How To Clean A Tattoo

  • Written By Dan Hunter on July 15, 2017
    Last Updated: May 17, 2023

Ensuring you undertake great tattoo aftercare is essential if you want a great-looking that will stand the test of time. One of the most important tasks to get right throughout your healing process is cleaning your tattoo correctly and effectively.

In this article, we’ll show you how to clean a tattoo carefully and properly to help prevent infection and promote fast and efficient healing throughout the aftercare period.

To clean a tattoo, wash your hands thoroughly before proceeding to wet the area with a mixture of lukewarm water and skin-sensitive antibacterial soap. Rub the tattoo in circular motions using your fingertips before rinsing the soap off and patting the skin dry with a clean paper towel. Once completely dry, apply a suitable moisturizing lotion to the area.

Why Cleaning a New Tattoo Is So Important

At the studio, after your artist has finished their work and you’re happy with it, they will proceed to wipe your tattoo down with antibacterial soap and wrap it up in either a plastic or a surgical wrap, and will advise how long you should wear the wrap for before removing it.

A good tattoo artist will also advise on the best way to clean your tattoo, and how often.

Wrapped Tattoo

Once you’re at the stage where you’re able to remove the wrap, now comes the big moment – the first clean. You must remember that as soon as you remove your wrap, you will want to clean your new tattoo right away. This is the first step into your tattoo aftercare routine. Cleaning a tattoo isn’t exactly the most pleasant thing to do, but it is so important throughout the whole healing process.

When the artist wrapped your tattoo, the area had been sterilized and wrapped up bacteria-free. As soon as the wrap is removed, free-flowing air is restored to the area, and bacteria will begin to be able to thrive around the open wound, so it’s important to get the area cleaned up again as quickly as possible.

Not only this but the whole time the area was wrapped, it will have been seeping with blood, excess ink, and plasma. Don’t worry, though; this is completely normal, so don’t be alarmed if you see some blood running underneath your tattoo wrap.

Bloody Tattoo Wrap
Things can get a little ugly underneath a tattoo wrap

All of this oozing needs to be cleaned up to prevent excess scabbing. The plasma (clear gooey liquid) is a primary component in the scabbing process, and to prevent any thick, ugly scabs from forming, you will want to remove as much of this excess plasma as possible with the initial wash.

Please note that your tattoo will definitely scab to some extent (it’s how all open-skin wounds naturally heal). As long as you can keep the area clear from oozing plasma for the first few days though, the scabbing should generally be very light, and should only raise slightly over the skin.

As the tattoo healing process goes on, the daily process of cleaning of your tattoo still needs to be strictly adhered to, as your tattoo will continue to be vulnerable to infection until the outer layers of skin completely heal (usually 3-4 weeks).

How to Clean a New Tattoo: The First Wash

Unquestionably, the most important wash you’re ever likely to undertake in your tattooed life is your first wash after getting inked.

Although there are many different methods of cleaning a new tattoo, the below steps are proven to ensure the area is washed completely clean of any harmful bacteria, and will ensure your tattoo heals as quickly and trouble-free as possible.

1. Wash Your Hands

Extremely important! What’s the point of worrying about getting your tattoo clean when all you’re going to do is make it even worse by rubbing your dirty hands all over the area without washing them first?

how to wash your hands

ALWAYS make sure you thoroughly clean your hands with a good antibacterial soap before so much as slightly touching your tattoo.

Once your hands are thoroughly clean, run a tap until the water turns lukewarm. You don’t want the water any warmer than this as the skin will be very sensitive and the warm water can be painful and damaging.

2. Wet the Area

Once your hands are thoroughly clean, run a tap until the water turns lukewarm. You don’t want the water any warmer than this as the skin will be very sensitive and the warm water can be painful. Not only this but warmer water can open your pores, which in turn could potentially cause ink to be pulled from the skin.

DO NOT stick the tattoo right under the tap. Cup the water with your hands and gently pour onto the tattooed area. Rub that water around the tattoo lightly with circular motions with your hand, until the whole area is damp.

DO NOT do this for too long as too much water can saturate the area and waterlog your pores, causing ink to potentially diffuse out from where it was expertly implanted.


The tattooed area is likely to be very sore at this point, and will properly sting slightly as you rub the area with water. This is normal, and unfortunately, you will have to push through the pain. Just try to be gentle. The pain should subside over the next week.

3. Add Soap

Once the area has been dampened, rub a mild, fragrance and alcohol-free soap onto the area using your fingers/palm.

If you’re looking for soaps that are safe to use on your tattoo, we review our favorite tattoo soaps here.

DO NOT use pre-used washcloths or towels to scrub the area, as they are probably crawling with germs and bacteria. Only use your hands to clean and dry your tattoo for at least the first month.

You will not want to rub the soap into the area too hard either, but you will want to ensure your tattoo no longer feels slimy or slippery (from excess plasma) once you’ve finished cleaning. If your tattoo feels clean after using the soap, then you’ve most-likely done enough.

If any hardened and stuck pieces of ink/blood refuse to come away from the area with gentle rubbing, just leave them where they are and don’t force them off. They will fall off by themselves over the next few days, or when you next clean the area.

Check The Product!

Ensure you check the ingredients of the soap, as any artificial additives (such as unnatural fragrances) are likely to irritate the area.

Alcohol is also very harsh on your sensitive skin, as it naturally dries the surface out. Make sure the soap is designed to be used on extra-sensitive skin.

4. Rinse

Once you’ve gently cleaned the area, cup some more lukewarm water and proceed to wash away any soap that still remains on the area.

Don’t Worry!

If you notice any ink coming off of your tattooed area as you wash or dry it, don’t worry! This is completely normal and will likely continue to happen over the first several days of getting your new tattoo.

A good artist will try to cram the area with as much ink as they possibly can, and this will cause some ink to naturally get caught up in the higher layers of skin, and this excess ink will drain out over the coming week, or so as the area continues to heal.

5. Dry

Once the cleaning is complete, you will want to ensure the area dries as well as possible. You can either gently press a paper towel onto the area, or just let the tattoo air-dry naturally.

If you choose to use a paper towel, remember to gently dab the area and be careful when pulling the paper away from the skin, as it may stick slightly.

For the first several days, you may see patches of excess ink appear on the paper as you dry the area. As long as you’re being gentle, this is completely normal and won’t be causing any damage to your tattoo.


Do not rub/scrub the area dry. This can remove scabs and peeling skin, as well as potentially causing irritation to the area. Always gently blot the area instead of scrubbing/rubbing.

Also, never use an abrasive cloth (or any type of cloth/towel for that matter). These products will likely contain many different types of harmful bacteria (even after washing them). It’s best to stick to a new piece of paper towel when it comes to drying your tattoo.

6. Apply Lotion

Once the tattoo is completely dry, you will want to use a lotion/ointment of your choice in order to hydrate the area and aid with healing.

When adding lotion to the area, you will only require a very small amount; just enough to cover the area with a very fine layer, so the tattoo looks a little shiny. Too much lotion can prevent the area from getting enough oxygen, potentially delaying healing times.

The best tattoo lotion I’ve ever personally used is a vegan aftercare product called After Inked Tattoo Aftercare Lotion. This stuff works amazingly well during the healing process; not only by keeping your tattoo really well hydrated but also by soothing any annoying itching and irritation. When using it from the very start of the healing process, this lotion will help to decrease tattoo healing times and work towards eliminating any lingering dryness and scabbing.​ Click here to buy from Amazon.

Lotion on tattoo
This is FAR too much lotion and some should be blotted off with a paper towel


Do not add a layer of moisturizing lotion to the tattoo while the area is still damp, especially once your tattoo has reached the stage where it has begun to scab over.

Any moisture trapped beneath the layer of lotion can get drawn into any scabbed areas and cause the scabs to swell and turn ‘gooey’, increasing the risk of the scabs sticking to various objects/surfaces and getting pulled off.

Cleaning Your New Tattoo Over the Next Month

As previously mentioned, you will need to clean your tattoo many more times after the initial wash. Ideally, you should clean your tattoo around twice a day, preferably morning and night, for up to a month after getting the tattoo.

In some situations, you may want to wash your tattoo more frequently. For example, if you’ve been doing some work in the yard or been working out in the gym, you should clean your tattoo as soon as possible once you’ve finished, as these places are naturally very dirty and normally contain lots of various germs and bacteria.

If you do any activities that could cause dirt or other unhygienic substances to rub against the tattoo, try your hardest to keep these areas well-covered. For example, if you’re out camping with a new arm tattoo, try wearing a long-sleeve jacket to protect the area.

Between one and two weeks after getting your tattoo, it will begin to scab, before proceeding to peel. During these stages, you will still need to clean the area just as regularly, but you will have to be extra careful as to not accidentally rip off any scabs or pull any pieces of peeling skin away prematurely.

Don’t Worry!

During the latter peeling stages, you will probably notice that as you continue to wash and dry the tattoo like normal, lots of peeling pieces of skin will be falling off as you rub your hand/fingers over the area to clean it.

As long as you’re being gentle, this is completely normal; it just means that the skin is ready to fall off. You should see some nice clear colors appearing from underneath as the upper layers begin the flake way.

Don’t worry if the peeling skin contains any color/ink, either. Again, this is completely normal. This is just more excess ink that had congregated in the upper layers of skin while your tattoo was being completed.

Tattoos can peel lots while being washed.

How to Clean Your Tattoo: Quick Roundup

  • Thoroughly wash your hands. You don’t want any additional germs spreading onto the tattooed area
  • Run the tap until the water is lukewarm, not any hotter than this. Use your hands to cup the water and gently dampen the area with your fingers/palm
  • Gently but firmly rub a mild fragrance-free and alcohol-free soap over the tattoo and ensure as much excess ink/plasma/blood has been washed away as possible
  • Cup some more water over the area to wash away any excess soap
  • Allow the tattoo to completely dry, either naturally or by using a paper towel. Do not use any form of washcloths or towels as these can be too abrasive and will likely contain bacteria
  • Apply a very thin layer of lotion to the area. This will help hydrate the area and make sure your tattoo heals as best as possible
  • Washing at least twice a day, especially after dirty activities, is recommended.


I hope you can now see the importance of washing your tattoo properly, and now know how to clean your tattoo correctly in order to promote quick healing and lessen the risk of infection. It should also be noted that cleaning an infected tattoo should be performed in much the same way.

The process of cleaning a tattoo isn’t time-consuming or difficult. It should only take 5 minutes every morning and evening for the first 3-4 weeks, so make sure you do it properly and consistently. The outcome should be that you have a beautiful, well-healed tattoo that you can show off for the rest of your life.

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