Just about every state in the country has a “one client, one file” rule that requires any implement that cannot be disinfected be used on one client only. It is probably one of the worst complied with regulations in the salon. But the situation has become more serious with new vigilance in California by state board inspectors cracking down on nail techs who reuse nail and foot files that have not proven to be disinfectable. In the process, they’re discovering that “disinfect” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.

Coming Clean

According to Jim Rudolph, CEO of Rudolph International (Brea, Calif.), it was only natural for state board inspectors to start cracking down on salons and nail techs.

“There have been so many TV reports about unsanitary salons,” he says. “Nail and foot files also happen to be some of the worst carriers of infectious organisms. They have lots of cracks, holes, peaks, and valleys where bad bacteria can harbor.”

Regulations established by the California Bureau of Barbering and Cosmetology in 1963 require nail techs to dispose of all instruments and supplies that come into direct contact with a client and cannot be disinfected immediately after use – including nail and foot files. Metal files have always been deemed disinfectable, so long as the nail tech follows both the file and disinfectant manufacturers’ specifications, says bureau chief James Goldstene.

However, instead of properly disposing of their non-metal files, many nail techs would sanitize them with soap and water or continue reusing them without washing them at all.

Rudolph, a file manufacturer himself, became aware of an increase in the number of citations being issued by the state for file violations. The state asked for scientific data proving that nail and foot files could indeed be disinfected. After nine months of collaboration with state and medical laboratories, Rudolph found that certain files in his lines could be disinfected after being immersed in an EPA-registered disinfectant for one hour.

The lab utilized King Research’s Barbicide Plus, but the California state board allows any EPA-registered disinfectant with demonstrated bactericidal, fungicidal, and virucidal activity to be used.

Ben King, president of King Research (Brooklyn, N.Y.), had not heard about the tests until after the results were released. “Our labs had not tested the disinfectant on that type of surface,” he says. “We always test on inanimate, nonporous surfaces.”

As a result of Rudolph’s findings, state board inspectors will no longer fine nail techs for reusing nail and foot files – so long as they are Rudolph International files that have been deemed disinfectable.

Nail techs will still be able to use their favorite file brands, but will have to discard the implements after one use, even if they claim to be sanitizable.

Since Rudolph only tested his own files, it hasn’t been proven whether other manufacturers’ files can be disinfected. That will be left up to each individual manufacturer. “If manufacturers can show us their lab reports proving that their files can be disinfected, then we’ll certify those files as well,” says Goldstene.

Rudolph explains why the file situation has become murky: “Cushioned closed cell foam files with a plastic core or metal files can be disinfected, but files with a thick closed cell foam are suspect at this time.” Files with open cell foam cushioning and wooden cores are out of the question. Neither can be disinfected because they absorb liquids, and due to the disintegration of some abrasives and thick open cell foams, some cushioned files won’t fit the bill either.

Not everyone agrees with the new regulations. Estelina, president of Estelina’s Pedicure Product Co. (Westlake Village, Calif.), says she has always stressed to her clients the importance of submersing nail and foot files in a disinfecting solution after sanitizing them, but only for 10 minutes at a time. “Anything more than that and the file is going to fall apart,” she says.

Houshang Rastegar, president of H&H Nail Products (Van Nuys, Calif.) says that he often recommends nail techs to dispose of their files after each use. “For economical purposes, I tell them to sanitize the file, but to only use it on the same client,” he says. “I’ve always known that the board prefers nail techs to dispose of their files. Maybe the board should require all nail file manufacturers to obtain certification for their disinfectable files as well.”

To make other states aware of the California rules, Rudolph has sent his findings to them in hopes of getting his files certified by them as well. So far, Oregon has been the only other state besides California to certify his files, but he says other states have shown interest as well.

How Do You Disinfect?

Prior to disinfection, it’s important to wash a file using a detergent designed for implements or a disinfectant that has cleaning ability. Dirt, skin flakes, or even blood on a file can inhibit a disinfectant’s ability to kill bacteria. If you place a dirty file in a chemical solution, for example, the solution losses its effectiveness. The chemicals bind with bacteria to kill them. If there’s dirt present, the chemicals will bind to the dirt, and soon the disinfectant will be ineffective.

As Rudolph puts it: “The word ‘sanitizale’ as it relates to nail and foot files needs to be abandoned forever. It’s misleading to the nail technician and implies a false sense of security and potential harm. The word to adopt is ‘disinfectable.”

Clean and Disinfected

Now that California is cracking down on salons and nail techs who do not property dispose of or disinfect their nail and foot files, Jim Rudolph says it’s only a matter of time before other state adopt similar regulations. Below are California’s requirements for disinfecting Rudolph’s nail and foot files. Keep in mind that the state considers all other files, excluding metal files, non-disinfectable, so they must be discarded after one use.

  1. Before you disinfect a file, clean it with soap and water or a detergent.
  2. Totally immerse the file in an EPA-registered disinfectant with demonstrated bactericidal, fungicidal, and virucidal activity for a minimum of one hour.
  3. Place the file in a clean, covered container labeled as such.

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