How to Clean a Piercing

A nose piercing on a woman wearing bright pink lipstick.

I was first pierced with a curved barbell – a classic eyebrow piercing. The guy/mammal doing the work was anything but clean. A cross country biker, he had just gotten back from a trip and looked and smelled like sweaty infection; however, this guy was all about caring for and cleaning piercings. He looked into my eyes and said, “It won’t be any good if this thing becomes a puss-filled, soggy tomato.” I took this to heart. Not only did I heed his advice, I researched and found more ways to keep my piercing looking awesome. Reap the fruits of my labor. Below you can learn how to clean a piercing (and keep it that way) using safe cleaning solutions and practical strategies.

Steps to Clean a Piercing

  1. hands covered in soap sudsWash your hands often. By washing your hands often, you can significantly reduce the risk of infection to your piercing. Wash your hands with antibacterial or antimicrobial soap before you or someone else is about to handle or clean your piercing.
  2. package of sea saltPrepare saline solution. This can be purchased or made with sea salt (with no iodine added!) and water. Simply mix 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt with 1 cup warm to hot tap water until it dissolves. (The ratio should be 1 teaspoon of sea salt to 32 ounces of water). Too strong, this mixture could irritate the skin and piercing. Pour this into a small cup.
  3. belly button piercingDo a salt soak to clean your piercing. It would be ideal if the piercing on your body is able to be covered completely by the opening of the cup (such as nipple or navel piercings) to create suction around the piercing. If this is the case, create the suction and allow this to sit for a few minutes. If this is not the case, as it often is not, skip this step and proceed.
  4. bunch of cotton swabsUse a cotton swab or Q-tip to clean your piercing.Apply the solution to a cotton swab and gently wipe away any crusty buildup or grime. You may slightly slide the piercing one way or another for better application, but you do not want to irritate it by pushing it all the way back and forth. Be sure to cover each entry point of the piercing as well as both sides of the jewelry. Cleaning once a day should suffice unless it becomes irritated. In this case, increase to 2-3 times until irritation subsides.
  5. water tap flowing waterRinse the piercing clean. Use warm water to thoroughly rinse the area. You may have to do this several times in order to ensure all residues and the like are removed.
  6. drying with a paper towelDry the piercing. Use a clean cloth, paper towel, or gauze to pat around the piercing. Try to avoid rubbing; the back and forth motion could cause irritation to the area. Now you’ve learned how to clean a piercing.

Safety Tips for Cleaning Piercings

Always abide by the cleaning directions you received from the piercer first. They may have used some fancy new-age method and have explicit instructions to avoid problems. If after using the sea salt solution, your piercing becomes irritated, it is likely because the solution was too strong or it contained added chemicals. Some people also suggest rotating the piercing. Resist. The old thought was that it aided in the healing process because it prevented the tissue from adhering to the jewelry. This actually tears the tissue, elongates the healing process, and causes undesirable scarring. Finally, keep in mind that if you’re healthy and take in recommended nutrients and minerals as part of your diet, your body will heal faster. If your piercing is in contact with clothes, you might consider wearing baggier clothing or covering the piercing with something while you’re active to limit irritation.

Many people say that using soap works well. This may be the case, but you can’t get more natural (as in, not applying irritable chemicals and such that you didn’t intend to) than sea salt; there are different kinds of soaps but, intuitively, sea salt is salt from the sea. If you plan to use soap make sure you let it sit for no longer than 30 seconds. Though some sea salts have iodine/iodide added, it will always say so on the label. Iodine, as well as hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, cosmetics, lotion, Glyoxide (don’t ask), or ointments that include these should not be used as they are too harsh for the fresh piercing.

Clean Piercings Naturally

bottle of aterra hand soapNatural Hand Soap. Many of the antibacterial hand soaps out there contain Triclosan, a chemical that actually penetrates the skin, can accumulate in your body over time, and cause hormonal disruption. I recommend Aterra Antibacterial Foaming Triclosan-Free Hand Soap due to its effectiveness in killing germs (at 99.99%) and kindness to your body. Furthermore, it is nontoxic, biodegradable, and contains no chemical fragrances.

spray can of H2OceanH2Ocean. This is basically a sea salt solution in a spray bottle. However, it does contain a bad-bacteria killer Lysozyme that is naturally found in tears, saliva and the like. This is not a necessity, but it does seem a little handy – especially for those constantly on the go. You can get a couple different sizes of H2Ocean from Amazon.

metal piercing ringSafe metals.Obviously, you would prefer to wear a piercing comprised of a metal you are not allergic to. Titanium, Niobium, or other inert metals are considered to be safer in that regard. Gold that is at least 18 karat would be a fine choice as well.