The sterilization process in a laboratory is very important to remove germs and contaminants from medical tools, lab coats and instruments. And it all happens inside the vacuum chamber of a machine called an autoclave.
So how does an autoclave work in sterilizing items inside the laboratory? Read more as we’ll discuss this topic further in today’s post.
What’s An Autoclave Machine And What Does It Do?
An autoclave is a type of laboratory equipment that makes use of steam power to kill and eliminate microbes from loads that might have survived from conventional washing with detergents and hot water treatments. Basically, it’s similar to pressure cookers that produce high-pressure steam to cook food quickly, only that the steam they produce is meant for blasting germs and bugs to sterilize load items.
A blast of pressured steam is considered to be very effective at sterilizing and penetrating things compared to a quick wipe or wash with hot water or disinfectant. And according to a recent study by scientists, autoclaving or steam sterilization is the most used process of sterilization and the most cost-effective and robust way of removing microbes and contaminants on medical devices.
How Does It Work?
In essence, an autoclave is essentially a large steel chamber in which steam or other gas is dispersed to sterilize and disinfect things. Typically, the space inside the machine is cylindrical because this shape is able to endure extreme pressures than box shapes, whose edges become weak points and be susceptible to leaks. The high pressure from the steam makes the machine self-sealing while it is also manually sealed outside for safety reasons.
Fun Fact: The term ‘autoclave’ is a combination of the words “auto” and “clave” which means automatic locking.
And it also has a safety valve just like a pressure cooker to regulate the pressure of the steam so it won’t build up to the point where the steam in the machine will cause it to blow up.
How To Use An Autoclave?
First, the load chamber is sealed with the item inside and air is removed by pumping air out (pre-vacuum) or by putting steam inside the chamber to force out the air (gravity displacement). Then, high-pressure steam is pumped until it reaches the temperature of 121°C to 140°C for 3-20 minutes, which is more than enough time to kill most bacteria and microorganisms.
Note: Autoclave tapes are attached to the loads. And the color of the diagonal stripes changes to indicate that the items are already exposed to temperatures at least 121°C and can already be considered sterile.
The exact time of sterilization varies depending on the type of load, level of contamination, and the way the machine is being loaded.
Lastly, the steam sterilization process inside the autoclave is quite similar to cooking. So you have to regulate the pressure of the steam using the steam valve and make sure not to open it right away to prevent accidents caused by the sudden release of steam. So it recommended letting it sit for a few minutes to allow the pressure to subside before opening.