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Ear wires & health

Hello, Orchidians–

Well, time to revisit a frustrating issue in the sales domain.

Just for a quick bit of background: I am, for lack of a better term,
an artistic metalsmith. Almost all of my work is limited-edition–at
least in theory; in practice I am constantly developing new designs
and seldom find the time to make more than 2 or 3 of any one design,
and many pieces end up being one-of-a-kind by default. So it would
not be practical for me to have sample pieces without drastically
changing the way I work.

Let me cut to the chase: sometimes customers want to try on
earrings. From a customer-service perspective it seems like a very
reasonable request… in general, I want to do whatever I can to make
someone feel comfortable with a purchase. On the other hand, I have
heard there is a possibility of transmitting infections via ear
wires; furthermore, some potential customers simply don’t like the
idea of wearing earrings that someone else has tried on. Of course
you can clean the ear wires with alcohol, but that is not true
sterilization–i.e. it is not guaranteed to kill all disease agents.
And I have talked with the staff at a couple of local
tattoo-and-piercing parlors; they seemed to be as well-informed on
the subject as anyone I know, and they don’t allow anyone to try on

Some time ago I provisionally established a no-try-ons policy… but
today I was talking with the owner of a shop that recently started
carrying my jewelry on consignment (it is a well-regarded, upscale
gift shop, but not specifically a jewelry shop), and I realized I had
forgotten to ask her about this. Well, she allows people to try on
earrings. “They need to see how they hang,” she says. And I totally
get that… and I decided to let it slide for the time being. But I’m
still concerned.

So, here are my questions: 1) Where can I find factual on
this issue–that is, backed by medical research/public health data,
etc., but hopefully without too much medical jargon; 2) what is your
policy on trying on earrings, and why?; and 3) is there any commonly
available substance that can be safely used to sterilize (as
opposed to sanitize) a piece of metal?

Matt Gushee
Studio Yanagi

Regarding earrings… I would never allow people to try on earrings
or any other body jewelry for that matter – your mind can take this
where it want to!. When they want to see how the earrings hang, they
can see them on a stand. When they want to hold them up to the side
of their face, that is ok too. But no try ons. And for that reason,
body jewelry, including earrings, for me is non-returnable.

I’d tell them sorry and should a consignment store be unaware of
this, I’d make them aware pretty fast.


From the research I’ve done on this, I’ve found that the first place
to ask about a prohibition is at your county’s health department.
Lacking any prohibitive policy there, I think that it’s the “ewwww
factor” that will determine whether a shop’s policy allows trying on
pierced earrings or not.


Tring on earrings.

Personally, I think it is the same as the fear of using a public
restroom. Anyone whose ears are so sensitive that trying on a pair
of earrings some one else tried on yesterday would infect them has
another problem. Why wouldn’t just touching the earrings with your
hands after someone else did cause infection? People don’t have raw
flesh in that ear hole, and if they do for some reason, they won’t
be trying on earrings, it would hurt. Do you know the faucet handle
in a restroom has more bacteria than the toilet seat?

I let people try on, and clean with alcohol.

Matt- Unless a customer has an infected ear piercing or a brand new
unhealed piecing this is a non issue. Just sonic and steam the
earrings after someone has tried them on. Dunk in alcohol if you
need to. The fastest way to sell a piece is to get it on the
customers finger,neck, wrist and ears. In all of my years in the
trade I have never had a customer ask if the earrings were tried on
before by someone else.

The folks you talked to in the piercing and tattoo shops are dealing
with fresh open skin and blood in most cases. They have to be very
careful about blood borne pathogens. I know because I used to be the
"Shop Girl/ Puke Boy in a famous tattoo shop. My sweetie Tim was an
ink slinger. We both keep up our memberships in The National Tattoo
Association. We had to take classes and pass tests regularly.

Have fun and make and sell lots of jewelry.
Jo Haemer

Finally something I have a background in. Having an extensive
background in molecular bio chem, While I"M NOT A DR. I do have a
lot of knowledge I can pass on. It was a serious illness that kept me
out of med school. There are two more more that you can clean those
ear wires. Get some green soap. It is the best antibacterial soap you
can get. Wash them in this soap, and if you still feel the need do
the alcohol thing. Next, but be careful of the stones you might have
in the earrings, is to use bleach. Bleach on contact with the aides
virus will kill it instantly. Just wash it off after you have soaked
them for a bit.

What makes ears get infected is the small scratches that can occur
from the posts and wires that people poke through their various body
parts. That infection is easily killed by one of the above methods. In
this day and age it is the viruses that we fear. Those that are
unfortunate enough to have a virus and still be seemingly in good
health, will most likely not be trying on earrings. Again If you worry
about it, grab the bleach.

As to those who don’t want to buy earrings that someone else has
tried on, it is a personal thing, not unlike the lady I know who can’t
use a toilet that anyone else has sat on. She is a real home body.
Just remember you can’t satisfy everyone. I have yet to lose a sale
because someone else tried on a pair of my earrings. Pass on the
cleaning techniques to those who feel you need to not let anyone else
try them on. It can be a good sales tool to help you close that sale
if you handle it right. You are not belittling their fears, but
helping them overcome a fear.

Sterilizing with high heat in some instances with the new strains of
bacteria actually help them grow.

The old lady in nature’s own sauna

In Australia it must be 25 years since we stopped customers trying
on earrings. I am not sure if it is law or not. It is now standard
industry practice. There is no guarantee that an alcohol wipe, like
the ones used before injections will kill all the germs. Unless you
can autoclave the earrings after the customer has tried them on
forget it.

If you personally allow it, you are legally liable for any disease
LEGAL PROFESSIONS NEXT CASH COW. Even if you could prove they did not
catch it from your earrings can you afford the days in court and the
damage to your business name.

In Australia KFC has just been sued for $8 million over a bad
chicken meal. They are contesting it but do you have the bucks for

Also if you handle them afterwards you are putting yourself at risk.

The biggest danger is HEP C FOLLOWED BY AIDS.

We sell thousands of earrings a year and nobody complains about not
being able to try them on. The customers hold them up to the ear, no

The shop that lets them try them is liable not you. But don’t take
any returns from them.


Another comment on this subject. When I lived in OK, 14 yrs ago, it
was against the law for anyone to try on earrings, due to any
possible medical/safety issues. I kept that policy after I moved to

Sharon Perdasofpy

I concur with those who say that it is akin to trying on a ring or
necklace as far as health risks go but there is the matter of
perception to take into account inasmuch as many people dont like the
idea of trying on earrings that others have worn (seems to disappear
when you are talking about secondhand large diamond studs though!)
and for this reason I do not encourage the trying on but do allow it.
I clean with alcohol afterwards- I know this is not perfect but it
will kill the harmful bacteria in a few seconds contact and alcohol
is convenient and portable. I hate to say it but they will become
contaminated with airborne bacteria anyway.

Nick Royall

Hello Matt,

I’m a retired public health sanitarian. This concern has been
discussed several times on Orchid. Unless there are some new
regulations around, there are no legal restrictions regarding trying
on earrings. Normal practices used to make jewelry such as soldering
on posts or balling wire for french hooks followed by physical
cleaning are sufficient to remove any pathogens.

Alcohol is a very good sanitizer. That does not necessarily mean
sterilized! WE are not sterile. Your customer’s hands are not
sterile. Our environment is not sterile - even operating rooms are
not sterile, just as close to sterile as our technology allows.

But I digress. Trying on earrings is of concern IF the customer’s
ear piercing is INFECTED or NOT COMPLETELY HEALED. Should the pierced
area exhibit redness, oozing, pain, warmer skin, swelling - all are
indications of infection, which prohibit trying on earrings or even
handling such. If a customer tries on an earring, be sure to wipe it
clean with an alcohol pad. Cleaning the earring with alcohol before
the customer tries it on is a good practice. The ewwww factor not
withstanding, it’s just not a public health issue.

Judy in Kansas, where leaves are turning and beginning to fall. Time
to fumigate those plants I want to over-winter.


It’s generally a bad idea to let customers try on pierced earrings
and in some states violates health laws. And in general it violates
my personal “Yuch!” and “Ewww!” policy. It can be argued that there
is no real health concerns but ears are orifices to the head. Just
like sinus infections are not to be taken lightly because of the
close vicinity to the brain, neither should general ear health.

Check with your local health department about the law and have a
talk with the shop owner that thinks it’s ok to let customers try on
pierced earrings. Since they don’t normally carry jewelry they may
not be aware of the law.

If you can find them they make a clear acrylic earring holder that a
customer can hold an pierced earring up to their ear. These can be
easily made with sheet acrylic or lexan that you can buy at your
local hardware or big box home improvement store. It’s just an 1/8
inch thick piece of plastic about 3/4 inch wide by 8 inches long,
rounded on the ends, and drilled on one end to hold the earring.

A soak in rubbing alcohol will pretty much sterilize anything…

Rick Copeland
Silversmith and Lapidary Artisan

two things- well maybe more than 2… :

if you are an art jeweler putting your work on consignment in a shop
you could

  1. get the owner to sign a document releasing you from any liability
    from the store’s sales practises" including but not limited to
    allowing [ her] clientele to attach your work to their person through
    the use of ear wires, posts or any other method when precious metals
    are used, etc., etc. "

  2. if non precious metals are used for the wires or posts, furnish
    her with some tiny round magnets so they don’t have to actually put
    the wire, leverback or post through their skin ( you might also
    furnish some single use alcohol swabs or pads for the customers to
    wipe their ears first- that pushes the point home to any customer as
    well as any staff that they are dealing with potential body fluids,
    bacteria, yeasts( even petting a dog before walking into the
    storefront then touching one’s ear unconsciously can transmit canine
    candida[yeast] which can infect humans readily) and other naturally
    and frequently occurring things on, in and from human skins…

  3. if the health department states so in your locale simply
    displaying a small-ish placard that says" Due to_____Parish/County
    Health Department regulations attaching post or wire style jewellery
    items is prohibited " works well for the non-confrontational buyer
    and seller… Part of the dealings with your seller is that you trust
    their judgement and that of their staff-

In general they know their clientele that buy and frequent the store
and have the ability to “sense” for lack of a better term whether the
person is genuinely about to spend money or they are just passing
time… if someone cannot tell whether the length of a piece will or
won’t look right on a customer then perhaps their sales skills aren’t
such that you are moving enough in that venue to be making money,
getting custom jobs, repair inquiries, etc… maybe finding another
sales venue may be prudent.

  1. an autoclave sterilizes things but certain gems can’t take or at
    least are risky in applying steam, using an ultrasonic or otherwise
  • any treatment so consider the gemstones ( if any) you are putting
    into the pieces intended for that particular store.
  1. there are very tiny shrink to fit sleeves intended for electrical
    use- some remain flexible and “remember” the shape of the wire, post,
    etc. after shrinking- so you could take some lengths of the material,
    treat it to fit the gauge and provide them with the pieces to sell (
    some are color coded as well, so a segmented box would allow you to
    separate the pre-cut sleeves intended for a specific piece)- as they
    are then one use- they can be tossed in the bin after trying the
    piece on the customer…( one can also buy a vinyl tubing from
    scientific suppliers in gauges as small as 32g. and just pre cut them
    for the stores, they are quite pliable and fit tight so make sure you
    order the inside diameter to match the tubing size or one won’t be
    able to easily slip it over the wire.

So a few ideas other than just saying “no, never…” although
personally I would never let any client try anything on that couldn’t
handle seeing me sterilise the piece after taking it out of their
ear- however, I rarely do production runs so haven’t got that problem
as once a run is sold it is entirely the seller’s choice - and
liability once the sum is transferred…I have observed retailers
insisting the customer swipe their ear with an alcohol wipe more than
once in more than one country so while it doesn’t sterilise anything
it cleans the customer’s ear to a small degree.

  1. in any case if the piercing is obviously recent the seller should
    never allow any “try-ons” as the potential for blood products, and
    infection potential is highest at this point and there should have
    been a placard displayed before you even considered the venue as a
    sales prospect that states the store’s or health department’s
    regulations regarding the issue if truly “upscale”…rer

Interesting question; I can give a take from my state (CO). Most
body art/tattoo shops are required by state or local laws and
regulations to put in place infection control measures to prevent
transmission of disease. Items that pierce the body (like ear wires)
would have to be disposed as a medical waste, which means they have
to be treated to control infection before they can be thrown away or
otherwise used (think needles and syringes). So it would make sense
for these places to say no.

As someone who has been around the health profession for a while, I
would say it is way too easy to transmit something from your skin to
someone else’s. Most stores don’t have the proper cleaning equipment
like an autoclave to get rid of gems, so it’s probably a very good
idea to not let them try them on through the ear. I’ve made it a
point in my business to say that they’re welcome to try them on, but
if they do, they’ve agreed to purchase the earring finding. I would
rather lose a sale than have a customer come back and complain they
got a horrible infection from my earrings!

Caren Johannes
The Amethyst Rose

I have a solution for trying on earrings. I take small craft sticks
(similar to popscycle sticks) and drill a hole on one end. The
customer, or myself, threads the earring through the hole and holds
it up to the ear. Much easier to envision the earring on than with
your hand or the earring card and no one actually puts the earring in
their ear. Works for me.

I started a thread about this a couple of years ago. Since then, I
offer to clean the hooks/posts of earrings at a show, using a Q-tip
and alcohol I dispense from an eye drop bottle. Some like it, some
don’t care. Perhaps my process isn’t truly “sanitizing” things, but
it’s enough of a simulation to apparently satisfy.