An autoclave is a sterilization apparatus that cannot only sterilize instruments but also liquids, plastics, and glass through direct contact with high-pressure steam. The time spent in the autoclave, the pressure of the steam, the temperature and pressure can all be adjusted according to the item to be sterilized.


What Is the Purpose of an Autoclave?

Autoclaves were developed to clean tools that could not be sterilized with heat or detergents alone. Thanks to the pressurization component of the process, an autoclave can reach steam temperatures higher than normal, which allows them to operate relatively quickly and decontaminate all parts of an instrument. In addition, today’s autoclaves easily facilitate verification of the procedure using temperature-sensitive tape and other indicators.

An autoclave is most frequently used in medical centers and hospitals, dental offices, laboratories, and research facilities. It is also useful, however, in any scenario where reusable equipment must be sterilized. Businesses such as food and beverage proprietors, veterinarians and even barbershops or beauty salons could benefit from an autoclave.

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The Autoclave Process

Here, we’ll take a look at the cleaning process, including how to operate an autoclave for sterilization. We’ll also answer some frequently asked questions about the technique.

Autoclaves generally follows these steps:

  • Objects or instruments (also called load materials) to be sterilized are placed in an autoclave-compatible bag and then into a secondary container. This will help prevent contact with the walls of the autoclave, which could melt plastic components.
  • Once packaged, the vessel is placed in the autoclave.
  • The operator closes and locks the autoclave, then selects the correct cycle for the type of material to be sterilized.
  • The autoclave is pressurized, fills with steam, and begins to approach the specified temperature for the cycle.
  • Once it reaches the sterilization temperature the autoclave will keep the chamber at that temperature for the full sterilization cycle duration.
  • Operators should confirm that the required temperature is consistently met for the entire duration of the sterilization period.
  • Once the cycle is complete, the autoclave will enter a cooling mode where it will slowly depressurize and return to room temperature. Many autoclaves won’t open until their internal temperature reaches a safe level
  • Check any verification measures, such as temperature tape.
  • Remove the tools and let stand in a designated “hot zone” until cooled to room temperature, then transport as needed.

Incompatible and Compatible Materials 

While the autoclave sterilization process is highly-effective, some materials are compatible with autoclave sterilization, and others are not. Compatible materials include:

  • Glassware
  • Stainless steel
  • Pipette tips
  • Media Solutions
  • Polypropylene (Secondary containers)
  • Tissue Culture Flasks
  • Surgical Instruments
  • Gloves

Materials that should not be sterilized in an autoclave and can be sterilized using another physical or chemical process include:

  • Acids, bases and organic solvent
  • Any liquid in a sealed container
  • Household bleach
  • Non-stainless steel
  • Polystyrene(PS)
  • Polyethylene(PE)
  • Polyurethane
  • Flammable, radioactive, corrosive or toxic materials

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