How Should I Clean My New Tattoo To Prevent Infection?

So you’re about to leave the tattoo parlor, the slight sting of a freshly wrapped tattoo reminding you of the design you now have permanently inked on your skin, and you’re wondering what to do next. Enjoy the moment! But know that the next couple of weeks are going to be crucial to the long term health and appearance of your tattoo, beginning with proper tattoo aftercare.

To ensure the design remains as perfect as the day you got it, it is important to clean your tattoo on a regular basis and follow these simple guidelines. Not only will these steps help the ink remain bright and keep the lines from bleeding together over the years, but they are imperative to preventing infection of the tattooed skin.

Note: Remember the tattooed area is an open wound and should be treated with the same diligence.

After finishing the design and giving you a chance to admire your new tattoo, it is likely your artist cleaned the area with antibacterial soap and then wrapped the tattoo in plastic or surgical wrap. Your artist should have also given you instructions on when to remove the covering. If not, it is typically recommended you keep a medical-grade bandage on for 24 hours and any other type of covering on for two to five hours. It is important you keep the bandage on for the proper amount of time to allow the skin to begin the healing process and prevent bacteria from infecting the area.

So, until then, relax and avoid touching the bandage or wearing clothes that may rub against the tattooed area.

The Initial Wash

After waiting the appropriate amount of time, you’re now ready to take off the covering and see your tattoo again! You’ll want to make sure you are near a sink so you can wash the area immediately after removing the bandage. This will minimize your risk of infection and help the tattoo heal properly.

Washing your tattoo for the first time might seem a little daunting, but as long as you follow these simple steps your tattoo will end up looking better than ever!

Step 1 – Wash your hands

Start by washing your hands with an antibacterial soap to kill any and all bacteria that could be harmful to your tattoo. Remove the bandage and run a tap until the water feels lukewarm to the touch. If you notice any plasma, blood or excess ink surrounding your tattoo, don’t be alarmed. This is expected within the first couple of days of getting your tattoo and simply part of the healing process.   

 Blood droplets may form on the tattooed area within the first 24 hours after getting the tattoo as a reaction to the skin being pierced by the tattoo needles. The plasma you may see is a clear substance and indicates the skin is beginning to heal and form a scab.

Step 2 –  Wet the tattooed area

After removing the bandage, use your hands to cup some water and wet the area. It is important that you DO NOT submerge your tattoo completely under the tap. Not only might this be painful on the tattooed area, which is most likely sore and/or itchy, but submerging the tattoo could cause the ink to fade. I HIGHLY recommend you purchase some sort of wrap to use while in the shower just to be sure it doesn’t get too saturated. It’s very reasonably priced and is well worth it to protect your new ink from fading. Here’s wrap I use: (Amazon Link).

Step 3 – Apply antibacterial soap

Once the tattooed area is completely wet, apply an antibacterial soap such as this one from One Tattoo World (Amazon Link). If your tattoo artist did not give you any soap recommendations, use a soap that is fragrance and alcohol free to prevent aggravation of the skin. Most soaps labeled “organic” will be safe to wash a new tattoo with.

Use your hands to rub soap gently over the tattooed area. Do not use a washcloth, towel or any other material to apply the soap. These materials may be harboring bacteria that could infect your tattoo, and you just washed your hands, so they are the safest option!

Apply the soap slowly over the surface of your skin and tattoo. Make small circles with your fingers until the entire tattooed area is covered in a thin layer of soap. The goal is to remove the excess blood, plasma and ink such that the area is completely clean. Once the area feels smooth to the touch, apply more lukewarm water with your hands to remove the soap.

Step 4 – Dry the area

Make sure the area is completely free of soap before patting it dry with a paper towel. You can also let the area air dry if you prefer. Again, do not use a washcloth, towel or any other material. If you choose to use a paper towel, do not rub or scrub the area, simply pat the excess water until the area feels dry.

If you notice a little ink seeping from your tattoo, don’t worry! This is completely normal and a part of the healing process. It does not mean your tattoo is fading.

Note: Most tattoo artists will apply an excess amount of ink to ensure the design is completely saturated and evenly inked. The dye you are noticing is just the extra layer of ink caught in the top layer of the skin. Plasma can also mix with the excess ink, causing it to look like you are losing more ink than you actually are. Throughout the first week of getting your tattoo, ink may continue to drain from the area as your skin heals.

Step 5 – Apply an unscented lotion

Once the area is completely dry, apply a thin layer of unscented lotion. Aquaphor Healing Ointment (Amazon Link) is a typical recommendation from tattoo artists and can be used for the first two to three days after getting a tattoo. After that, switch to a less intense lotion, but make sure it is still fragrance free! My go-to tattoo aftercare lotion is made by a company called Ora’s Amazing Herbal, which you can find here (Amazon Link).

Applying lotion to your tattooed area helps keep the skin hydrated, reduces the risk of infection and aids in the formation of scabs. Be careful to only apply a thin layer and blot off any excess lotion. Applying too much lotion will prevent the skin from getting oxygen and may result in the formation of small pimples or worse, cause the skin to become infected.

Congratulations, you have just completed your first tattoo clean!

Your artist should have also told you how frequently to clean your tattoo. If not, tattoo parlors typically recommend cleaning the area 3-5 times a day to ensure your tattoo remains bacteria free all day long! Following each clean, you should apply another thin layer of lotion.

Throughout the day, you may notice small scabs beginning to appear on the tattoo and surrounding area or the ink may look lighter as the skin dries out. Feel free to apply a thin coat of lotion then as well, just make sure you don’t over-saturate the area.

For the first couple of weeks after getting a tattoo, you will want to continue cleaning your tattoo 3 to 5 times a day and applying lotion when you notice the area becoming too dry. Applying a light layer of lotion may also help reduce your temptation to itch the area as your skin begins to scab. If you notice little flakes appearing on your skin, try your best to not pick at them! Doing so could cause scarring or interfere with the pigmentation of your tattoo.

Overall, treat your tattoo as you would a cut — make sure the area stays clean and hydrated and avoid touching the skin or picking at the scabs and your tattoo will heal just fine, ensuring the beautiful design sticks with you for a lifetime!

Additional Related Topics

Can I shower the same day I get a tattoo? Yes! It is perfectly ok to shower the same day that you receive your tattoo. Just remember, it may be sore and sting a bit from the water hitting it. It’s best to avoid holding the tattoo under water for an extended period of time so that it doesn’t fade the ink.

How long after a tattoo can you shower normally? The general rule of thumb, is that you should give your tattoo at least 48 hours to begin healing before exposing it to water for an extended period of time. Waiting 48 hours, gives your body some time to being healing and forming a scab or barrier over the ink to help protect it. Personally, I always wear a wrap on my new tattoo for a couple weeks while showering.

When Can I Stop Washing My Tattoo With Antibacterial Soap? There are many factors that can impact the answer to this question. The biggest two are location of the tattoo and how big it is. Generally, it’s good to wash your tattoo with antibacterial soap for at least 3 weeks. If possible, I recommend continuing the process for up to 6 weeks. Even if you reduce the number of washings after week 3, getting at least one or two cleanings in with antibacterial soap is helpful.