How Do I Clean My New Tattoo? - An Ink Aftercare Guide

Written by: Pete

Careful aftercare is how you ensure the beauty and longevity of your ink. It can become overwhelming trying to keep track of all the tips and tricks given to you when you get a new tattoo, but the most important step begins with washing your tattoo.

Fresh ink is essentially an open wound and requires some careful steps for cleaning. Our step-by-step list will simplify this aftercare task for you.

Why Cleaning a New Tattoo Is So Important

During a tattooing session, the needle of a tattoo gun is inserted beneath your epidermis, about 1/16th of an inch deep, to deposit the ink into your dermis where it will hold better than it would on the surface of your skin. The human dermis is a very sensitive organ, so these hundreds or thousands of tiny needle punctures can push our immune system into overdrive.

Essentially, a new tattoo is an open wound or an abrasion. It’s for that reason that it often bleeds, leaks plasma, and experiences scabbing. Like any open wound, it can be prone to scarring, irritation, or infection and these can all severely distort your tattoo. It’s for this reason that it requires very careful and precise aftercare.

Sometimes, your artist may provide you with an aftercare sheet and if you do receive one, you should follow their advice. Generally, they will wrap your new tattoo in saran wrap or a medical grade tattoo wrap, and this should stay on your tattoo for around four to six hours.

Once the wrap is removed, you must be sure to wash the tattoo right away. As soon as it is unwrapped, it has been exposed to bacteria which thrives in open wounds.

We have to be honest with you when it comes to the first wash of a new tattoo: it’s never a pleasant experience. Injured dermis produces excess collagen to the wound, which pushes out excess blood, plasma, and ink from your new tattoo. This makes for a very slimy and highly sensitive experience.

You want to be sure you get all that gunk off, so follow our step-by-step directions to ensure your first wash sets you off on a successful healing journey.

How to Clean a New Tattoo: The First Wash

Before you even think to remove the artist wrap around your new tattoo, have a look at these careful cleansing steps.

1. Wash Your Hands

It may seem self explanatory, but more often than not, we are so excited for the grand reveal that we dive right into pulling off our wrap without washing our hands first.

You should wash your hands with antibacterial soap for 30 to 45 seconds (we recommend singing the Happy Birthday song for a thorough wash) and dry them on an unused towel or with a paper towel.

It’s okay to use the same soap on your hands that you would on your tattoo, and you should definitely avoid anything that has fragrances or dyes. We highly recommend the Hibiclens Antimicrobial and Antiseptic Soak and Skin Cleanser, which is a soap used by healthcare service members. Have a look at our complete The 6 Best Antibacterial Soaps For Your New Tattoo article for more soap options.

After you are done with this step, you can unwrap your tattoo. 

2. Wet the Area

New tattoos should never have extensive exposure to water or be directly under water. It’s for this reason that you must avoid submerging your tattoo in water, such as baths, and why there are safe ways to shower with a new tattoo.

Instead, you should cup your hands and bring water to the new tattoo. The water should be lukewarm or cool as your ink will be very sensitive, and you should be aware that water alone may cause your tattoo to sting. This is normal; it’s in a very vulnerable state.

Do not put too much water on the tattoo, but just enough that it is thoroughly wet and ready for the next step.

3. Add Soap

When your tattoo is wet enough, you can add an antibacterial, fragrance free soap to the area. Scrub gently in an up and down (not circular) motion that is thorough enough to remove all the excess goo such as plasma, blood, and ink, but that doesn’t cause further irritation to the new tattoo.

Do not use washcloths, sponges, or shower poofs on a new tattoo as they can hold onto bacteria and cause further irritation to your tattoo.

You should not try and scrub off any of the scabs, skin pieces, or stuck pieces of blood that may have formed. They will fall off on their own time.

Many of the soaps we recommend for washing a new tattoo won’t “suds up” like regular soaps. Suds are usually a sign of chemical additives and are not actually evident of soap working, so even if you don’t see bubbles, make sure you don’t oversaturate your tattoo or scrub too hard.

4. Rinse

Just as you cupped your hands and brought water to your tattoo in step two, this will be repeated for washing the soap off of your new tattoo. Do not be alarmed if ink comes off of your tattoo as you are doing this, as it is likely just the tattoo weeping and pushing out the excess ink.

Again, do not oversaturate your tattoo but be sure to wash off all the soap.

5. Dry

For this step, you should only use one of two things:

  • A brand new towel to ensure no bacteria comes in contact with your new tattoo which leaves no fabric remnants
  • Paper towel that does not leave paper particles

You should only pat your tattoo dry; do not rub your tattoo. Do this slowly and carefully so you don’t tear away any parts that are essential to healthy healing. For the first few days, you may see ink on your towel or paper towel and this is completely normal.

6. Apply Lotion

You should only begin this step of your aftercare process after your tattoo has stopped weeping, which is around the third or fourth day. At that point, moisturization is critical to properly healing your new tattoo.

Here are a few essential tips:

  • You can use ointment, lotion, or cream to moisturize your new tattoo.
  • You only need a small amount and be sure it absorbs quickly; do not oversaturate your tattoo with lotion.
  • Many moisturizers contain ingredients that help soothe irritation and inflammation, which is very beneficial to new tattoos.
  • Do not apply moisturizer to the tattoo before you pat it dry.

For more information, check out our article When Should I Start Moisturizing My Tattoo?

How Often Should You Wash A New Tattoo

Your tattoo will continue to be in the healing stage for three to four weeks, so careful cleansing should continue for at least a month. It’s recommended that you wash your tattoo twice a day, morning and night, and after any situation that has excess sweating or contact with dirt and irritants.

Scabbing and peeling will begin to appear at around week two which means your cleansing routine should be even more careful and gentle. These scabs are essential to preserving the art of your tattoo and you should not pick at or peel them. Though they may look dark from the ink, this is completely normal and they should be left alone.

How to Shower After Getting a New Tattoo

You may be wondering how to follow all these steps carefully when showering with a new tattoo. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Set the water temperature to lukewarm or cool and have a low power setting on your showerhead.
  • Never put the stream of the shower directly on your tattoo. Wet your tattoo with cupped hands.
  • Gently cleanse the tattoo.
  • Gently rinse the tattoo with cupped water.
  • Finish your shower quickly to prevent dehydration to your skin.

For complete step-by-step instructions for showering with a new tattoo, check out our article Can You Shower After Getting A New Tattoo? Tips and Advice.

How to Clean Your Tattoo: Quick Roundup

  • Wash your hands carefully and rigorously with antibacterial soap.
  • Unwrap your tattoo and gently put lukewarm or cool water on the area, using cupped hands.
  • Using antibacterial soap, thoroughly cleanse the tattoo. This should be done in a careful and gentle format, while still ensuring you are removing any excess weeping from the area.
  • Cup water with your hands and rinse the area meticulously, so no soap is left on the area.
  • Pat dry with a clean towel or paper towel. Do not rub your tattoo.
  • After the tattoo stops weeping, you can begin to add moisturizer as your final step.
  • Washing should be done at least twice a day.

After around a month of healing, the cleansing of your tattoo does not need to be so meticulous but aftercare with moisturizers and sunscreens are still essential.

Our Final Thoughts

A careful cleansing regimen is not only essential for the beauty of your tattoo but also for your personal health. Washing your tattoo correctly and thoroughly can prevent infections and permanent distortion of your tattoo.

If you see any abnormal scarring, redness around your tattoo, or experience blistering, pus, or excessive inflammation, bring your aftercare products with you and visit your tattoo artist. They will be able to provide you with the advice you need, or recommend you to a medical professional should there be an issue with your tattoo.

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