How to Dispose of Tattoo Needles

Tattoos are created using needles to deposit ink under the top layer of skin at the second layer. Needle creates small punctures that allow the ink to be delivered. Needles are sharp and they must be properly disposed of to protect anyone from being pricked by them after they are discarded.

The proper disposal of the needles will keep your clients and employees safe. It makes your work area more sanitary and reduces the possibility of any blood-born contagion being shared through a needle stick.

Sharps Containers

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a tattoo needle falls under the category of medical waste. These needles are to be disposed of the same way that hospitals, clinics, and medical professionals dispose of the needle.

You need a sharps container that is certified as FDA approved for the removal of medical waste. By using an approved container, you reduce the possibility of cross-contamination and the spread of bloodborne illnesses and infections like Hepatitis B, Human immunodeficiency, and Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus.

Inside the sharps container, you should dispose of any razors you use to shave clients when preparing to do a tattoo and any needles that you used on a client. Also, put anything sharp, or could cut or puncture someone in these containers for proper disposal.

You should also place any gauze, bandages, dressings, and disposable gloves into a red biohazard bag so that waste disposal workers are aware that the contents could potentially harbor blood-borne diseases and risk of contamination. 

The ink and the cap to the ink bottle you used during the procedure should be treated as if they are contaminated with blood and placed into a biohazard bag as well.

Sharps containers come in a variety of sizes. You can get containers that are as small as one-gallon units and you can get larger five-gallon bucket size units.

Requirements of FDA approved Sharps Containers

  • The container must be leak-resistant
  • Must remain in an upright position while it is being used
  • Must have a secure fitting lid that is puncture resistant
  • Made of heavy-duty plastic
  • Properly labeled to identify it as a sharps container

Not every area has sharps containers readily available so many people use household containers as sharps containers. If you do this follow these guidelines.

  • Use a heavy plastic container like the jugs that liquid laundry detergent comes in
  • Make sure you keep the lid to the container so the jug can be sealed completely before disposal
  • Use a magic marker with permanent ink to mark on the outside of the container and make it identifiable as a sharps container
  • A container should be designed so that the sharp object can be placed inside it with just one hand. It should not have a lid that has to be held open while the tattoo artist attempts to discard the needle or razor.

The disposal of your needles is an important consideration so do not take shortcuts when it comes to anything that could be contaminated with a blood-borne disease or contagion.

Where to Place your Sharps Container

Where you keep the container inside your facilities is also regulated.

  1. The container has to be visible to everyone in the facility including customers
  2. The container has to be within easy reach so you do not have to stand on a chair, or bend down to throw away the sharp item
  3. The container should be placed on a wall at a level that is below eye level to make certain it is reachable by everyone
  4. The container should only be allowed to fill ¾ of the way before you dispose of it
  5. Out of the reach of children and pets

How to Dispose of your Sharps Container

When the container is ¾ full you need to dispose of it and place a new container in its place. The following guidelines will help you properly dispose of the unit.

  • Call your local trash collection agency and ask them what your city and county rules are regarding sharps container disposal.
  • Take the container to a dropbox or supervised collection site according to your city and county regulations. These sites may be at a local medical facility, the fire department, a pharmacy, or the local police station. Find out where your container will be accepted and at what times you can use the location.


  • Place a sharps container under a sink
  • Place a sharps container near a light switch or electrical plug-in
  • Place a sharps container near a door
  • Place a sharps container in a narrow hallway or walkway that would cause people to possibly bump into it and spill its contents
  • Throw any sharp instrument into a normal trash wastebasket
  • Do not throw a sharps container into residential waste containers to be picked up with common residential trash
  • Do not have a container that creates a need for the person throwing away the item to stick their hand or fingers inside the container.
  • Do not use a cardboard container that could easily be punctured by a needle
  • Do not have the container in a location where it could be accessed by children or pets
  • Recap a needle! Once a needle has had the cap removed then you toss it away! You can stick yourself trying to cover the end of the needle with the cap that came on the needle.

Sanitation and Sterilization

There are things you can do to protect yourself, protect your clients, and protect anyone who might come into contact with your waste materials.

  1. Use disposable razors and disposable instruments whenever you can
  2. Treat all needles and sharp instruments as if they are infected and highly contagious
  3. Practice proper precautions every time you do a tattoo
  4. Follow proper disposal regulations
  5. Have an exposure plan and keep that plan in a highly visible place. If anyone is stuck by a sharp in your facility follow your OSHA-approved exposure plan.

Final Thoughts

Working with needles and sharp instruments requires a little more precautions, but you can have a safe and exposure-free facility.

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