Salon Sanitation

Just My Opinion: Autoclave Versus Liquid Disinfectant in Infection Control

Industry veteran Janet McCormick makes the case for autoclaves in the salon.

<p>Janet McCormick</p>

In 1987, I wrote my first article ever. It was for NAILS and it was on infection control. It was one of those “I-think-this-should-be-said” articles an author writes when, instead of writing, she would rather climb on a table and scream, “What’s wrong with this industry!” I was happy to write the article because I actually thought that if I could get it on paper, I might make a difference in the industry. But, even after writing 20 or 30 articles on infection control practices in our industry since then, nail salons are still touted on TV as dirty, and the mantra of medical care professionals is, “Don’t go to nail salons.”

It seems now things are changing as the questions I am hearing from nail technicians are much different than in 1987. Most nail technicians now know they are not “sterilizing” when they are actually disinfecting in immersion liquids, and they know what good practices are — though whether they perform these practices is seen to be a personal choice by many. However, some nail technicians want to do more in the infection control area of their business now. They are tired of the reputation their beloved industry has acquired, and they want to step out and away from the nail salons that do not perform infection control impeccably. I see this as a wise choice and train many in how to profit from this decision.

To step out and away from poor infection control salons, nail salons must make obvious changes in their practices — those that can be seen by clients and instill confidence in their safety during salon services. One of the first decisions, among many, is in the very basis of their infection control: Should I have an autoclave or use immersion disinfection for implements?

Below is a grid comparing the two methods:



Immersion disinfection, salon level

Start-up costs

Several hundred dollars

Under $100

Verifiable results



Known by clients if performed



Visibly represents safety






Required by states

Only two states

Usually require tuberculocidal level

Daily costs

Distilled water

Change liquid daily

Ongoing costs

Pouches and testing strips




Requires perfect mix

Kills viruses, bacteria, fungi and spores,

Yes, all

Not all


Spore testing weekly; send equipment in for check periodically



Many other decisions must be made after this one, and the salon owner who chooses an autoclave will carry the safety vision further into the design of the salon and in the training of the nail technicians. Whatever the decision, it sets the base level of infection control the salon will perform and usually sets the bar for the practices of the nail technician at the table.

Janet McCormick is a nail technician of 34 years and co-owner of Medinail Learning Center (

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