Keeping patients healthy at your medical or dental facility is a critical factor to the success of treatment and improves patient satisfaction. To understand more about the importance of sterilization and how autoclaves work, here is a helpful autoclave sterilization process guide.
The Importance of Sterilization
Sterilization is an essential process for removing potentially harmful microorganisms, viruses, and fungal spores from instruments in medical and dental facilities. However, traditional chemical and mechanical sterilization process does not always remove 100% of microorganisms, leaving your patients at risk of infection. Autoclaves are ideal for eliminating microorganisms that can survive traditional sterilization methods.
What is an Autoclave?
An autoclave is a sterilization apparatus that cannot only sterilize instruments but also liquids, plastics, and glass through direct contact with high-pressure steam. The time spent in the autoclave, the pressure of the steam, the temperature and pressure can all be adjusted according to the item to be sterilized.
What is an Autoclave Used For?
An autoclave is used for sterilizing dental and medical equipment in research facilities, hospitals, laboratories, and clinics, as well as in tattoo studios. An autoclave is an ideal solution for sterilizing large quantities of items and come in a range of sizes to suit the needs of your facility.
Small autoclaves are around the size of a small microwave oven and can sit easily on countertops and workbenches. Large autoclaves are typically used in hospitals and large clinics for high volume sterilization.
How Does an Autoclave Work?
The autoclave sterilization process works by first removing the air from the autoclave chamber with a vacuum pump to create a low pressure environment. Moist heat in the form of steam is introduced into the chamber as it is more gentle than dry heat for sterilization, allowing facilities to sterilize fragile items.
The steam, which is sourced from purified water, is pumped in at a pressure of approximately 100kPa and at a temperature of approximately 121C for a predetermined amount of time. These parameters can be adjusted according to the type of items you need to be sterilized.
Following the steam sterilization, there is a short drying process to remove excess moisture. Depending on how you adjust the parameters, the steam may or may not contain water droplets. Moist steam more effectively conducts heat at lower pressures and is best suited to fragile items such as hollow instruments.
However, it is essential to remember that superheated steam and steam with too high humidity levels are both undesirable and can reduce the effectiveness of the sterilization process or require extended sterilization times which can damage fragile elements. Always consult the autoclave sterilization process guide provided by the manufacturer to determine the optimal parameters.
There are indicator strips found on the side or at the back of the autoclave to validate whether the sterilization process has been successful. These strips respond to chemical changes within the autoclave chamber and can detect whether the correct temperature was reached.
Another way to accurately assess the effectiveness of the autoclave is with a biological indicator vial which contains a population of bacterial spores. The vial is placed inside the autoclave to be sterilized, then after the sterilization process, the vial is broken with a special tool and then incubated. The vial will change colour if the sterilization was not successful.
Incompatible and Compatible Materials
While the autoclave sterilization process is highly-effective, some materials are compatible with autoclave sterilization, and others are not. Compatible materials include:
- Stainless steel
- Pipette tips
- Media Solutions
- Polypropylene (Secondary containers)
- Tissue Culture Flasks
- Surgical Instruments
Materials that should not be sterilized in an autoclave and can be sterilized using another physical or chemical process include:
- Acids, bases and organic solvent
- Any liquid in a sealed container
- Household bleach
- Non-stainless steel
- Flammable, radioactive, corrosive or toxic materials
At Critical Dental, we understand that it is vital to have the right tools for the job when you need them. A MELAG Autoclave uses state-of-the-art technology to deliver hygienically clean instruments and dental components to keep your patients safe and healthy. To learn more about how the autoclave sterilization process can help your dental practice, call Critical Dental on (02) 8880 7813 to talk to our experienced staff.