Introduction

The purpose of this guide is to provide autoclave users with information on autoclave operations and to ensure that the autoclave is used in a safe and effective way.  Depending on where the autoclave is used, operational requirements may vary.  Some facilities have individuals who specifically take care of autoclaves and they are responsible for regular maintenance, quality assurance (validation), and the training of staff. 

 

This guide is designed to help you understand how an autoclave works, how to operate it properly, and maintain it.  Since an autoclave is used to decontaminate biohazardous materials and sterilizing solids and liquids, proper operation is important.  Although there are different types of autoclaves, our concern will be with portable, counter top  autoclaves that deliver heat under pressure.  It is important to know the difference between decontamination and sterilization.  Decontamination is defined as the reduction of contaminates to a level that is not hazardous to life or the environment.  On the other hand, sterilization is the complete destruction of microorganisms present.

 

Sterilization can be achieved by using heat under pressure because this damages essential structures that are important to microorganisms.  In particular, the cell membrane is damaged which causes the organism to fall apart making the cell no longer viable.  In order for the microorganism to be destroyed, it must be heated to a specific temperature for a certain amount of time.  Temperatures and times will vary depending the type of microorganisms present and how autoclavable materials are loaded.  Successful autoclaving depends on a number of factors.  This guide provides information on the theory of  moist heat sterilization, autoclave operation and maintenance, validation, and the do's and don'ts of autoclaving.  For quick reference, just go to the Table of Contents and click on the step of interest to skip ahead to that section.  Hopefully, this guide will help keep your autoclave in tip top condition and working for years to come.


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