3 Differences Between Steam and Dry Heat Sterilization

In healthcare and laboratory settings, it’s crucial to sterilize medical equipment, laboratory instruments, and other materials to prevent disease transmission. Steam and dry heat sterilization are two prominent methods of eliminating microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses. Explore three differences between steam and dry heat sterilization to understand the strengths and limitations of each.

1. Method of Sterilization

Autoclaves are popular devices that use steam sterilization. Incinerators, hot air ovens, glass bead sterilizers, and other devices can perform dry heat sterilization.

General Process for Steam Sterilization

In steam sterilization, moist heat under pressure destroys microorganisms. The autoclave removes all air from its chamber, replacing it with extremely hot, pressurized steam. The autoclave maintains the desired temperature and pressure setting in the chamber for a set time to sterilize instruments effectively.

General Process for Dry Heat Sterilization

Dry heat sterilization uses little or no water. Any water present has minimal or no role in sterilization. The exterior surface of the target item absorbs the heat, then the heat passes further into the object to destroy bacteria and viruses.

2. Sterilization Speed

One of the biggest differences between steam and dry heat sterilization is the speed of the process. Steam sterilization is highly efficient since water is a better conductor of heat than air, and moisture is better at penetrating the load with heat.

While not as fast-acting, dry heat sterilization is just as effective. Dry heat is the correct method for sterilizing items that can be damaged or altered by exposure to moisture.

Suitable Items for Each Method

Steam sterilization suits heat-resistant and moisture-tolerant items, such as surgical instruments, laboratory glassware, and certain medical supplies. Heat sterilization is effective for powders, oils, objects wrapped in paper, and other items that are sensitive to moisture. Like steam sterilization, dry heat can also sterilize glassware and metal instruments.

3. Equipment Requirements

Autoclaves used for steam sterilization require specialized components to generate and maintain steam at high pressure. Autoclave components include the sterilization chamber, a steam generator, pressure and temperature controls, and safety mechanisms.

The exact components in dry heat sterilization equipment depend on the device type. Cabinet ovens and conveyor tunnels are two types of devices that perform heat sterilization. They require specific parts to control temperature, time, and the blower speed.

For the fastest sterilization of items tolerant to moisture, use an autoclave. Buy your autoclave supplies from All States M.E.D.—we carry new and refurbished autoclaves, trays, and other essentials for your laboratory or medical facility.