Steam sterilization represents cutting-edge technology in decontamination. Despite being a highly modern solution in medical waste management, its origins go back as far as 1679, when a French physicist invented the first prototype, which was then called a “steam digester” instead of its more widely known name of “steam sterilizer”. Another synonym for this pressure cooker-like machine is “autoclave”: a highly effective instrument used in hospitals, bio labs, pharmacies, clinics, and other medical facilities around the world.

The benefits of steam sterilization

The four main benefits of this decontamination method are crystal clear: it is a cost-effective, safe, environmentally friendly, and efficient way to sterilize hospital and other medical equipment. The advantages compared to other forms of sterilization lie in the speed and the productivity of the autoclave, especially when handling moisture and heat stable tools.

So what can you put inside a steam sterilizer? Among other things, you can use it for medical equipment like implantable medical devices, surgical instruments, and surgical linens. While it is certainly a user-friendly device, considering the task this machine has to handle, the staff of CSSDs (Central Sterile Service Departments) should always follow the user instructions such manufacturers provide (like with Celitron’s autoclaves).

Nonetheless, steam sterilization has proven many time to be a reliable, and consistent way to handle medical equipment at all kinds of facilities.

The 3 steps of the steam sterilization process

Basically, the process is done by using high-pressure, saturated steam to sterilize medical equipment in need of decontamination. The power of the stream plays a key role here, as it enhances the properties of the heat that can destroy microorganisms.

The steam sterilization process works by cycles that consist of three phases: these are conditioning, exposure, and exhaust.

1. Conditioning

This is what happens at the start of each cycle. Gravity displacement in autoclaves first removes the air from the chamber of the machine, and then the tools put inside are heated to the sterilization temperature recommended by the manufacturer. Dynamic Air Removal methods can also remove the air from the chamber of the autoclave.

2. Exposure

After the heating process is done, the items inside are exposed to high-pressure steam. The temperature and time of this phase should also follow user instructions carefully.

3. Exhaust

Also known as the drying or cool-down phase. A vacuum helps remove the steam and release the pressure inside the chamber, so that the tools inside can come out dry.

Always remember that proper maintenance also plays a key role in the success of the steam sterilization process!