Hypodermic needles are used in the home to administer medicines such as insulin. Surgical needles are used to stitch up wounds, or for other uses such as body peircing. What both have in common is that they must be sterilised in order to prevent infection, and may spread disease if reused. The safest method is always to use sterile, single-use needles. However, when these are not available, there are a number of ways to sterilise needles in the home. These can reduce the risk of infection.
Clean the needle before sterilising it. Dirt, dried blood and other contaminants can interfere with the sterilisation process. Make sure the body and tip of the needle are free of any foreign objects and rinse the needle clean. Remember that simply cleaning a needle doesn't make it sterile.
Sterilise your needles using an autoclave, which is the best method for sterilisation. An autoclave uses extremely hot steam at high pressures to kill infectious agents. If you are going to be sterilising objects repeatedly, an autoclave is a must. Each type of autoclave will have its own instructions, but all involve placing the items to be sterilised into a pressure chamber and activating the steam cycle.
Disinfect needles with bleach. If you don't have access to an autoclave, this is the best method for needle sterilisation. However, it is not always effective against some pathogens, notably HIV. For a surgical needle, wipe the length of the needle with a cotton swab soaked in bleach, then rinse the needle with water. For hypodermic needles, fill the barrel and needle completely with household bleach and leave it in for 30 seconds. Repeat this process several times. Swab the needle as above. Rinse the needle thoroughly after disinfecting.
Immerse needles in boiling water. If you have neither an autoclave nor bleach, you can reduce the risk of infection by submerging needles in boiling water for 30 minutes to an hour. This method is less reliable than bleach and should be used only when other methods of sterilisation are not available.
Do not attempt to sterilise needles by passing them through a flame. This is not sufficient to properly sterilise them.
Tips and warnings
- Do not attempt to sterilise needles by passing them through a flame. This is not sufficient to properly sterilise them.