Imagine a world before sterilization. Picture your dentist using the same instruments in your mouth that he used in a hundred others. Or a doctor who performed surgery with instruments that had, perhaps, been boiled or dipped in alcohol. It’s no wonder so many people died of infection and disease in the early days of our country. Fortunately, those days are over thanks to the autoclave – a machine that produces both high temperature and high pressure to sterilize instruments, lab materials, and hazardous waste before reuse or disposal. However, an autoclave is only as effective as its operator allows it to be.
How does an autoclave destroy microorganisms?
An autoclave is nothing more than a high-tech pressure cooker for equipment and supplies. Think of how a pressure cooker works. A small amount of liquid is added to a pot that is sealed. Pressure is allowed to build inside breaking down the connective tissue in tough cuts of meat or quickly cooking the food in the pot. The pressure must be released before the pot can be safely opened, but once it has equalized the food is thoroughly cooked in a fraction of the time, it would take under normal conditions.
An autoclave applies high-pressure steam to instruments, equipment, and supplies used in medical procedures, laboratories, tattoo shops, dentist offices, etc. Since the temperature inside an autoclave can top 275 degrees Fahrenheit, it quickly sterilizes instruments and kills bacteria that boiling water or detergent could not. Once the autoclave is closed, a vacuum pump removes all of the air from the inside of the chamber, and high-pressure steam raises the temperature inside. After a pre-determined amount of time, the chamber begins returning to normal pressure, the safety lock releases and you can remove the sterilized contents from the autoclave.
What temperature does an autoclave need to be to provide sterilization?
Autoclaves that use high-pressure steam to sterilize instruments or other objects will operate at 121°C. This temperature will continue for between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on how large the load is and what you are sterilizing. Anytime you use an autoclave without steam, you must adjust the temperature higher to make sure all of the bacteria are dead. Usually, a non-steam cycle is done at 132°C for 3-10 minutes for both wrapped and unwrapped items. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the temperature of the autoclave, the shorter the sterilization cycle. Some instruments that do not need to be used can be put in the autoclave overnight while others that must be reused quickly are exposed to higher temperatures for shorter times.
Autoclaves have revolutionized the way we think about sterilization. Fast, easy and safe to use, they allow everyone from doctors to tattoo artists to provide services to clients while protecting the health of their employees. To find out more about which autoclave is right for you, or to discuss your autoclave needs with an equipment specialist, contact Foremost Medical Equipment today.