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It uses pressure and temperature in combination to disinfect and sterilize equipment used in a variety of medical, laboratory, and industrial processes and settings.
Autoclaving is considered one of the most effective and reliable means of sterilizing in these fields. This is due to their disinfection and sterilizing capabilities, which remove harmful microorganisms (e.g. bacteria and spores). Typical loads include laboratory equipment, glassware, surgical instruments, other healthcare or lab supplies like pipette tips, and medical waste.
Autoclave sterilization removes air from its internal chamber. This is due to air being a poor medium for sterilization, because when air is present, the process of effectively cleaning equipment and glassware can be incredibly tedious and not guaranteed.
Instead, most autoclaves utilize high-pressure saturated steam to sterilize equipment, samples, and supplies, subjecting them to an intense sterilization cycle that involves heat and steam for a period of time.
By removing the air and subjecting the load inside to steam and pressure, the chances of something not being fully sterilized are minimized. Using an autoclave to clean and sterilize equipment is also referred to as autoclaving, and can typically be completed in as little as 60 to 90 minutes.
When looking to acquire an autoclave, it’s important to have an understanding of the various sterilization processes, autoclave cycles, and air removal methods used today, as this knowledge can help you make the best procurement decision for you and your team. Let’s go over some of the basics.
All autoclaves use principles similar to that of pressure cookers: the door locks and forms a sealed chamber, where all the trapped air is replaced with steam. The steam is then pressurized for a certain period of time so that the objects within are sterilized. Afterwards, the steam is released so that the objects can be removed. The general phases of sterilization are as follows:
The two most common sterilization cycles used include:
Besides gravity-displacement and pre-vacuum sterilization cycles, which utilize their own methods of air removal, there are several other types of air removal methods used in autoclaves, and the main ones are as follows:
The vacuum pump, seen in pre-vacuum and/or post-vacuum sterilization cycles, is a method of air removal that relies on sucking air or steam and air mixtures from the chamber. This is useful in situations where extraneous air pockets (e.g. porous areas) could be trapped in the load.
This method relies on using steam pulses to dilute the air. This is done by pressurizing and then depressurizing the change to near atmospheric pressure.
This method relies on a vacuum pump that uses steam pulsing afterward. The number of pulses necessary will depend on the make, model, and chamber size.
Similar to superatmospheric cycles, this method involves a vacuum pump followed by steam pulsing. The chamber never exceeds atmospheric pressure until the autoclave temperature is achieved.
This method is the simplest way to remove air. Steam enters the chamber, filling the upper areas first because of relative density compared to the air. Air is gradually pushed to the bottom of the chamber and out through a drain, which also generally functions as an autoclave temperature sensor. This is done until the chamber reaches the required sterilization temperature.
The proper packaging and containment of infectious materials are crucial. The most frequent reason for sterilization failure is the lack of contact between the steam and microorganisms.
Dry material (e.g. dry supplies, equipment, instruments, etc.) should be separated from liquid material to achieve proper sterilization. This is achieved using autoclavable bags, which are loaded with the material to be sterilized. The bag should be no more than 75% full, and should typically be left open in order to ensure steam can reach inside. If the autoclavable bag is steam resistant, it must be left open or have holes punched into the top to allow the steam to penetrate.
Furthermore, it’s important to note bags that allow steam penetration tend to melt or crumble during the sterilization cycle. These bags can also leak, so they should be placed into a shallow stainless steel pan.
In addition, each load should include heat sensitive autoclave tape with chemical indicators that will show whether or not the device has reached normal operating temperatures and pressure.
The amount of objects you can load into the autoclave will depend on the unit you buy. It’s important to check with the manufacturer the exact weight the device can hold per cycle.
A prototype of the autoclave, a high-pressure cooker referred to as a “steam digester”, was developed in 1679 by the French physicist Denis Papin. However, it wasn’t until 200 years later that a new version would be created by the French microbiologist Charles Chamberland, which would go on to be used in medical applications.
As the science and importance of sterilization became more widely understood throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, modern autoclave technology was developed in parallel. By the 1930s, the first pressure steam sterilizer was created, and was designed to control performance by measuring the temperature in the chamber drain line. Subsequent developments followed throughout the 20th century.
While autoclaves have numerous sterilization, cycle, and air removal options, the system functions remain remarkably similar. Understanding the critical role autoclaves play in the medical and research industries is important for those looking to lease:
Our lease agreements are founder-friendly and flexible, helping you preserve working capital, strengthen the cash flow of your business, and keep business credit lines open for expansions, staffing, and other crucial operational expenses and business development opportunities.
Leases range from 2 to 5 years. Length will depend on several factors, including how long you want to use the equipment, equipment type, and your company’s financial position. These are standard factors leasing companies consider and help us tailor a lease agreement to fit your needs.
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Bundle preventive maintenance and repair coverage with your lease agreement. You can spread those payments over time. Easily maintain your equipment, minimize the chances something will break down, repair instrumentation quickly, and simplify your payment processes.
At the end of your lease, you have multiple options. You can either renew the lease at a significantly lower price, purchase the machine outright based on the fair market value of the original pricing, or call it a day and we’ll come the pick up the equipment for you free of charge.
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