What is Autoclave Steam Sterilization

steam autoclave sterilizer

steam autoclave sterilizer

Most devices used in healthcare facilities, particularly surgical and medical equipment, are kept clean and disinfected by using autoclave steam sterilization. This technique effectively destroys all types of microorganisms on the tools’ surface, so it discourages the transmission of germs, bacteria and pathogens when the item is used on another individual. Because of the wide margin of security and safety linked with sterilization, medical facilities implement this technique in ensuring the hygiene of all tools that health experts use on their patients.

Key Facts about Steam Autoclaving

Autoclave steam sterilization is an inexpensive and nontoxic method of keeping medical tools clean as steam penetrates and heats the material. As with all types of sterilization techniques, autoclaving can cause some damages on some materials such as combustion of lubricants and corrosion, particularly with dental handpieces. Thus, it is important to use the right temperature and pressure at a specific time to prevent these deleterious effects on selected materials that are sterilized.

The fundamental principle of autoclaving is to expose items to steam contact. Four important parameters of sterilization by steam are implemented including steam, time, temperature and pressure. Dry saturated steam mixed with entrained water are required for steam sterilization. Specific temperatures ensure microbial activity while pressure is necessary to attain the right temperature to kill microorganisms efficiently.

In steam sterilization, the two most common temperatures required are 121 degrees or 132 degrees Celsius. These temperatures should be maintained for a specific amount of time to fully disinfect items. The minimum exposure time applied for sterilizing wrapped medical supplies is 30 minutes at 121 degrees Celsius when conducted in a gravity displacement type of sterilizer. On the other hand, items that are placed in a prevacuum sterilizer must remain inside for 4 minutes at 132 degrees Celsius. However, sterilization time still depends on the type of item, the kind of sterilizer used, and whether the item is unwrapped or wrapped.

Further Details about Steam Sterilization

The most powerful agent that is used to inactivate microorganisms is heat. As items are sterilized, moist heat rapidly destroys microorganisms by denaturing structural proteins and enzymes. Furthermore, moisture has a significant impact on the coagulation temperature of structural proteins, as well as the temperature used to eliminate microorganisms.

Considering the effectiveness of steam sterilization, it is recommended to be used on critical and semi-critical healthcare tools that are moisture and heat resistant. Some of these tools include anesthesia equipment and items used in respiratory therapy, as long as they are sterilizble by steam.

Although steam autoclaves are used in medical industries and healthcare facilities for decontamination purposes, it is important to follow the prescribed exposure time and temperature to ensure the best results. Lastly, the effectiveness of autoclaving must be monitored using a special biological indicator that contains the spores of the Geobacillus stearothermophilus bacterium. The spores of this rod-shaped bacterium is used in monitoring liquid-peracetic acid sterilizers, hydrogen-peroxide gas plasma and steam sterilization. This way, any issues associated with the autoclave such as poor steam delivery or equipment malfunction may be detected and prevented.


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