Almost all medical facilities contain an autoclave, an instrument used to sterilize equipment and waste using high temperatures of pressurized steam.
Many prefer to use the autoclave to sterilize their tools as opposed to other methods like chemical infusion. This is due to the autoclave’s natural steam—it’s an environmentally-friendly option and doesn’t harm the skin during contact (unless the temp is still high).
Here’s a full guide to the dos and don’ts of autoclave sterilizers to ensure your office can efficiently sanitize equipment.
Do Use PPE When Handling Autoclaves
Although autoclaves are safer to use when cleaning equipment compared to chemicals, you must still wear the appropriate PPE when working with autoclaves.
If you do not wear proper personal protective equipment, the hot, pressurized steam will cause steam burns or liquid scalds on your skin. When handling autoclaves, be sure to wear items like:
- Lab coat
- Heat-resistant gloves
- Eye protection
You must cover your arms, hands, and face to prevent injury to the skin.
All healthcare staff must wear proper PPE when handling any medical instrument to avoid cross-contamination.
Do Train Team on Use
If just one person understands how to use the autoclave, that could be dangerous for the rest of the staff if they need to use it in a hurry and don’t know how.
Be sure to train your entire healthcare staff on using the autoclave. You might consider designating one employee to teach others and inform them when the autoclave is under repair.
During training, ensure that each employee signs a document stating they received instruction and keep the form on file safely in your office.
Do Inspect Autoclave Before Use
Although employees learn through training to clean up after each autoclave use, it might be possible for them to leave items behind or forget to clean the autoclave. This is why you must inspect the machine before every single use.
You’ll want to inspect the autoclave for spills or debris and clear them before placing your items inside. Furthermore, check the door gasket for signs of damage to ensure the autoclave doesn’t require repair.
Additionally, you’ll need to clean the drain strainer before loading your equipment to avoid additional spills and shattered objects.
Do Test Regularly
To ensure your autoclave remains up to par and performs without an issue, you must test it once per cycle using test indicator kits with pore strips. Try placing the pore strips in the center during a sterilization cycle to determine the effectiveness of its bacteria-killing features.
It’s important to avoid exposing the tested pore strips to the environment as it might throw off results. Once the sterilization process is finished, place the strips in a glass tube with a string attached and remove the string once the cap is closed.
If you notice a growth on the strips, it might be due to run time, so try increasing the run time. If the strips still display growth after 45+ minutes, you may conclude that the autoclave requires repair.
Do Clean Area After Each Use
As your employees will learn through training, it’s critical that whoever utilizes the machine cleans up after themselves after each use. This can help prevent injuries, malfunctions, and damage to the autoclave.
Once per week, you might thoroughly sanitize the autoclave by following these steps:
- Sprinkle cleaning powder along the bottom of the cold chamber.
- Run a normal cycle with distilled water and no drying cycle.
- Once the process is finished, allow the solution to drain and fill the reservoir using the above steps.
- Wipe interior with a damp cloth.
- Fill the reservoir with distilled water.
Don’t Overload Autoclave
If you have several items that need to be sterilized, you must be patient and avoid overloading them. An autoclave is not a dishwater in this sense; you cannot fill it to the bring with materials and expect the machine to work.
If the autoclave is improperly loaded, it will struggle to reach proper temperatures to achieve adequate sterilization, and the cycle will stop. Try to spread the load evenly across the surface, especially when cleaning different-sized items. Each piece of equipment must lay flat to ensure a correct load.
Don’t Clean Flammable Items
If you clean instruments that are made with flammable materials like plastic, the machine can malfunction and irreparably damage the device. Do not sterilize flammable items such as:
- Specific chemicals (acids, solvents, chlorides, etc.)
- Items made with polyethylene
- Any liquid in a sealed container
The above items are just a few items to avoid sterilizing in an autoclave. Be sure to analyze each product before loading it into the machine.
You may sterilize items like:
- Surgical instruments
- Animal bedding
- Stainless steel
Don’t Open During a Cycle
After loading contents into the autoclave, ensure the door is locked and sealed before starting the sterilization cycle. Allow the cycle to complete, and do not open the door at any point during the process.
If you need to reach the contents, stop the cycle and wait until the chamber depressurizes before going in and grabbing them.
Don’t Remove Items Too Fast
It might be tempting to open the door and handle the equipment as soon as the cycle is over, but you must be patient and allow the chamber pressure to drop to zero.
Once the chamber is depressurized, slowly open the door to remove the steam gradually while keeping your face away. You’ll then want to ensure the items sit for approximately 10 minutes before cautiously removing them and placing them in a safe area.
Don’t Forget Safety Procedures
Although your team will be trained and knowledgeable of the autoclave’s operations and procedures, you must place instructions throughout the area as reminders. This will ensure your autoclave supplies remain undamaged and staff is safe.
Be sure to post an exposure-response poster near the autoclave, so your team knows exactly what to do in case of an emergency.
Following the proper dos and don’ts of utilizing autoclave sterilizers will ensure your medical facility is adequately protected and that your staff can correctly sterilize equipment.