Autoclaves & Accessories
An autoclave is used in medical, biological waste, and research applications to sterilize instruments, glassware, liquids, textiles, and other materials. High-pressure steam is inserted into the chamber and sterilizes surfaces with which it comes into contact. Because steam can penetrate porous surface and enter recessed spaces such as needles and test tubes, autoclaves are often used to sterilize textiles such as bedding and uniforms, dental instruments, and medical waste. These differ from machines that sterilize items using ultraviolet light in that light can only sterilize surfaces that it can reach traveling in a straight line, whereas steam can enter crevices and penetrate porous materials not reachable by light. Some models use a vacuum to remove air from the chamber before the steam is inserted, while others use gravity to remove the air from the bottom of the chamber while steam is simultaneously inserted into the top of the chamber. Models that use vacuum power to remove air circulate air more efficiently than those that use gravity. Though materials can be sterilized without the need for other chemicals or instrumentation, autoclave accessories are sometimes used to ensure that sterilization is complete and lasting. Autoclave bags are used to hold bulky items or to contain multiple items in facilities that sterilize large quantities of materials such as hospitals and research laboratories. Smaller bags or sealable pouches are sometimes used for processing instruments used in surgical, medical, dental, and veterinary applications. When instruments are processed in a sealed bag, the instrument remains sterile up to six months or until opened for use. Heat-sensitive tape designed for use with autoclaves changes color after processing to indicate that bagged or bulk items have been processed. Some facilities require the use of this type of tape to ensure that materials are sterile before returning them for use with patients or in other research applications.