While most people may have never heard the term “autoclave” before, autoclaves have a wide use in many industries, such as medicine, microbiology, prosthetics, dentistry, and even in the application of body piercings and tattoos. An autoclave is basically a pressure chamber used to carry out any process that requires highly elevated temperature and pressure, such as waste management, waste disposal, and/or waste sterilization. By using the power of steam, it can maintain a temperature that is too high for any microorganism (viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and so on) to survive.
This is how all the surgeons, dentists, tattoo artists, and even nail salons can use the same tools over and over again on different patients/customers, without any risk of an infection being passed from one person to another.
The first autoclave steam sterilizer was invented around 1884, by a French microbiologist named Charles Chamberland. Its birth came from the need for a more reliable sterilization method to be used in medicine: until that point, open flaming was the most prominent method available to medical facilities. The benefits of autoclaving became clear very soon after their first application, and have become an essential part of the equipment of any modern hospital or clinic.
A list of autoclave parts and their functions
- Chamber. The chamber itself is a fundamental part of any type of autoclave. It consists of an inner chamber and an outer jacket. In hospitals and laboratories “jacketed” autoclave chambers are also filled with steam, meaning it puts less of a burden on the inner chamber by reducing the condensation inside it. This also results in a reduction of the time it takes for the sterilization cycle to finish.
- Controls. Just like a common microwave or oven, all autoclaves have their own control panel. Of course, a machine as sophisticated as an autoclave steam sterilizer doesn’t have the exact same controller interface as household device. Basically, the sterilization cycle follows a sort of recipe provided by the autoclave’s software, which launches a process consisting of several phases.
- Thermostatic trap. The trap inside an autoclave is a device that serves to allow water and air to get out of the chamber. It is always a vital component of the most professionally designed autoclaves.
- Safety valve. Since autoclaves operate using highly elevated pressure, they absolutely have to be fitted with a variety safety measures and a sturdy construction. The safety valve is basically a fail-safe device that protects the user from danger if all other electronic procedures fail to function properly. Because of its essential role in safety, the safety valve always needs to be inspected and tested beforehand.
- Cooling system. Before the waste-water coming from the autoclave can enter the drain piping, it has to be cooled down to avoid damage caused by the heat.
- Vacuum system. Present in only certain types of autoclaves, the vacuum system serves to replace all the air inside the chamber with steam.
- Steam generator. Also known as a boiler, a steam generator’s purpose is to provide a source of steam for the autoclave when there is no central source available.