Autoclave Sterilization: Keeping Healthcare Facilities Safe from Infections

Autoclave Sterilization

In healthcare facilities, patient safety is the top priority. This is why there is no room for error when it comes to sterilization. One of the most effective methods of sterilizing medical equipment is autoclave sterilization, which uses high temperature and pressure to kill bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms.

What Is an Autoclave and How Is It Used?

An autoclave is a machine that uses heat, pressure, and steam to sterilize medical equipment by eliminating any contaminants. The steam sterilizer is commonly used in healthcare facilities as it is highly effective in killing various microorganisms that could lead to infections. The process begins by placing the medical equipment to be sterilized inside the autoclave chamber, which is then sealed. Once the process starts, the steam pressure within the chamber is raised to a specific temperature and pressure level (typically 121°C and 15psi) to kill any microorganisms. The processing time will vary depending on the size of the items and the type of autoclave used.

Learn more: Read about common issues with autoclaves and their solutions in ERD’s autoclave troubleshooting guide.

Types of Autoclaves

Here are the types of autoclaves used in healthcare settings and how they work:

Gravity autoclave: These traditional autoclaves use gravity to remove the air from the chamber and replace it with steam. The autoclave temperature is set to 121°C, and the pressure is typically 15 psi. Once the instruments have been properly cleaned and placed in the autoclave, steam is introduced, and the pressure and temperature are increased to sterilize the instruments for approximately 15-30 minutes.

Vacuum autoclave: Vacuum autoclaves work by removing air from the chamber before steam is introduced, thereby allowing steam to penetrate all surfaces of the instruments. The autoclave temperature is typically set to 132-135°C and the pressure is typically 27-30 psi. The complete sterilization process takes about 4-12 minutes, depending on the size of the load and the type of instrument being sterilized.

Pre-vacuum autoclave: Pre-vacuum autoclaves are similar to vacuum autoclaves but incorporate a pulsed vacuum stage before sterilization. This helps to ensure that air is effectively removed from the chamber, resulting in better steam penetration and subsequent sterilization. The autoclave temperature and pressure are set similar to vacuum autoclaves.

How Does Autoclave Sterilization Prevent Infection in Healthcare Settings?

The risk of infection in hospitals and healthcare facilities is a serious problem that cannot be ignored. According to the World Health Organization, around 5-15% of patients in developed countries and up to 40% of patients in developing countries acquire infections during hospital stays. These infections are not only detrimental to patients’ health, but they also put a significant financial burden on healthcare systems and resources.

A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that autoclave sterilization was the most effective method for preventing the spread of infectious diseases in healthcare facilities. The study compared different methods of sterilization, including chemical disinfection, ultraviolet irradiation, ozone sterilization, and autoclaving. The study found that while all methods were effective at reducing the number of microorganisms on surfaces and instruments, autoclaving was the only method that eliminated all microorganisms and found that autoclaves had the highest kill rate of microorganisms, including drug-resistant strains.

Autoclaves play a vital role in ensuring that medical instruments and equipment are free of harmful bacteria and viruses. However, they require regular maintenance to maintain their effectiveness. This includes regular cleaning, routine inspections, and testing to ensure that they’re operating within the correct temperature and pressure range.

Knowing the types of sterilizers and their operating temperatures and pressures will help healthcare professionals choose the right one for their needs. Regular autoclave maintenance service is critical to ensure that autoclaves continue to operate effectively and efficiently.

How Long Does Autoclave Sterilization Take?

The length of time it takes for complete autoclave sterilization will depend on several factors, including the size of the equipment, temperature, and pressure levels. In most cases, the autoclave cycle lasts between 20 and 40 minutes.

It is important to note that autoclaves require an appropriate cool-down period before the medical equipment can be removed from the chamber. This will ensure that the equipment does not retain any pressure from the autoclave chamber that could lead to damage or other issues.

Autoclave sterilization is an essential process in maintaining a safe and healthy environment for patients and healthcare professionals. By utilizing autoclaves, healthcare facilities can ensure that the equipment used in patient care is free of any microorganisms, greatly reducing the risk of infection.

However, autoclave efficacy depends on regular maintenance and service to minimize downtime and ensure proper function. ERD specializes in services like autoclave leak tests, emergency repair, installation, and more—all to keep your equipment functioning and your patients safe. Contact us to learn more!

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