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The Ultimate Guide to Autoclaves

If you’ve spent any time in a hospital, there’s no question that you’ve been in the presence of an autoclave. Autoclaves are somewhat of an unsung hero in hospital environments. Specifically, they’re pressure chambers that are used to sterilize equipment (i.e. surgical instruments, tools, etc.). This is done via high-pressure saturated steam for up to 20 minutes (although times depend on the exact load size of the items and the contents of the items themselves).

Obviously, autoclaves are imperative in hospitals, when it’s crucial that surgical instruments and other supplies are required to be made as clean as possible to prevent infection or complications with patients. Yes, whether you believe it or not, soap and water doesn’t kill all germs. But hospitals aren’t the only environment that autoclaves are utilized in. For instance, the chemical industry may use them to cure coatings and other products. They may also be found in other medical environments like vet clinics and dentists offices. Finally, high-end tattoo parlors may even have more compact units in the shop for sterilizing equipment. (We cover more potential autoclave environments later on.)

This post will take a closer look at all things autoclaves. Just think of it as the ultimate guide to this vital piece of equipment.

History of Autoclaves

The roots of the autoclave date all the way back to the 1600’s, when Denis Papin created a steam digester in 1697. Essentially a pressure cooker, the device was made of cast iron, featured a tight fitting lid and was used to prepare meat. The first autoclave as we know it was created exactly 200 years later by Charles Chamberland. However, whileChamberland gets much of the credit for inventing the first modern day autoclave, it’s important to note that it was the ancient Greeks who were among the first known to use boiling water as a sterilization method. There’s a big of homage with autoclaves to that Greek lineage, as the word “autoclave” itself is Greek for “auto self-locking device.”

How they Work

We already covered the purpose of an autoclave in terms of sterilizing products. But if you are wondering just how they work, just think of how a pressure cooker works. After all, the autoclave was born out of Denis Papin’s steam digester (i.e. pressure cooker) invention several hundred years ago. Autoclaves, essentially, are a more extreme type of pressure cooker. And they have to be extreme in order to remove 100 percent of the germs and bacteria so that items can be safely and effectively sterilized. With that being said, here’s an outline of how autoclaves work:

  • Items are placed into the unit’s sterilization chamber and the door is shut and sealed to secure them.
  • A vacuum pump then works to remove all of the air from inside the sterilization chamber. (Note: Some autoclaves won’t remove the air, but force it out by pumping steam into the unit.)
  • The unit is then heated to a point where it becomes effective for 100 percent sterilization. Normally, units are heated between 267 and 273 degrees Fahrenheit. After the unit reaches that temperature, the timer starts for the extent of the sterilization run.
  • Throughout the 15-20 minutes that the unit works to sterilize the equipment, steam is routinely pumped into the sterilization unit.
  • Following the 15-20 sterilization process, the chamber releases its pressure and steam, thereby allowing the items inside to properly cool, dry and ready for use.

There are two general autoclave cycles – gravity, which is also commonly referred to as “fast exhaust,” and liquid, or “slow exhaust.” The former is the cycle best used for dry goods and glassware, while the latter is used for liquids. The big difference between the two processes is that the liquid, slow exhaust method works to keep the liquid it is treating from boiling.

Autoclaves are also designed to be very safe when in operation. Obviously, steam at this high of a temperature can really do so damage. That’s why these devices are packed with security and safety features to minimize the risk of injury. It’s still advised that professionals have the proper training on how to use and operate an autoclave before attempting to sterilize any equipment, however.

Common Autoclave Environments

We’ve already covered some of the key environments for autoclaves – hospitals, vet offices, industrial settings, microbiology settings, dentists offices, etc. But there are a few other notable environments that we’ve yet to discuss. These include funeral parlors and waste treatment facilities.

In a nutshell, autoclaves are used in environments where contents need to regular be sterilized, so it makes sense that they would be growing in use within the likes of waste treatment facilities. The pressurized steam and super hot water can eliminate infectious diseases and other potentially harmful agents that could make people sick. As noted, funeral homes are another popular environment for these devices.

How Much do Autoclaves Cost?

Although autoclaves work similarly to a pressure cooker, don’t be fooled about them also being similar in price to a pressure cooker – they’re much more expensive. Autoclaves typically cost several thousand dollars per unit, with some more advanced units even costing tens of thousands of dollars. And while hospitals and high-end medical environments usually have the budgets to buy brand new and pay brand new prices, many of the other settings that utilize such equipment cannot. That’s where buying used or bidding on used equipment through credible, reputable sites such as Bid on Equipment can come in handy for companies and startups that are looking for a quality piece of equipment, but aren’t looking to break the bank.

Tattoo parlors, for instance, that want to replace or add an autoclave sterilizer to keep customers as safe as possible might not have thousands of dollars to spend. That’s where a used piece of equipment may come in handy – both for the purpose they intend to use it for as well as how it pertains to their bottom line.

As you can see, autoclaves play a big role in many different environments. And each of these environments will determine the size of the autoclave you need, which thereby helps determine the expense of the equipment. While you can buy new or used, it’s often not feasible for many to pay brand new prices. That’s where buying used from Bid on Equipment comes into play, as you can get like-new equipment for used prices. For more information on autoclaves, and to learn about how acquiring them through a service like Bid on Equipment can help you and your operations, contact us today.

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