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For a start, I strongly recommend to bag your tattoo machine. Much has been said about if it’s a correct procedure or not, you can have your opinion, I think bagging is better. Some people say if you bag your machines, small particles of blood & ink will go up the tube and stay in them… won’t it happen without a bag, too? Of course, I DON’T say you should bag your machine and NOT cleaning it afterwards!! Bagging is just an extra measure to keep them clean.
Others say if you bag your machines, they will get too hot. Not true: a machine that doesn’t overheat without a bag, won’t do with it. Under hot weather situations, it may get slightly hotter, but not being a problem.
The reason I recommend it is simple: if the machine is covered with a clean bag before proceeding to tattoo, it will stay cleaner if you touch it with dirty gloves, and it will also be a barrier against ink splats. This barrier will be effective if there is any bacteria on the machine, too, as tattoo machines can’t be put into an autoclave, and the risk of the machine not being 100% clean is there. After finishing the tattoo, remove the bag and proceed to clean the machine.
Now, about cleaning: first thing I must say is DON’T USE BLEACH . I’ve read and heard too much shit about the use of bleach to clean tattoo machines. Bleach is far too strong for this purpose, it will eat the springs and rust your machine so quick. Also, don’t put your machine under tap water. That won’t clean it effectively and is not good at all for it, as some water will go into the wiring, causing damage. One last thing not to do – don’t disassemble the machine to clean it. It’s a extreme method just necessary when something (ink cup, rinse water, etc) was drop onto the machine and got into the most internal parts.
To clean your machine correctly, spray it with your disinfectant of choice. There are many to choose from, do a little research and find the one that suits you better. Some are stronger than others, and are known to rust your machine if you don’t clean deposits afterwards. To avoid this, spray your machine with the disinfectant, wait the recommended time the product specifies (usually around 10 minutes), and wipe the machine with a clean paper towel. Then, spray the machine again with rubbing alcohol and remove any deposit left by the disinfectant.
Now, the final and most important part: using and cleaning your machine will gradually remove the finish that protects the metal. That finish can be wax, oil, black oxide, etc. A little rust will eventually appear on the surface of the machine if you don’t lubricate it periodically. The best product I’d recommend for this purpose is olive oil. You could use industrial oils as WD-40 or silicone lubricants, but… would you put that oils on an open wound? That’s why I recommend olive oil, because it’s not toxic for humans, and it won’t do any harm if any of it reaches the client’s skin.
To oil your machine, apply a little amount of it with a clean paper towel over the surface of the machine, until it’s fully lubricated, making sure you reach every part, using a cotton bud for the hard to reach zones. Apply it on the armature bar and springs – rusty springs will break easier than clean ones. Just take care you don’t put oil on the tip of the front spring, where the screw makes contact, to avoid any interference. Powdercoating painted machines are perfectly protected by the paint itself, so you don’t need to oil them if yours is finished in that way, but remember about the armature bar and springs.
After many hours of use, little carbon deposits could appear on the contact point between the screw and the front spring, and under the armature bar where it touches the coil core tops, causing interferences. If that’s the case, remove them with a 1000 grit sandpaper, just passing it over these points without pushing too hard, they will go away easily. Check this a few times a year and clean it if necessary.