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What are Autoclaves?

9/14/2012 8:20:19 AM | by Anonymous


Autoclaves are devices mostly used in the medical industry to sterilize equipment or supplies by subjecting these items to high pressure saturated stead in an enclosed environment. The purpose for having the autoclave closed is as when items are cleansed in solutions that are not under pressure, the maximum temperature that the solution can attain is 100 degrees Celsius. However inside a pressurized container, the solution can be heated over its boiling point. Thus the high levels of heat are able to cleanse instruments more efficiently. Saturated steam inside the autoclave that has a temperature of 121 °C is used to cleanse the items for about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size and the load of the contents inside the autoclave. Autoclaves can be found in doctors’ clinics or in big factories. Those found in the clinics are usually rather small, resembling microwave ovens, except that their application is different. The name autoclave is adopted from Latin and Greek word. Auto in Greek means self and clavis in Latin means a self-locking device. The device was invented by Charles Chamberland in 1879, although its precursor the steam digester had been invented in 1679 by Denis Papin.


Autoclaves can be considered one of the most important devices in the medical industry as they have the ability to heat solutions above their regular boiling point and sterilize medical or laboratory instruments. In the manufacturing industry, autoclaves may also be used to cleanse products that are required to have a very high level of sterility. There are several different types of autoclaves in the market today that have different sizes, shapes and applications. One example of a simple autoclave is that which resemble the pressure cooker. Similar to the pressure cooker, this autoclave also has a gauge on top along with bolts which fasten the top of the autoclave to the pot, so as to secure it and prevent it from popping out when the pressure inside the autoclave builds up during sterilization. As the autoclave would be completely sealed with no air exchange with the outside air, the autoclave can function properly, bringing the temperatures inside to higher than normal boiling temperatures. Many would have seen the microwave look-alike autoclave in a dentist’s clinic. These types of autoclaves are used to sterilize small batches of instruments. They can be easily moved around and some even have wheels so that they can be easily pushed around.


The application of autoclaves is vast, ranging from microbiology, medicine and dentistry to tattooing, body piercing and some form of manufacturing process. The size, shape and ability of these autoclaves usually vary, depending on the media that need to be sterilized inside them. For example, an autoclave used in a dentist’s clinic would not be useable in a manufacturing factory. Autoclaves that are used in hospitals usually resemble dishwashers as they are rather big in size. Their big size is able to accommodate several instruments at the same time which makes them very efficient in keeping instruments ready for use. Some typical instruments that are placed inside an autoclave for it to be sterilized include medical waste, surgical glassware and patient pair utensils. The purpose of placing medical waste in these devices is to neutralize them and kill any forms of harmful bacteria that might be present on them.


Using autoclaves as compared to regular heating over fire has several benefits. Autoclaves are able to achieve the best possible physical conditions for instrument sterilization, repeatedly. Also as mentioned earlier, they can provide high levels of temperatures that ensure that the device is efficiently sterilized. One key thing to note when using autoclaves is that all air trapped within the autoclave should be removed. Trapped air can disrupt the sterilization process. Although hot air can be used to sterilize an object, it is a very bad medium to use as compared to steam. Hot air takes much longer as compared to steam in sterilizing an item of the same size, that too at a higher temperature. Autoclaves play a very important role in today’s medical and many other industries that require sterilization. Sterilization is important when it concerns the hygiene of people and therefore instruments such as dental should be properly sterilized before being used on separate individuals.

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