How to Sterilize a Needle

Instructor: Misty Baker

Dr. Baker has a doctorate in podiatric medicine and practiced medicine in both the hospital and private practice atmosphere.

In this lesson, we will discuss proper heat sterilization of a needle should a situation arise when medically sterilized instruments are inaccessible.

Sterilization of a Needle

As much as we wish it weren't true, injuries do happen. And when they do, we are usually caught off-guard. For example, take a look at Jack.

Jack was vacationing at a very remote location in the mountains. Jack loves to hike and so it was fitting that Jack and his father went out on an evening adventure. Jack's mom, Carol, stayed back at the cabin preparing a late dinner for them to enjoy upon their return.

Carol was suddenly startled by the door swinging open and Jack running through the door crying and holding his hand. Carol noticed a small splinter lodged just under the skin of Jack's finger. Carol was a nurse and her brain began turning. What on earth could she use to peel Jack's skin back and remove this splinter?

Splinter in fingertip
Splinter in Finger

She was aware that had she been at work there were plenty of instruments that she could have utilized. And she knew that all of the tools used at her office were properly sterilized via an autoclave, a device that is utilized to sterilize, or decontaminate, metal objects via the subjection of high-pressure steam. But, what was she to do here, in this not so clean environment?

As she was rummaging through the cabin, she came across an old sewing needle. ''Yes! That's it!'', she thought. But, how was she to ensure that dirt and other contaminates were removed from this old needle prior to her using it to poke into her son's skin?

Sewing Needle

Sterilization is the process of killing harmful microorganisms and bacteria (unable to be seen by the naked eye) on an object by subjecting them to an environment that they can't endure. Some of these microorganisms and bacteria die more quickly than others. There are even some that can survive certain sterilization attempts should inadequate techniques be used to perform the attempted sterilization.

Say for instance that Carol used the dirty needle without any form of sterilization, what could happen?

When a contaminated, or dirty, object punctures the skin, the harmful microorganisms and bacteria have free reign within our bodies. When this does occur, infections are a common result. This resultant infection could be isolated to the area of the wound or injury, or, more seriously and potentially life-threatening, the infection could enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Sterilization can be performed via two main routes:

1. Heat Application

2. Chemical Means

We are going to discuss how to properly sterilize a metal object, such as a needle, via the heat application since it is the most common, economical way when in a situation such as Carol's.


Heat is the most common form of sterilization and used in most hospitals and doctors' offices via an autoclave. Remember, an autoclave is a device that utilizes high-pressure steam in order to sterilize instruments. The steam that an autoclave puts out is around 249 degrees Fahrenheit. This heat in the form of steam is favored in this environment because most medical instruments are composed of metal and steam will not corrode metal. However, how can we utilize heat outside of a medical setting to sterilize, for instance, the old needle that Carol found in a dirty drawer?

Utilizing a Fire or Flame to Sterilize a Needle

1. Get out your soap.

2. Thoroughly wash your hands for a minimum of three minutes.

3. Grab a needle and place it in the palm of your clean hand.

4. Add more dishwashing soap and mix with a little water and scrub the needle until any visible oils and/or dirt have been removed. Even heat can't remove dirt and grime.

5. Thoroughly rinse the needle with water and allow to dry on a clean paper towel.

6. Grab another clean paper towel and slightly dampen it, fold it in half and set it to the side.

7. Utilizing a grasping-type object such as tweezers, pliers or even an oven mitt, firmly grab the non-pointed edge of the needle.

8. Place the pointed end of the needle into a flame. This flame can be from a multitude of sources, but given Carol's current environment, she could use either the flame from a candle or if the present stove is gas, she could utilize the burner. Any flame from a gas source is better as less residual is produced. When placing the pointed tip of the needle into the flame, it is important that you hold the needle on the side of the flame as opposed to directly above the flame. Holding the needle above the flame could result in soot accumulation onto your clean needle.

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