Choosing the Right Autoclave Tray to Maximize the Efficiency of a Steam Sterilizer

An autoclave is a device used to cure medical, cosmetic and laboratory equipment and supplies by subjecting them to hot, high pressure steam. The items to be sterilized are not placed directly on the floor of the steam sterilizer. They are placed into hollow containers or receptacles prior to be being loaded into the autoclave for sterilization. These secondary containments are known as autoclave trays.

Autoclave Trays – Use and Design

The use of racks in a sterilizer serves a dual purpose. It makes optimum use of the available space. It also prevents spills and leaks that would have occurred had the items been placed haphazardly on the floor. The orderly arrangement reduces the hassles of regular cleaning and also raises the efficiency of the sterilizer device.

While ordinary trays are shaped like hollow basins, a few trays are designed in the grid system. They are made so that they can hold individual vials snugly. Autoclave trays are not fixed; they are removable. The number of racks that can fit into an autoclave simultaneously depends on the size of the autoclave.

Material Choices for Autoclave Trays

Materials choices for autoclave trays are very important because it determines the structural integrity of the receptacle. The best material to choose is one that is heat-resistant, impermeable, puncture-proof and a good conductor of heat. Stainless Steel, Aluminum, Plastic and Composites are some of the materials used in the manufacture of autoclave trays.

1. 1.Aluminum: Aluminum autoclave racks are selected for their lightweight and high-durability. In its pure form, aluminum gets easily oxidized and corrodes. Therefore, aluminum trays are anodized, that is coated with a protective film to prevent damage.

2. 2. Stainless Steel: Stainless steel offers the highest level of durability, but they are heavy and expensive. It is used because it is a good thermal conductor.

3. 3. Plastic: Plastic is commonly used because it is lightweight and easy to clean. However, not all types of plastics can be autoclaved. They are special varieties of plastic formulated for sterilization purposes. The manufacturing initials imprinted on the container will help determine whether or not a plastic receptacle is suitable for autoclave use. Polycarbonate (PC) and Polypropylene (PP) are types of plastics known for their heat resistant-properties and hence, are suitable for use in high-heat sterilization processes.

Testing Instrument Racks in an Autoclave

The trays used in an autoclave, for that matter in any sterilizer, should be strong and sturdy with a solid bottom and wall. The walls of the container should also be sufficiently high to contain all the items comfortably. The sides must be at least 6 inches in height. Trays, shelves and racks should be inspected regularly as prolonged use causes them to become brittle. Cracked and warped trays should not be used in an autoclave. It compromises the efficiency of the sterilization process and also creates a mess. In addition to regular physical inspection, technicians must conduct biological monitoring after every 40 hours of use. It is done to ensure that the device works effectively.

Not all materials used to make an autoclave tray are excellent conductors of heat. For instance, the thermal conduction capacity of stainless steel is higher than that of plastic. This impacts the time duration of the sterilization cycle and you might need to add or subtract 15 minutes to the process time based on the type of tray you use.