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Autoclaving – A Simple Yet Crucial Process

By: Daniel Prince

An autoclave is one of the most widely used machines used in the sterilization of medical devices. In general, the process of autoclaving involves high heat and pressure. However, too few people know how one of the most commonly used machines in medical history works. Here is a closer look at how they work.


Removing the Air from Within

Before sterilization can actually take place, all the air from within the machine has to be removed. Air is one of the biggest barriers to efficient sterilization. If every trace of air is not removed, the sterilization of medical devices will be incomplete and must be done again.

In fact, if air was used for sterilization, it would take hot air over 2 hours, at a temperature of 160 °C, just to properly sterilize the equipment within. However, if all the air was removed and streams of steam were used (at roughly 130°C), the autoclaving process would only take 2 minutes.

To remove all the air from an autoclave, a vacuum pump is used to evacuate the main chamber of every trace of air. Alternatively, steam displacement can also be used. This is when jets of steam are used to displace air out of the main chamber.


The Use of High Heat and Water

The use of water and high heat forms the core of autoclaving. Temperatures of over 130°C are applied to streams of water in order to convert them into jets of steam. When these jets of steam are directed towards medical equipment, it takes approximately 2 minutes for the sterilization of medical devices to be complete.


The Use of High Pressure

High pressures are a must when it comes to sterilization in an autoclave. Without the use of high pressures, it would take a long time for the liquid (water) in the machine to convert into a gas (steam). In order to make the process of sterilization go faster (within 2 minutes), it is essential that the water is subjected not only to high temperature, but high pressure as well.

Autoclaving is a process that is of the utmost importance, especially in the medical field. It fulfills the speed and sterility requirements of medical experts everywhere. Interestingly, it is also increasingly being used in quality assurance checks.