Autoclaves and Sterilizers – Operational Steps In Using And Maintaining An Autoclave

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A proper care and maintenance procedure will keep an autoclave in good condition and allow it to provide the highest standard of sterilization. The simple basic steps of running the autoclave and the understanding of how it sterilizes using the steam can go a long way to ensuring an autoclave functions to its optimum. These steps are discussed in this article.
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In order to provide the highest standards in infection control, a perfectly maintained autoclave or sterilizer is of utmost improtance.
While most surgical instruments nowadays are manufactured from stainless steel, care and attention is still required to enable the instruments to provide better services and to ensure that they remain in the best condition even after a prolonged period of use.
Here are some simple but important operational steps to be followed to ensure your steam autoclave works to the desired purpose and to ensure they would be well maintained.
Instruments to be autoclaved are to be done so in distilled water, tap water or soft ware as hard water have the tendency to leave behind deposits on the instruments, and affect the joints of the instruments, often making them stiff.
After the instruments are used, clean and decontaminate all instruments in cold or lukewarm water. The primary purpose of doing so is to ensure that the instruments do not become stained and so that the joints do not become stiff.
Generally, put the instruments that are to be sterilized into the dressing drum of the autoclave, making sure that the holes of the dressing drum are opened to allow the steam to enter the dressing drum and reach the instruments to be sterilized, and place the drum into the autoclave.
After placing the lid on the container, tighten the lid by opposite locking nuts.
As soon as the pressure gauge shows a pressure of 2lbs, allow the enclosed air to escape by opening the air exhaust valve.
As the pressure reaches to about 15 lbs or the equivalent of 1.05 kgf per square cm, the main safety valve will automatically come into operation and start blowing off excess steam maintaining pressure of 15 lbs inside the autoclave.
To open the container, apply some firm force by holding the lid handle and turn it towards the right, till both the arrow marks on the lid and container co-incide. Then lift and remove the lid using the lifting handle.
When unloading an autoclave, it is a good idea to open the door and wait 10 minutes in order to assure proper evaporation and drying before removing the cart.
The most frequent reason for sterilization failure is lack of contact between the steam and the germs that you are trying to kill.
Air usually moves to the bottom of the autoclave because it is heavier than steam and is then forced out through the drain.
It is essential that packs are placed on their sides to make sure that the air is not trapped and cannot escape.
It is also easier for the air to be forced downwards between the packs than to go through the many layers of packs that have been placed flat.
By operating the autoclave using an operational checklist, and by maintaining an operational log, it is possible to reduce human errors of operation and to troubleshoot difficulties that arise during operation.
Where it is a health service such as a hospital that requires sterilization service, a Central Supplies And Stores Department or CSSD manned by qualified and experienced CSSD technicians and nurses will be necessary to enable the highest standard of health care and to ensure the surgical instruments and supplies are well sterilized, enabling the autoclaves to have the optimum lifespan of service as they are well taken care of and maintained.