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What are Autoclaves and Why are they Needed?

What are Autoclaves and Why are they Needed?

Medical facilities have always had the problem of how to sterilize their equipment for reuse or disposable. The modern autoclaves implemented today are a far cry from past methods used, and they are the best means of sterilizing materials either before reuse or disposal. When you are looking for  autoclaves for your facility, there will be several factors to take in to consideration. You will also need to know the proper way to use them in order to ensure that the equipment placed into it is fully sterilized.


One hundred years ago, surgical instruments were just tossed into a vat of boiling water for several minutes before reuse. Things have changed in the last century. Today, most equipment required for patients is single use, so that there is no need to find a means of sanitizing it before applying the same piece to another patient. There is though, the problem of disposal. While in the 20th century most hospital waste was just burned, incineration is not an environmentally friendly tactic. Prior to throwing away used equipment, it must be sterilized to prevent landfill contamination. This is why every facility that uses medical equipment needs several autoclaves.


The way these necessary pieces sterilize is through the use of highly heated steam. Water can only reach 100 degrees Celsius, but steam can get up to 120 degrees Centigrade or higher. In fact, the hotter the steam inside the autoclave, the less time the equipment must be in it in order to kill all microbes such as viruses, bacteria, and prions. These temperatures are achieved by removing the air from the machine, which is not as effective at sterilization as steam is. There are several means of taking the air out of the unit, among these are the use of a vacuum pump, gravity, or alternating between pressurizing and depressurizing the chamber. Once the air is removed, the steam inside can begin its cleaning task. Depending upon the temperature, the length of time to achieve sterilization can vary.


In order to ensure sterilization, there will be some things that must be done and checked by the technician. The use of autoclave tape is one means of verifying that the equipment reached high enough temperatures for the right length of time to kill surface microbes. Autoclave tape is a highly sticky tape that is applied to the equipment. It is able to withstand the steam inside the unit and will change colors when the equipment is properly sterilized. The technician must also be certain to place the equipment in the machine with ample space around the pieces. This will enable the hot steam to come into contact with all of the surfaces. Another thing to ensure that the autoclave is working is to purchase a model with pressure and temperature gauges on the exterior of the machine. These must be easy to read from the outside of the unit during use.


Once the pieces inside the  autoclaves are processed, they can then either reliably be reused or safely thrown away without fear of landfill contamination. The safety of patients and the community rests in the functioning of the  autoclaves and their task in sanitizing used medical equipment.

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