The autoclave sterilization process revolutionized the medical industry when it was introduced by Charles Chamberland in 1884. Suddenly, infection dramatically decreased, cross-contamination was a thing of the past, and simple procedures were no longer precursors to long, infection-ridden recoveries. While today’s autoclaves are marvels of modern technology, these can’t-miss autoclave sterilization steps are among the most important for getting the most out of this miracle of modern medicine.
1. Wear the proper gear
When you use an autoclave, not only are you handling infectious waste, you are interacting with a machine that uses superheated steam to achieve sterilization. Always wear closed-toed shoes, safety glasses, and heat-proof gloves when handling instruments or materials around an autoclave.
2. Wait for the pressure to reach zero before opening
Never, ever open the door to an autoclave before the temperature is below 121 degrees Celsius and the pressure reaches zero. If you do, you are likely to shatter any glassware that is in the autoclave and worse yet receive severe steam burns. Even if the pressure and temperature are within normal limits, do not stand directly in front of the door when you open it. Any additional heat or steam can burn you.
3. Check the equipment you will be sterilizing
Even if you are sterilizing equipment that is heatproof, certain things can damage the autoclave or cause an explosion. Sharps, hazardous or corrosive chemicals, dried bleach, radioactive materials, pathological waste, or low molecular weight toxins are dangerous in an autoclave. If your surgical materials, lab coats or other equipment has been contaminated with these items, it must first be cleaned by a certified service before sterilizing.
4. Properly prepare the autoclave before starting
Before starting the cycle, always check the drain screen in the autoclave for obstructions and (if necessary) fill the reservoir with deionized water. The water is necessary to create steam, but an obstructed screen will prevent sterilization from occurring. Remember, sterilization is the removal of all microorganisms while disinfection is only the removal of the hazardous microorganisms. It is possible to achieve disinfection with foreign material in the drain screen but not sterilization.
5. Check for effectiveness
Autoclaves are equipped with devices to ensure proper sterilization has taken place. Whether it is a color-changing tape or print out from a recorder, it is vital that you take time to ensure that the proper temperature is maintained at the appropriate time. If not, be sure to restart the protocol in a different autoclave until this one can be re-calibrated, serviced or repaired. Imagine using a broken autoclave under the assumption that everything was fine. Failing to take the time at the end of each cycle can not only endanger patients but also those who are interacting with the hazardous material.
As phenomenal as the autoclave is, and as vital a service as it provides, missing even one of the autoclave sterilization steps can affect how well it works. Curious about which autoclave is right for you? Contact the equipment experts at Foremost Medical Equipment to find out more about our autoclave options.