Salon Sanitation

No Secrets, No Sorcery: Just the Facts, Ma'am

Nail technicians hold the power to control harmful bacteria in their working environment simply and effectively. There are no secrets, magic formulas or laborious efforts. Here are the facts...

Editor’s Note: This article on Salon Sanitization is the first in a monthly series of technique “Lessons”by Lynn Parentini


All manicurists must plan their strategy as if they were waging war. In this case the enemy is the one celled vegetable micro-organism called bacteria.

While there are hundreds of different types of bacteria, they all fall into two main categories: harmful (pathogenic) bacteria and beneficial (non-pathogenic) bacteria.

Pathogenic (path-o-jen-ik) bacteria are minority in number. When they invade animal or plant tissue, they produce and spread disease.

Pathogenic bacteria are harmful and possibly deadly. This type of bacteria is the reason for the strict sterilization and sanitization procedures found in hospitals, health facilities, doctor/dentist offices, salons and beauty schools.

Non-pathogenic (non-path-o-jen-ik) bacteria are the majority of all micro-organisms. They are considered a beneficial form of bacteria and do not produce disease.


The enemy is too small to be seen by the naked eye, but it can be found almost anywhere. The locations you will find the most bacteria in are dirt, dust, garbage and diseased tissue.

One bacteria cell has the power to form an army of germs. Bacteria have the capability to reproduce quickly when conditions are favourable in dirty, damp, dark places. . . the three D’s.

Never underestimate the unseen enemy in less than half a day. As many as 16 million germs may reproduce from one bacteria cell. This process of division or reproduction is called mytosis.

However, it doesn’t end there. The enemy is tough. They are survivors. Many of them adapt and can exist almost anywhere. . . on the skin, in the air, water, secretion of the body openings, on clothing, beneath the nails, on the manicuring table, contaminated jars/bottles of cosmetic crèmes, used files, cuticle pushers, implements, brushes, and more.


There are many precautions a nail technician can take to prevent the transmission of and contamination by pathogenic bacteria in the salon. Understanding the following terms and methods will help keep your working environment safe for both you and your clients.

Decontamination is the method by which either physical or chemical action will destroy or inactivate bacteria on an inanimate object, making it safe for use.

The choice of the appropriate method of decontamination requires knowledge of available products and procedures. Methods of decontamination used in healthcare facilities and salons are categorized as sterilization, disinfection and sanitization.


Sterilization is the physical or chemical action of destroying all forms of micro-organisms (bacteria) on inanimate objects. This process kills non-pathogenic, pathogenic, spores, vegetable fungi and viruses, including the H.I.V (AIDS) virus.

Sterilization is necessary only when an implement (surgical or dental tools) is entering a sterile body cavity, bloodstream or mouth. For example, dentists sterilize their instruments because there is a greater risk of transference of bacteria because they are in direct contact with body fluids, such as saliva and blood.

Hospitals, health facilities and doctors’ offices use this process as well. Many of them have also incorporated the use of disposable items in their daily routines.


High level disinfecting is a chemical action that destroys pathogenic bacteria, vegetable fungi and viruses, including the H.I.V. virus.

This process is utilized on equipment and implements that are used directly on people.

Some examples include manicure/pedicure implements, cuticle pushers, nail and hand brushes, finger bowls and foot baths. These items do not have to be sterilized because they are not entering a sterile body cavity or bloodstream. However, these items must be highly disinfected in order to be considered medically safe.


Sanitization is a chemical action that can destroy most vegetable fungi and bacteria, but cannot destroy certain spores and viruses.

Sanitization is necessary when environmental surfaces and linens come in contact with the public. Manicuring tables, pedicure chairs, floors, counters, chairs, sinks, facial chairs, restrooms, laundry (towels, sheets, uniforms, etc.) and every work station and drawers should be sanitized.

Once you understand the terms sterilizing, high level disinfecting and sanitization, you have gained 50 percent of the knowledge necessary to make the salon environmentally safe. The other 50 percent you need to learn are the practical applications of these methods and the most effective options available to your salon.

The most organized way to understand what your salon’s decontamination needs are is to categorize all items and areas, and match them to the appropriate process:

Sterilizing is an optional process because it is necessary only when an implement is entering a sterile body cavity or the bloodstream. However, conscientious salon staffs ought to seriously consider sterilizing all metal manicure and pedicure implements.

High level disinfecting is mandatory for all metal implements, cuticle pushers, finger bowls, foot baths and nail/hand brushes.

Sanitizing is essential for the manicure table, pedicure chairs and stools, facial chairs and couches, counters, sinks, every work station, drawers, restrooms and laundry.


Do you remember what your grandparents said to you? Use plenty of soap and water! Well, they were 100 percent correct.

Before discussing the procedures and options for sterilizing and disinfecting, it is important to review the merits of soap.

Good old-fashioned detergent soap is a vital ingredient and catalyst in the process of sterilization and disinfection. Without using soap, you run the risk of altering the effectiveness of these processes, since they cannot do their job properly when there is a build-up of foreign matter or debris on the surface.

Pre-cleaning implements and salon items with strong detergent soap and plenty of water will destroy cells that exist on the surface. The detergent soap destroys cells by breaking down protein and lipid acids (fats). Therefore, bacteria will also be destroyed in the process.

Pre-cleansing is a dirt-removing process that should be executed before sterilizing or disinfecting implements, equipment, or salon items.

Step 1: Wear latex gloves to remove used implements from containers and place them in hot soapy water. Soak for a couple of minutes.

Step 2: Using a small handbrush, scrub implements and equipment well. This will remove debris (oils from creams and skin, dead skin cells, cuticle and nail clippings, adhesives, acrylic reisidue) that tends to accumulate on these items.

Step 3: Rinse well and dry thoroughly.


Sterilization equipment used by the medical industry includes controlled steam sterilizers and dry heat sterilizers.

Controlled steam sterilizers (autoclave) are designed in various models one of which is a counter top unit used in doctor and dentist offices.

The design is comparable to a microwave, and it comes with various features: size of inside chamber; fingertip controls; temperature range from 220o to 275o F; easy-to-read digital display of temperature, time and pressure reading; well insulated.

Procedure for Controlled Steam Sterilizers: (Note that all used implements and equipment should be kept in closed containers or areas.)

Step 1: Follow pre-cleansing procedures.

Step 2: Place pre-cleansed implements in the self-seal pouch. Place pouch in sterilizer. Keep all implements spread apart and away from chamber walls. (The self-seal pouch is a product designed for steam and chemical sterilizers. This pouch provides a safe way of handling and storing sterilized implements.)

Step 3: Select recommended steam sterilization cycle. Minimum temperature 270o to 274o F. Minimum exposure and drying time: four times stays, 20 minutes drying. Begin process.

Step 4: When the process is complete, unload unit. Visually check self-seal pouch for moisture. It should be thoroughly dry. Seal pouch with tape and store in a closed, dry container.

The dry heat sterilizer is also used in the medical industry. The steam sterilizer is more time-efficient but some items do not well in moist heat.

The dry heat procedure needs a longer exposure period because dry heat is uneven, thus taking longer to penetrate an object. A dry heat sterilizer usually has well-insulated chambers and operates on electricity. Heat distribution is activated by gravity convection or mechanical convection.

Procedure for Dry Heat Sterilizer: Follow same procedures as for the controlled steam sterilizer with the exception of the processing time.

If the temperature is 340o F (170o C), the minimum exposure time should be one hour. When the temperature is 320o F (160oC), the minimum exposure time should be two hours.

Please note that the procedure for these two methods many vary according to manufacturer’s directions.

Remember also that sterilization is only necessary when an implement is entering a sterile body cavity or bloodstream; however, some salons have incorporated the controlled steam sterilizer into their working environment.


High level disinfecting is not as complicated as it sounds. As a matter of fact, you can have medically safe implements, equipment and salon items in approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

A 50 to 70 percent solution of ethyl alcohol is used to destroy all pathogenic bacteria, vegetable fungi and viruses. High level disinfecting with ethyl alcohol is done according to the following method:

Step 1: Add a few drops of glycerine to the alcohol to prevent rusting.

Step 2: Immerse pre-cleansed implements for 10 minutes. (Use sanitized bowl.)

Step 3: Remove, pat dry with clean towel. Place in ziplock bag and store in a cool dry place. Implements are now medically safe.

Suggestion: To always be prepared, every technician should have several sets of implements. To save time, disinfect all implements at one time, either in the morning or at the end of the day.

Barbicide is also used for disinfecting. It can be found at beauty supply stores. For usage, read manufacturer’s instructions.

High level disinfecting of finger bowls and foot baths can be accomplished with full strength sodium hypochlorite (bleach). This is an excellent disinfectant, but the odor is strong. It should be used in a well-ventilated area, and the odor will eventually disappear.

An alternative to bleach is Lysol Disinfectant, which contains an active ingredient, o-penylphenol ethyl alcohol at 79 percent. It is available in concentrated form, and should be diluted by mixing one part Lysol with 10 parts water. The procedure is as follows:

Step 1: Immerse pre-cleansed finger bowls in solution. Fill pre-cleansed foot bath with solution. Soak for 10 minutes.

Step 2: Rinse well and dry with clean, sanitized towel.

Step 3: Store finger bowls in ziplock bags. Place foot bath in large plastic bag and keep in closet.

Sanitizing of all the environmental surfaces mentioned earlier is necessary for two primary reasons: To destroy most vegetable fungi, bacteria and some forms of spores and viruses; and to keep the salon atmosphere safe, fresh and clean in appearance.

Two effective options are available when sanitizing environmental surfaces. One part concentrated Lysol can be diluted in 10 parts water, or full strength sodium hypochlorite (bleach) can be used (dilute for use on floors).

In either case, read and follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully for the different types of surfaces.

Suggestions: Remember that any sponges used should be disposed of regularly. With the exception of sanitizing the floor with a sponge mop, use disposable cloth or use towels that can be laundered. Unattended sponges can breed bacteria.

The ultra-violet sanitizer is used for sanitizing implements in the salon industry and in the medical area. It is also used for home care for cleaning dialysis tubes for patients. The ultra-violet sanitizer works on the principle that wave lengths disrupt the walls of the cells. The procedure consists of three steps:

Step 1: Pre-cleanse all implements and brushes.

Step 2: Read manufacturer’s directions carefully.

Step 3: Store all implements and brushes in ziplock bags and keep in cool, dry place.


Professionals in the beauty industry are in direct contact with the public. Manicurists have an obligation to protect clients as well as themselves. Webster’s Dictionary sums it up perfectly with just one word: Responsible---Able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations.

Remember that maintaining a healthy salon environment is an extension of your work. . . the work you are proud of: helping to make nails healthy and beautiful. 

Salon Sanitization

To expedite sanitization procedures

in your salon, here are some suggestions

to keep in mind at all times:

  • Read all manufacturer’s directions, warnings and shelf life of product carefully.
  • Beware of some chemicals that might be corrosive to metals.
  • Disinfectants such as formaldehyde are highly toxic and could possibly cause skin rashes and upper respiratory problems if not handled correctly. Hospitals are gearing away from such products. Only a highly trained person should use this product.
  • Keep all used implements, towels and waste materials in separate, closed containers. All garbage pails and waste baskets should be lined with plastic bags.
  • Use latex plastic gloves when handling used material or implements and while pre-cleansing, sterilizing, disinfecting and sanitizing.
  • Every technician in the salon should have a disinfecting or sanitizing assignment. These assignments can be rotated monthly. This assures teamwork with one goal in mind: a healthy environment.
  • Store chemicals in cool, dry place. Most products can be purchased in quantity at supermarkets, janitorial supply services or through medical supply houses.
  • Keep all chemicals labelled and out of children’s reach.
  • Keep a first-aid kit in the salon.
  • Salon should be well ventilated, especially when working with adhesives and acrylic products.
  • Use a disposable tongue depressor to remove crème from jars. Cover after every use.
  • Use disposable files and buffers on each client. (Paper files and buffers cannot be sanitized.)
  • Wash hands before and after each client.
  • Wear gloves if your client has any cuts or lesions on the hands or fingers.
  • Disinfect manicuring table after each client.
  • Replace towels on table after each client.
  • Used implements must be removed from the manicuring table immediately.
  • When disinfected implements are being used, keep in a sanitizing jar, 70 percent ethyl alcohol solution, approximately one inch deep.

These suggestions will become second nature. You are probably practicing most of them now. in order to have a safe salon environment, each staff member should contribute 10 to 15 minutes each day.

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