You need to give your drill some TLC if you want it to last a long time — and do its job properly. Keeping it clean and dust-free are the first steps to keeping an electric file in good condition.
Purchasing an electric file can be a big investment. So it’s not in your best interest to have it break down and require some kind of repair — especially after just having purchased it. That’s where proper care and maintenance comes in. If you want your electric file to give you a run for your money, then you have to give it some tender loving care. Properly caring for and maintaining your electric file will guarantee it a long life — and guarantee you many sets of beautiful-looking nails.
Keep It Clean…
So what’s the proper way to care for an electric file in the salon? It’s actually pretty simple. Bits are really the only thing on a drill that can be disinfected (see “What About Drill Bits?” on page 72). The rest of the drill should never be immersed in any kind of disinfectant, because the solution will damage its inner workings.
To keep your electric file as dust-free and clean as possible, simply wipe it down regularly with a soft cloth and use a brush to keep dust particles out of any cracks and crevices. Some electric file manufacturers even suggest that nail techs purchase canned air to whisk away any dust from the handpiece, power supply, cord, and around the collet (a small adaptable piece that fits into the neck of the electric file to allow it to accommodate different-size bits). Always make sure you unplug the electric file before cleaning it.
…And Well Maintained
Many manufacturers say it’s not a bad idea to take an electric file in for yearly maintenance. “I liken it to changing the oil on a car,” says Bill Sanderfield, president of Enterprise Swiss (La Habra, Calif.). “Just like you should regularly change your car’s oil to avoid major problems in the long run, you should also do the same with an electric file. Things can wear that you can’t see. Bearings can get dirty and noisy, and you may not hear a strange noise coming out of the drill if you’re inside a loud salon.”
Other manufacturers, however, say an electric file should only be taken in for repair when a problem occurs. “I tell people if there’s nothing wrong with their electric files, then they don’t need to bring them in for maintenance,” says Bruce Atwood, president of Atwood Industries (Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif.). “When an electric file starts making a weird noise, then it’s time to bring it in for repair.”
Whether you opt for yearly maintenance or simply making repairs when the need arises, one thing everyone agrees on is that the maintenance should be left to manufacturers. That means nail techs should never attempt to take an electric file apart. “We’ve had instances where nail techs have given their boyfriends or spouses the electric files to take apart and they end up sending it to us in parts,” says Richard Hurter, marketing director for Kupa (Buena Park, Calif.).
So what happens when a drill is taken in for regular maintenance? Basically, the handpiece is taken apart and the dust that accumulates inside it is removed (most of the dust usually tends to collect inside the collect). If any problems are found, such as a faulty motor or bearings, then the nail tech is contacted and informed of the extra repairs or parts that the drill will require.
The power supply (the part where the on/off switch, speed control, and forward/reverse buttons are located) does not usually require any maintenance. And if it does, says Hurter, it’s usually because a fuse or transformer has blown, or because the cord has loosened.
It usually takes a week from the time the drill is sent to the manufacturer until the tool is actually taken apart, cleaned, and sent back to the nail tech. Sanderfield says it’s a good idea for nail techs to send in their drills for maintenance while they’re out on vacation.
It’s also important to keep in mind how often the drill is used. A nail tech who constantly uses her drill may need to take it in more frequently for repairs and maintenance than someone who only occasionally relies on the tool, says Chuck Glaspell, manufacturing manager for Aseptico (Woodinville, Wash.). Common Problems One of the most common problems associated with electric files is the dust that gathers inside the handpiece, eventually causing damage to the bearings and other parts. “The parts will not move as easily,” Sanderfield says. “And as the drill gets older, it takes more power to run it.”
Several manufacturers make drills that come equipped with sealed handpieces, virtually guaranteeing that no dust or other particles will gather inside the drill and thus requiring practically no maintenance, says Steve Wallace, national sales manager for Medicool (Torrance, Calif.). It’s also vital that a nail tech properly knows how to use an electric file. Putting unneeded pressure on the drill and constantly running it at full capacity can damage it, resulting in frequent visits to the repair shop.
“It’s like asking your car to go uphill at a high speed,” says Lysa Comfort, electric file division director for EZ Flow Nail Systems (Stanton, Calif.). Many manufacturers offer videos, instruction books, and training. If you’re a first-time user, it’s important to take a class and learn the basic techniques of using a drill.
In the end, it all comes down to keeping your electric file as clean as possible when you’re in the salon. That’s the first step to avoiding any major problems in the future that may become a nuisance and a burden on your wallet. The more TLC you give it, the better the drill will work and the longer it should last.
Here's a drastic example of a cord that's been mistreated. The nail tech attempted to hold the cord together by placing a heavy blue tape at the end, only to have the wires meet and burn.
Electric File Dos and Don’ts
Aren’t sure about the proper way to maintain your electric file? Here are some pointers to keep in mind
- Do cleanse the electric file regularly with a soft cloth or brush to remove any dust and debris that can settle in cracks and crevices. Make sure to unplug the machine before cleaning it.
- Don’t apply lubricant anywhere on the drill. Most drills feature bearings inside the handpiece that are self-lubricating. Adding more oil can actually damage the bearings, not to mention heat them up, causing friction and heating the entire electric file.
- Do hold your electric file’s cord properly. Try to avoid constantly bending it, as the cord can become loose from the power supply or the handpiece. Hold the cord at a natural angle.
- Don’t place the handpiece in a disinfectant. You don’t want to cause interior damage to it.
- Do remove the bit from the handpiece when you’re done using it.
- Don’t switch your drill to the reverse option while it’s in forward motion. Lysa Comfort likens it to throwing a car in reverse while driving 100 mph. Make sure you turn the drill off before changing directions.
- Do make sure the bits are centered properly. If not, the drill stem will wobble and loosen up, damaging the handpiece.
A common mistake some nail techs make is to immerse the entire handpiece into a disinfectant, causing damage to its interior.
What About Drill Bits?
Although your electric file can be dusted off and cleaned with a soft cloth or brush, the drill bits must be disinfected between each client according to state board regulations. Drill bits (carbide or diamond) should first be scrubbed with a brush and soapy water to loosen dust and particles. You can also soak the bits in acetone to dissolve acrylic dust and residue build-up.
Then, disinfect the bits in a disinfecting solution specifically formulated for use with metal instruments. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on soaking time.
After soaking the bits, allow them to air dry thoroughly. Keep bits in a dry, covered place when they’re not in use.
So what can’t be disinfected?
Sandpaper bits, or sanding bands, for example, are one-use items that must be discarded. Rubberized abrasive attachments, abrasive stones, and porous accessories and attachments cannot be disinfected. Chamois and fabric buffing attachments are also considered one-use items.
Keep in mind that bits may rust in the disinfection process. Some carbide bits have a tendency to rust, but a high-quality diamond should not. The disinfectant you use may also be the culprit. If you are using a high-quality bit and are disinfecting it for the proper amount of time, then you shouldn’t have any problems.
Originally published in NAILS Magazine January, 2004.