Autoclaves for surgical instruments – Everything about steam sterilizers


Autoclaves – AKA steam sterilizers – have become one of the most popular methods to treat surgical instruments in hospitals. Especially since the more compact version can be installed directly at the site of operating theaters as well.

In Celitron’s next article, we will discuss all the basics you need to know about autoclaves, including why steam sterilization is a must-needed procedure in the healthcare industry.

What is an autoclave? Why are steam sterilizers needed for surgical instruments?

Autoclaves (synonymous with steam sterilizers) are present in many industries, but their application is most notable in medical fields for the sterilization of surgical instruments.

This was the exact goal of their inventor, Charles Chamberland, a French microbiologist who sought to provide the healthcare industry with a more reliable method to treat medical tools. The first autoclave in 1879 looked almost identical to a pressure cooker. Around the beginning of the 1930s, steam sterilization technology began seeing a more widespread use in hospitals.

While this technology has certainly seen some improvements over the years, the principle remains the same: autoclaves still use high-temperature and high-pressure steam to sterilize surgical instruments.

The golden rule is quite simple in the operating theaters in hospitals: each surgical instrument and every piece of equipment must be sterile before being used. Steam sterilization can kill all manners of foreign materials, including, spores, viruses, and even heat-resistant bacteria.

IMPORTANT: Cleaning surgical instruments or disinfecting them does NOT yield the same results as sterilizing them with an autoclave! It is NOT an acceptable method for surgery prep work!

This is why each medical facility where surgeries are performed needs to have an available on-site solution to sterilize their medical tools and instruments.

How does an autoclave sterilize surgical instruments?

Autoclaves treat surgical instruments via a process called steam sterilization. This involves exposing the load inside the autoclave’s chamber with saturated steam at high temperatures and high pressure. Steam sterilizers can raise the boiling point of water/steam over 100 degrees Celsius. Combined with heat – usually ranging between 121 and 134 degrees Celsius – steam can kill microorganisms present on the surface of surgical instruments by reducing the amount of time and heat it would otherwise take to coagulate or denature the proteins present in foreign materials.

Autoclaves sterilize surgical instruments in 3 main phases:

1. Conditioning

The beginning of the steam sterilization cycle. After the surgical instruments have been placed inside the autoclave’s chamber, the air is removed from inside via gravity displacement or a vacuum pump. Following the removal of air, the steam sterilizer begins heating up to the required temperature levels.

2. Exposure

After the surgical instruments inside the autoclave’s chamber have reached a temperature ranging between 121 and 134 degrees Celsius, high-pressure and high-temperature steam is introduced to the chamber. The instruments inside will remain exposed to the steam for a set amount of time.

The exact time and temperature should always be set according to the manufacturer's instructions. The exact time the process takes to complete also depends on the type of autoclave used (gravity or vacuum) as well as the size of the load inside.

3. Exhaust

The last step of the steam sterilization cycle. Steam is gradually removed from the autoclave’s chamber and the pressure inside is released. The surgical instruments begin drying and cooling down. Once pressure and temperature levels are back to normal, they can be removed. Removing any instrument from the steam sterilizer’s chamber until this process is completed is STRICTLY prohibited, as the high temperatures can easily cause burns!

What kind of autoclave should I use for surgical instruments?

Apart from the size of the chamber capacity of the autoclave, you will use to sterilize surgical instruments, you will also need to choose its class. The main difference lies in how they remove air from their chamber at the start of the steam sterilization process: via gravity displacement or a vacuum pump. While both are viable options, vacuum autoclaves (also known as pre-and-post vac steam sterilizers) are largely considered to be the most advanced available on the market, and are the preferred options at many medical facilities, from the largest of hospitals to the smallest of clinics.

1) Gravity displacement autoclaves for surgical instruments

Consists of class N and class S autoclaves. Mostly used to treat flat medical tools, but cannot be used to handle more complex loads. In a nutshell, they lack the versatility and speed of the more advanced models.

The main reason behind this is that removing air via gravity is a much slower process compared to pumping it out, not to mention less reliable. Gravity displacement cannot remove 100% of the air inside the autoclave’s chamber, which is why it cannot be used to treat more types of materials that still need to be sterilized at hospitals.

2) Vacuum autoclaves for surgical instruments

Celitron’s vacuum autoclaves for surgical instruments are already present in more than 80 countries worldwide. They are able to complete a full 3-phase sterilization cycle in about 20 minutes (depending on the size of the load inside)

Apart from flat medical tools, they can be used to treat textile items, porous/hollow loads, syringes, pipettes, or larger pieces of medical equipment.

Using a vacuum pump doesn’t just result in more speed – it improves the reliability of the steam sterilization process as the steam can penetrate every single part of the load inside when all air is removed from the autoclave’s chamber.

Celitron’s autoclaves for sterilizing surgical instruments

Regardless of their size, all of our class B vacuum autoclaves can offer the same high-quality performance.

For more information on Celitron’s autoclaves you can use to steam sterilize surgical instruments, you can find all the technical specifications about the different models we offer BY CLICKING HERE!

Should you have any questions, make sure to CONTACT US – our team is ready to provide you with answer to any queries you may have about autoclaves, as well as provide you with a free quote to install a steam sterilizer at the site of your hospital!