Disinfect or Sterilize? Which is Better for Salons?

To disinfect or to sterilize? That is the question I’m often asked by nail technicians and the media, however this isn’t the right question to ask.  Why?  It’s not about “which”, but instead “how”.  Salon related infections would be rare if all items used in performing nail salon services were either disposed of or they were properly cleaned and disinfected, e.g. exactly follow the label directions.  Even so, the facts are, the rate of salon related nail infections is comparatively low considering the many millions of salon services safely performed each year.  The risks have been exaggerated by some and the truth is, a client is pretty unlikely to develop an infection as a result of a salon service.  Infections do occur, but fortunately not often.  In general, clients can expect a safe visit to visibly clean nail salons that practice proper cleaning and disinfection OR properly use an autoclave. Both are good solutions for the salon environment.
Regardless, having this relatively low rate is NOT an excuse for continuing business as usual; in fact a big change is needed in the nail technicians’ thinking.  Unless their thinking changes, this will continue to be a big black eye for the industry; costing untold millions in lost salon service money. What a shame!  I believe the very best thing that could happen to the salon business is if all nail technicians began routinely practicing proper cleaning and disinfection. If I had three wishes for the nail salon industry, that would be my first one. WOW!   Public perception would change, salon business would soar to new heights and appointment books would always be full!  I dream of that day and believe it is coming. Nail educators and nail technicians working together can make this happen working on the Internet and at the local level, around the world; no country is exempt from this issue!
One way or another, this issue is holding back everyone in this industry. Too many salons take short cuts or use unclean/contaminated implements or files.  Some believe the solution is for salons to use autoclaves because they represent a “higher standard”.  But that’s not going to solve this problem.  Autoclave use can make some client’s feel safer, but in practical terms; they don’t make a service any safer than when proper cleaning/disinfection procedures are used.  When a salon infection occurs, it’s more likely because of a failure to properly clean/disinfect; NOT because the salon didn’t have an autoclave.  Failure to properly perform these procedures is the problem. It makes no sense to suggest that proper cleaning and disinfection isn’t effective enough for salons. Only a certain few items can be placed in an autoclave and everything else will still require proper cleaning/disinfection, e.g. pedicure bowls, armrests, doorknobs, cash registers, plastic items, etc.


Properly cleaning and disinfecting should be a main goal for all salons.

In addition, autoclaves can be used and are useful tools when properly used, regularly tested and kept well-maintained.  Salons that don’t regularly perform these tasks are probably better off using proper cleaning and disinfection procedures for everything in the salon.  Salon disinfection products are proven effective through scientific testing, as required by Health Canada, US EPA and others, as are autoclaves.  Use these properly and according to the product label or manual; they will help keep your clients safe and protected.


To learn more, start by carefully reading the two attached brochures.

I hope that each of you will do your part to help prevent salon-related infections and encourage everyone to do the same. We can change the future of the nail industry. Proper cleaning and disinfection: No salon should ever be without it!


These very useful free brochures are from the Nail Manufacturers Council on Safety (NMC) many translated into Korean, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, etc.  I help to write these and endorse their content.
“Proper Cleaning and Disinfection of Pedicure Equipment”


“Proper Cleaning and Disinfection of Manicure Equipment”


“A Complete List of NMC Brochures”