Autoclaving: what is it used for? A comprehensive guide about the applications of steam sterilization in medical settings


One of the most common methods of sterilization is autoclaving, but what is it used for exactly? In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various applications of autoclaving and why it is so important in maintaining patient safety.

What is autoclaving and why does a healthcare facility need an autoclave?

Autoclaving is a sterilization process that uses high-pressure steam at high temperatures to kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms that could cause infections. Medical settings are extremely susceptible to the spread of infections and diseases, which is why strict sterilization protocols are a must. The steam sterilization process is commonly used in medical settings to sterilize equipment, instruments, and other items.

The autoclave itself (also known as a steam sterilizer) is a machine resembling a pressure cooker. Autoclaves come in different types and sizes, but they all work on the same principle of using steam as their source to sterilize items.

Apart from preventing the spread of infections and ensuring the safety of your patients and staff, autoclaving is one of the surest way to meet regulatory standards set by the FDA, the CDC, or the WHO.

How does autoclaving work?

Autoclaving works by subjecting items to high-pressure and high-temperature steam. The pressure and temperature (usually ranging between 121 and 134 degrees Celsius) are carefully regulated to ensure that all microorganisms are killed off, while the items in the autoclave’s chamber are not damaged. This allows staff to reuse medical equipment such as surgical tools without any risk of infection.

There are three phases of autoclaving: heating, sterilization, and cooling.

  1. During the heating phase, the chamber is heated up to the appropriate temperature.
  2. During the sterilization phase, steam is introduced into the chamber and the pressure is increased to the appropriate level. The items inside the chamber are then exposed to steam for a specified amount of time.
  3. During the cooling phase, the chamber is allowed to cool down before the items can be safely removed.

The exact amount of time it needs to sterilize the items inside mainly depends on the size of the load and the type of autoclave used. With Celitron’s vacuum autoclaves (also known as class B autoclaves),the autoclaving process can be done in about 20 minutes. With the use of a powerful vacuum pump, the air inside the chamber can be cleared out completely and in a much shorter amount of time.

Autoclaving: what is it used for? Application of Celitron’s class B autoclaves in medical settings

Autoclaving has a wide range of applications in medical settings. This versatility has made them an increasingly popular on-site solution in the healthcare industry. At Celitron, we can certainly attest to this popularity, since our autoclaves are present in over 40 countries around the world. Apart from the increased speed that comes with pre-vacuum autoclaves, Celitron’s class B steam sterilizers also provide greater versatility, which allows healthcare facilities to treat more types of loads.

So, what is autoclaving used for exactly? Here are some of the most common applications:

  • Sterilizing medical equipment: Autoclaving is used to sterilize a wide range of medical equipment, including syringes, catheters, and surgical instruments. Sterilizing equipment ensures that any bacteria or other microorganisms that may be present are killed off, preventing the spread of infections.
  • Sterilizing medical instruments: Medical instruments such as scalpels and forceps must be thoroughly sterilized before use to prevent the spread of infections.
  • Sterilizing glassware and laboratory equipment: Autoclaving is commonly used in laboratory settings to sterilize glassware and other equipment. This helps in preventing the contamination of samples or other materials.
  • Sterilizing animal cages and bedding: Autoclaving is also used in veterinary clinics and animal research facilities to sterilize animal cages, bedding, and other materials to prevent the spread of diseases and infections.
  • Sterilizing surgical supplies: Autoclaving is crucial in the sterilization of surgical supplies and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment),such as gowns, gloves, and masks. Sterilizing these supplies ensures that the surgical environment is completely free of bacteria and other microorganisms, reducing the risk of infections.

What are the benefits of autoclaving compared to other sterilization methods?

Autoclaving is just one of several methods used for sterilizing equipment and instruments in medical settings. Other methods include chemical sterilization, radiation sterilization, or filtration. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and the choice of method will depend on factors such as the type of item being sterilized, the material it is made from, and the intended use.

Overall, autoclaving is generally preferred over other methods of sterilization due to its effectiveness, efficiency, and environmental friendliness. Autoclaving only uses water and heat to kill off foreign materials, so there is no risk of harmful emissions. Additionally, autoclaving does not leave behind any residue or harmful by-products.

Furthermore, Celitron’s autoclaves are also equipped with advanced water and energy-saving systems, making their sustainable operation also a cost-effective one. Their installation is also much more practical compared to on-site incinerators, and their varying capacity makes them an ideal choice for facilities of all sizes.

Autoclaving: what is it used for? Compatible and incompatible materials

Last, but certainly not least, Celitron highly recommends that you always check the manufacturer’s instructions about EXACTLY what kind of materials you can treat via autoclaving to avoid unnecessary risks.

Here’s a general list about which items can and cannot be treated by autoclaves:

CAN be treated via autoclaving

  • Hospital linens, textile materials
  • Contaminated solid items
  • Plastic pipette tips (inside appropriate biohazard beds)
  • Polypropylene (PP secondary containers) and polycarbonate (PC) plastics (keep containers and bags open so that the steam can penetrate them)
  • Stainless steel, metallic medical tools, surgical instruments
  • Biological tissue culture flasks and plates
  • Media Solutions
  • Paper (if placed inside a biohazardous autoclave waste bag)
  • Latex gloves, vinyl (inside biohazardous autoclave waste bags)
  • Glassware (Pyrex, Pyrex type materials, or type I borosilicate glass)

CANNOT be treated via autoclaving

  • Any material that touches the surface of the autoclave’s chamber
  • Pharmaceuticals, pills
  • Explosive and flammable materials
  • Corrosive and toxic materials
  • Radioactive materials
  • Chlorine-based products, sulphates
  • Acids, organic solvents
  • Chlorine, hypochlorite, bleach
  • Any kind of liquid in sealed containers
  • Polystyrene (PS),Polyurethane
  • Low density (LDPE) and High-density polyethylene(HDPE)
  • Non-stainless steel
  • Paraffin-embedded tissue

To learn more about autoclaving and what it is used for, you can always check the specifications of our steam sterilizers on our website. We have small, medium, and large class B steam sterilizers which provide the same consistent quality, regardless of size.

CONTACT OUR TEAM and we will help you choose the model most suited for your facility and provide you with a free quote as well!

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