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Can I sanitize and disinfect toe separators?

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Question:

Can I sanitize and disinfect toe separators properly? I use rubber-based silicone ones, not the porous type.  Do you think these will deteriorate from liquid disinfectants over time? Can I use an autoclave to sterilize them?

Answer:

Silicone is highly resistant to disinfectants. Therefore, you can easily clean and disinfected toe separators, and the silicone won’t break down. You can even disinfect highly porous toe separators. However, some regions have regulations against disinfecting porous items, even though being “porous” actually makes it easier to disinfect, not harder. “Porosity” is a relative term and just about everything has some degree of porosity. In my view, the whole porous/non-porous discussion is actually just a big misunderstanding. I’ve not heard a rational reason why something porous can’t be disinfected. Hospitals and nursing homes regularly disinfect bed sheets and reuse them. 

Silicone toe separators are a good example because they will not absorb disinfectants, so are they porous or non-porous? Most would say they are non-porous, but then how is this explained? When soaked in colored disinfectant solutions they will absorb and become stained by colorants in the disinfection solution. The silicone surface can become slightly blue, purple, red, yellow, or even grayish. This coloration change indicates that the surface absorbed some of the disinfectants, demonstrating that the surface is actually slightly porous. This color change is just a cosmetic effect and won’t affect the function of the toe separators. Even though silicone has some porosity, there is no doubt that one can adequately disinfect these items. One can repeatedly clean and disinfect them for many years, so don’t throw them away after a single use. 

This is an interesting property of many types of silicone. They allow some molecules to penetrate their surface. These molecules are mostly restricted to near the surface. The nail plate can do the same, as I’ve discussed in previous questions. This is exactly how smokers get stains on their nail plates when they repeatedly expose them to cigarette smoke. I’ve not tried, but I don’t think an autoclave can sterilize silicone toe separators without destroying them. Autoclaves are very hard on anything not made of metal or glass. Even so, disinfection is clearly enough for silicone toe separators and will kill 99.99% of microbes on the surface, thus rendering them safe for reuse on clients.

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