There are a number of reasons you may need to sterilize needles at home, such as for the removal of shallow wood, metal, or glass splinters.
If you wish to sterilize a needle of any type at home, keep in mind that disinfecting and sterilizing are not the same thing.
Disinfection reduces infection risk, but doesn’t eliminate it. That’s because disinfection can greatly reduce the amount of bacteria on an object, but does not remove it completely.
When done correctly, sterilization procedures can completely remove all types of bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms from needles.
Keep in mind that the air found in homes is not sterile. For a sterilized needle to remain sterile, it must be kept in an air-tight container, which has also been sterilized.
Never use a needle, sterilized or not, to pop a pimple or boil. And if you have a deep splinter, see a doctor instead of trying to remove it yourself. That can help reduce your risk for infection or additional injury.
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In a medical setting, autoclave machines may be used to sterilize needles or other medical equipment by pressurizing saturated steam. These machines are very expensive and may not be practical for at-home use.
Sterilizing needles with boiling water is not as effective as using pressurized steam, and does not provide 100 percent sterilization. It does, however, kill many microorganisms. Boiling is not enough to kill heat-resistant bacteria, such as endospores.
To disinfect a needle at home through boiling:
- Use a pot that has been meticulously cleaned with disinfectant soap and hot water.
- Put the needle into the pot and bring the water to a rolling boil of at least 200°F (93.3°C).
- Boil the needle for at least 30 minutes prior to use.
- Wearing new surgical or latex gloves, remove the needle from the pot with a disinfected or previously sterilized instrument.
- It’s not recommended that you boil needles that will be used for injection. If you must disinfect a syringe needle for reuse, boil it for at least one hour prior to use.
Rubbing alcohol may be adequate for the purpose of sterilizing a needle you’re planning to use to remove splinters located close to the skin’s surface.
To sterilize a needle for this purpose:
- Immerse the needle in the rubbing alcohol or clean it with a sterilized gauze pad that’s been dipped in alcohol.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and put on surgical or unused latex gloves.
- If the splinter can be grasped with a tweezer instead of a needle, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using rubbing alcohol to disinfect the tweezer.
- After removing the splinter, make sure to thoroughly disinfect and cover the area.
However, you can use alcohol to clean your skin prior to an injection. This includes both ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol. Neither solution is able to kill bacterial spores, but in full-strength, high concentrations, both have antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties.
Rubbing alcohol also evaporates quickly on surfaces, making it possible for bacterial growth to rapidly occur or reoccur.
Sterilizing a needle in fire does not provide complete protection from bacteria and other organisms. It may be ok for splinter removal, but this method should never be used for syringe needles.
If you’re going to sterilize a needle in flame, such as from a lighter or stove, follow these steps:
- Use a fire that does not produce much residue, such as a butane lighter.
- Hold the needle into the flame with the help of an instrument, such as tweezers or pliers, until the tip of the needle glows red. It will be extremely hot to the touch.
- Remove any char residue on the needle with a sterilized gauze pad.
- You can also bake needles in a 340°F (171.1°C) oven for one hour. This process will make needles brittle over time.
Bleach is not recommended for sterilizing needles used for splinter removal, or for sterilizing medical needles and syringes.
Bleach will not completely disinfect this equipment. It can also dull needle points over time.
Salt water, such as the water found in the ocean, is not sterile. Neither is water from the tap, even if you put salt into it.
To use salt water to disinfect — not sterilize — a needle for splinter removal, you must start with sterile water.
However, this isn’t a fool-proof system and should not be used for medical needles. Additionally, you should only use this method if a more effective sterilization technique is not available.
To disinfect a needle you’re planning to use to remove a shallow splinter:
- Mix eight ounces of sterilized water with one half teaspoon of non-iodized salt, in a sterile container and lid.
- Drop the needle in.
- Remove the needle from the water while wearing surgical gloves.
Needles intended for medical use should be used only one time, and not reused. If you must reuse a needle, sterilization can be tried at home, but will never provide a complete, 100 percent guarantee.
New needles come packed in sterilized packaging. They cease to be completely sterile once they hit the air, and should be used as quickly as possible after unwrapping.
New needles that touch unsterile surfaces, such as a table or your hands, are no longer sterile. Make sure to thoroughly wash your hands, and to use new surgical gloves before use.
Steam or boiling water is the best way to sterilize a needle you’re planning to use for the removal of a shallow splinter. If you have a deep splinter, you may need to seek medical help to reduce your risk of infection.