that it’s rare for someone to file fast enough to make particles rise in the air.

Submersible files give technicians yet another option for handling their files. Geils prefers submersible files to washable ones, because he feels that soaking files enables the disinfectant to lift built-up filings and dirt that normally get caught in the file’s grit.

Soaking a file assures it’s completely covered with disinfectant solution. Cevetillo points out that files are usually porous, and by EPA standards, disinfection strictly applies to non-porous implements. “We have tested submersible files,” Cevetillo says, “and there’s no dam­age to the file, but there’s no guarantee that all the bacteria are reached.”

However, submersible files are usually coated with a waterproof layer, such as polyester resin, and use a closed cell foam that doesn’t absorb moisture, allowing the file to hold up to both water and disinfection solutions.


What else can you do to protect yourself? The idea of wearing gloves while servicing a client is catching on. Cevetillo explains, “No matter what a technician is doing to clean her implements, she still needs to wash her hands with an antiseptic between clients. She should wear gloves. But some people complain that they don’t fit properly, or that they lose sensitivity.” Of course, gloves must be disposed of after each client, but Cevetillo believes that technicians may not throw them away after every client because of cost.

Anthony doesn’t feel that gloves are a necessity, but she adds that if you wear them for one client, wear them for everyone. Don’t discriminate just because a client tells you she has a communicable blood-borne disease. That goes for glasses, dust masks, dental shields (worn over the face), and ventilation units.

The point everyone is trying to make is that you can’t be too careful. There are times when you may need to go above and beyond state board regulations — and your own comfort zone — to make your clients feel safe. Whether you use a 20 file and throw it away or disinfect a $2 submersible one and rinse it, do what’s necessary to protect yourself and your clients.

By Jennifer M. Sakurai

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