The Many Uses of Autoclave Instruments-medical waste

Autoclaves, whether they are large autoclaves or smaller instruments are designed to subject items to steam at a temperature of at least 121 degrees C at high pressure in order to sterilize them. The heat and pressure effectively eliminates bacteria, viruses and other pathogens and these devices are used extensively in laboratories and medical facilities in the preparation of culture media for microbiology and other life sciences applications, to sterilize laboratory glassware, medical instruments and to decontaminate potentially hazardous medical waste before disposal.

These are the sterilization equipment of choice in laboratories and hospitals. Autoclaves are also used in veterinary medicine, dentistry, research and development for pharmaceutical and food production facilities. Large autoclaves and units of smaller sizes may be used anywhere else that sterilization of equipment is critical to ensuring the outcome of the process, the safety of personnel or the public, such as in businesses which provide tattooing and body piercing services.

One of the concerns seen with autoclaving materials to sterilize them for use in life sciences laboratories is that the heat, moisture and pressure involved in the process of sterilization used by autoclaves may cause some degradation. This is especially a concern with media used for culturing microorganisms, since some of these media may be thermolabile and can potentially affect their performance negatively or even render them unusable. With the latest generation of large autoclaves as well as those of smaller capacities, this is less of a concern as manufacturers have engineered these newer models to be able to run at settings which provide thorough sterilization without causing a significant reduction in performance or usability of heat sensitive materials.

The pressurized steam used in autoclaving provides a much more efficient means of sterilization than would be possible with the application of heat alone or hot air, which is an especially inefficient way to sterilize. Since steam at the temperatures typically seen in autoclaves (around 134 degrees C) can sterilize equipment in only a few minutes as opposed to 2 hours being needed when using air at a temperature of 160 degrees C, ensuring that the interior of the device is free of air is essential. In modern large autoclaves, air may be removed through the action of the steam creating downward displacement on the air (which is denser than steam) and forcing it out of the unit through a drain. A vacuum pump is also used in some autoclaves.

Autoclaves are also seen in use in some industrial applications where parts and materials need to be thoroughly sterilized during the production process, this is relatively common in industries working with high performance composite materials, particularly in the aerospace sector. Due to the sheer size of some of these components, especially large autoclaves may be needed to accommodate them. Safety is always a matter of concern with these pressure sterilization devices, especially so with an extremely large unit. These larger devices in particular need to be designed to provide a very secure closure and feature highly reinforced walls which can withstand the rigors of regular, often round the clock use.

Autoclaves of all sizes provide thorough elimination of pathogens, ensuring the safety of medical devices, reducing the biohazard threat posed by medical and veterinary waste and allow for more accurate results in laboratory procedures. The number of accidental infections prevented by the use of large autoclaves and small make them unsung heroes of medical science and public health.


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