Sterilizing Household Sharps & Needles

Household sharps and are part of us in one way or another; we depend on them for a number of reasons.

Some patients use needles to inject themselves from home. Apart from clinical sharps, you may also want to sterilize other kinds of needle to avoid infection.

Sterilizing sharps is important in ensuring you do get infected by any disease-causing pathogens transmitted to the object through various means such as blood or body fluids from other people, also known as Bloodborne pathogens.

So before we learn if it is possible to sterilize needles, it is important to understand the meaning of sterilization and how it differs from cleaning.

What is Sterilizing?

Sterilization is the process of eliminating, removing, deactivating or killing all microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, viruses among other living microbes in the surface of an item.

It differs from any other form of cleaning because it completely eliminates all living organisms as described above ensuring the item remains safe. Achieving this level of cleanliness is unique because a sterilized item can only remain antiseptic if kept inside a sterile vessel.

But it is possible to make something sterile through many ways including

  • By heating at extremely high temperatures
  • Using chemicals
  • Filtering
  • Radiation or use of x-rays
  • Use of high pressure

Other forms of cleaning like disinfecting only reduces the living organisms in an object leaving other microbes in an item.

That said, what are some safe ways to sterilize sharps at home?

FAQs about Sterilizing Household Sharps

  1. Using Steam

The CDC advises that the most effective way to make sharps sterile is to use steam due to its capability to destroy all sorts of living organisms.

In a healthcare facility, medics use some kind of sterilizing equipment that exerts pressure on saturated steam to ensure clinical equipment are completely germ-free. Such gadgets are costly and may not be available for use at home

Boiling water alone cannot sterilize sharps as much as steam under pressure does, and so it cannot be trusted for complete sterilization. While it destroys some living organisms, boiling sharps in water does not completely destroy all kinds of bacteria that survive under high temperatures.

To sanitize sharps through boiling

  • Clean a pot with disinfectant and boiling water
  • Place the sharps in the pot and boiling in water at not less than 94°C.
  • Keep the contents of the pot boiling for around half an hour before removing the sharps for use
  • During removal, use a fresh pair of surgical gloves and pre-sanitized apparatus to hold your sharps.
  • Home patients are advised to sanitize needles before an injection. If you are using the same needle for a second time, make sure the boiling does not go less than one hour.
  • . Using alcohol.

Wiping you sharps with some alcohol is also a controversial DIY way to sterilize sharps.

But this method is okay for basic sterilization and is not endorsed by the center for disease control (CDC) as a method for antisepticising clinical needles.

Alcohol is highly volatile and easily evaporates off the surface of items and may lead to quick regeneration of bacteria.

Still, here’s how sterilize your household sharps with alcohol

  • Clean your hands with germ-killing water and wear a new pair of surgical gloves
  • Dip a pre-sanitized pad in alcohol
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and put on surgical or unused latex gloves.
  • Use the pad to wipe the full length of the sharps.

It is also okay to wipe your skin with some alcohol before an injection.

Though alcohol does not have full antiseptic capabilities, it can kill both bacterial, viral and fungal infections.

  • Using Fire.

The use of fire to antisepticise does not offer total defense against bacteria and other microbes. It is not advisable for clinical syringes, but may be effective for sharps to be used in removing word or metal chips if someone is injured at home.

If you must use fire to sanitize your sharps, remember the following tips;

  • Use less smoky fire or a flame that emits little residue.
  • Use a metallic apparatus to hold the sharp onto of the flame until it gets too hot and turns red.
  • After sterilization, use a sanitized pad to clean any deposits left during the heating process
  • Another technique is to put your sharps in an oven and bake them at around 170°C for like 60 minutes. But this procedure makes sharps fragile after some time.

How to Dispose Your Household Needles and Sharps

After using your household sharps for whichever purpose, injection or removing splinters, it is a good idea to dispose of these properly to prevent accidental passing of infection from one person to another.

But how can you dispose of household needles and sharps safely and without putting other people at the risk of needlesticks? Your family members, waste handlers, passersby or anyone could be injured and infected by used needles so it is your responsibility to ensure all household sharps are stored safely.

  1. Storing Sharps Safely.

While at home, your options for properly keeping sharps and needles include acquiring a sharps disposal container from a pharmacy or available household items such as used durable bottles which can be securely covered.

Though storage in household items is not prohibited if appropriately secured, it is not advisable as it could harm or threaten the health of waste transporters and treatment facility personnel. 

Utilized sharps and needles are not to be stored in fragile bottles and cans such as those made with glass or for single beverage use. Also, you should at no time put detachable syringes and needles among other waste or recycled materials.

If you are returning sharps to a healthcare institution collection area or opting for the mail-back service, you are advised to adhere to the expectations, one of which could be buying a sharps container.

At all times maintain preservation containers with utilized needles and syringes away from minors.

  • Destroying Sharps Safely.

Numerous vendors offer devices that permit for the destruction of needles at home. The commodities operate by incinerating, melting, or chopping off the needle.

Some versions of these devices melt the needle in no time, decreasing it to harmless sizes that are securely discarded.

This reduces the likelihood of needles harming anyone and makes it safe to discard in the trash.

Initially, the service was available solely to healthcare institutions, but you can access the portable, more affordable versions for their household usage.

Other devices chop off needles and conserve the waste. However, should you be away from the house and do not have a suitable place to discard seek out a collection area or make use of mail-back service.

So what are your options when it comes to disposing home sharps?

  1. Healthcare Institution Collection Areas.

Several healthcare institutions include collection plans for utilized needles, syringes and other sharps where people discard their household waste.

Often the institutions adhere to specific guidelines for storing and discarding needles and syringes.

It is inadvisable to take utilized syringes and needles to healthcare institutions lacking the ability to receive the waste.

  • Sharps Bins

Sharps bins are the most common form of discarding needles. These containers are firm, impervious, escape-safe, and noticeably marked.

The structure of the bins includes a unique opening that permits the discarding of sharps and remains intact especially in the event the bin falls on its side.

As a precaution against poor disposal practices, sharps bins should be filled up to three-quarters of the total quantity.

  • Syringe Exchange Programs.

Syringe exchange programs are a community-based needle and syringe disposal plan that permits you to exchange utilized needles for new ones. Providers of this service handle the safe disposal of the needles.

Such programs are a form of syringe services programs (SSPs) offering a variety of other services such as connection to substance usage disorder intervention, and connection to aid and intervention for infectious illnesses.

According to CDC, past research reveals that broad SSPs are secure, efficient, and cost-saving while lowering risk of transmission of Bloodborne and infectious illnesses.

  • Household needle-destruction devices.

Another national service that is suitable for sharps and needles is the incinerating version of this discarding option which allows you to dispose the syringe and reduce needle to waste.

On the other hand, the clipping version also conserves the chopped off needles and can be discarded at a collection area or through the mail-back service.

The secure sharps container can be discarded among household waste but never in recyclable waste.

  • Household Sharps Collection Points.

In some regions in US, the option of collecting household needles and syringe waste from the resident is left to healthcare institutions.

Such information is available from the state agency charged with the role waste collection. The state provides free or affordable household collection areas.

  • Mail-back Service.

This national solution for needle and syringe disposal comprises of a needle container and mail-back packaging.

Authorized disposal services handle the secure discarding at a charge. Information on this service is available from medical practitioners and pharmacies.

You are required to fill the container with utilized needles and deliver it back in itsprovided initially packaging.

The Bottom line

It is advisable to use medical needles or sharps once and avoid sterilizing for second use. House sterilization can sanitize your needles but cannot guarantee 100% germ-free sharps.

Most clinical sharps are sterile when still in their packaging, but start getting contaminated as soon as they are exposed to the air.

Follow the above best practices if you must sterilize at home.