Autoclave Bags – The Forgotten Key to Safe Sterilization

by: dewi susanti

Sterilization via autoclave is one of the primary ways of decontaminating objects. In order to hold the items together to be sterilized, autoclave bags are used.

An Overview of Autoclave Bags


autoclave bag

Autoclave Bag

Autoclaving may be done using clear polypropylene bags called autoclave bags or reusable autoclavable containers. However, the standard red bag used to collect medical waste is not intended for use in an autoclave. This is why you must buy autoclave bags if that is what you intend to use.

Why not use reusable autoclaving containers? Autoclave bags are cheaper than reusable containers. They are literally more flexible. Autoclaving bags can be disposed of after use along with the waste they contain, simplifying cleanup.

Autoclaving bags handle items with many different shapes and sizes.Many different items can be placed in autoclave bags before being put in the autoclave.However, stacking two or more autoclave bags on top of each other will increase autoclave cycle time. Fortunately, you can find autoclave bags in a variety of sizes, so that you can find one that fits almost any item that would fit inside of an autoclave.

Autoclave bags should only be filled two thirds of the way. This ensures that there is sufficient steam penetration. There must also be sufficient space around all items in the autoclave for steam circulation. Containers may need to be placed on their side to ensure steam circulation and that dirty air isn’t trapped inside.

The items in the autoclave bag must reach at least 1210C, though some institutions need to meet 1410C. Most sterilization cycles don’t go over 1340C. Verify the temperature your lab-ware must reach before buying an autoclave bag, so that you don’t end up with bags that won’t survive your sterilization process.

Internal pressure in the autoclave should meet at least 15 PSI. Some manufacturers put sterilization indicators on their autoclave bags so that customers know that the bags reached the minimum sterilization temperature. This does not replace proper monitoring of the process, but it does help ensure that items are sterilized before reuse or disposal.

A batch of autoclave bags with sterilization indicators is also a frontline warning when the unit stops meeting performance standards.
Many plastic items can be autoclaved, such as those made from Teflon and polycarbonate. Polypropylene items may be autoclavable, but not all.

Autoclave bags are specifically made for the autoclaving process; not all plastic bags can be safely used in the autoclave. For example, polyethylene bags will melt in the autoclave, leaving a plastic puddle in the chamber.
Autoclave bags cannot be used with sharps. Needles and other sharp items could puncture the bag. Autoclave bags are designed to be tear resistant but may still be punctured. Items that might boil over can be autoclaved if they fit in the secondary pan in the autoclave; these should not be put in an autoclave bag.


Autoclave Bag Standards

Autoclave bags are usually a bright orange but may be red and clear. Many come with a wire closure, though twist tie and self-sealing bags are available on the market. OSHA mandates the graphic symbols to be used on the bags. OSHA does not require medical waste to be steam sterilized prior to disposal, but many states have regulations requiring waste to be sterilized in an autoclave bag prior to disposal.

The standard biohazard warning symbol is universal, but precautionary procedures must be printed on the bags per FDA mandates. Many autoclave bags have warnings in multiple languages, though this is not mandatory.

Autoclave bags are tested per ASTM standard D1709-09 to ensure their puncture resistance. ASTM D1709 uses darts dropped from a specified height to test the impact resistance of plastic bags. For those buying autoclave bags from overseas, the autoclave bags will have to meet ISO Std 7765.

ASTM 1922 outlines the tear resistance test autoclave bags must undergo. This test uses a pendulum to measure the tearing resistance of plastic film used to make autoclave bags.29 CFR 1910.1030 is the U.S. federal government’s standards for controlling occupational exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

Not all autoclave bags must meet this standard. However, not all bloodborne waste must be autoclaved before it is disposed of. While CFR 1910.1030(e)(2)(ii)(J) states that syringes should be autoclaved prior to disposal, this must be done in a container, not an autoclave bag, due to the puncture risk.

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