5 Causes of Autoclave Sterilization Failure

Maintain healthy sterilization standards by following best practices when using your autoclave sterilizer. Ensure you can safely use medical and laboratory instruments; explore the five causes of autoclave sterilization failure.

1. The Wrong Sterilization Cycle

The three standard sterilization cycles are gravity, vacuum, and liquid. Each cycle has a different application, and putting a material through the wrong sterilization cycle leads to sterilization failure.

Use the gravity cycle for items like glassware, waste, utensils, and unwrapped goods. Use the vacuum cycle for wrapped goods, porous materials, and packs. Use the liquid cycle for liquids such as water, media, and saline.

2. Incorrect Packaging

While you can place some items directly into the autoclave, other items require packaging. Incorrect packaging can interfere with sterilization. Common packaging problems include:

  • Using the incorrect packaging material
  • Crowding too many items into a package
  • Using excessive amounts of packaging

These errors can prevent the steam from making contact on every surface. Additionally, incorrect packaging material can get damaged in the high temperatures of the autoclave, causing the material to melt.

3. Erroneous Temperature, Time, or Pressure

Another cause of autoclave sterilization failure is using erroneous temperature, time, or pressure levels. Interrupting the cycle, either by opening the door before cycle completion or putting the timer on an incorrect setting, can result in sterilization failure.

The temperatures you need depend on what you’re sterilizing and the best practices in your workplace. The autoclave must reach a minimum temperature of 121 degrees Celsius to properly sterilize. If your autoclave sterilizer can’t reach the temperature setting, there might be a clog in the chamber drain.

4. Improper Loading

Technicians should follow the autoclave manufacturer’s instructions when loading the equipment. One of the most common errors that people make is overloading the machine. Overloading can create the need for a prolonged warm-up time and can also keep items from making thorough contact with the steam.

Space out wrapped packages so the sterilizing agent can easily move throughout the chamber. Spacing items will also prevent porous goods from retaining water and coming out of the cycle wet.

5. Poor Autoclave Maintenance

Maintain your autoclave equipment per the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure it works properly. Defective gauges can give incorrect readings of the conditions in the chamber. Worn gaskets and seals crack under high temperatures and pressure, so replace these items every three years or less.

In general, you must clean and drain the autoclave at least once a month, as dirty water in the chamber can cause damage. Wipe the inside of the autoclave and clean the heating element, too. Periodically remove residue buildup inside the chamber.

Sterilize equipment and devices with autoclave supplies from All States M.E.D. Our selection of autoclaves can handle various capacity requirements and include features that help you accurately sterilize materials. Shop with us today.