Autoclaves Explained and Categorized (Table Top Focus) May 2018

Steam Sterilizer Definition and Usages

I guarantee that you have been protected by a steam sterilizer many times in your life.  Whether you made a trip to the dentist or had surgery, an autoclave was used to decontaminate and sterilize instruments used on you.  Steam sterilization protected you from infection and disease!

Tuttnauer 3870EA AutoclaveAutoclaves use the combo of steam, heat, and pressure in specific amounts.  These well researched technologies kill dangerous bacteria and viruses on instruments and other gear.

This is so they don’t end in our bodies or those of our pets.  Veterinarians use them to protect our furry (or scaly) friends, too!  Some other places you will find autoclaves are hospitals, labs, dentists’ offices, surgery offices, nail salons, tattoo studios, and others.

The Miracle of Steam Sterilization!

As a former surgical tech, I can’t over emphasize the importance of steam sterilizers as a tool to protect people.  Learning about sterilization is vital to reduce negative outcomes for people.  This is a main driving force behind me building Autoclave Reviews.

The basic principles of steam sterilizers (also called autoclaves) are pressure, temperature, and steam in proven amounts to destroy bacteria and fungus on items.  This sterilization process is used by: hospitals, labs, dentists’ offices, surgery offices, and many others.

When an instrument or piece of gear is being used in a medical (or veterinarian) setting, it must be free of all contaminants by going through the sterilization process.  This is for two main reasons.

For one, excess microbes can infect a wound, leading to sickness, amputation or death.  I’ve personally seen this many times, having been a surgical technologist for eight years.  Infection can be a killer.  It was actually a main source of death in warfare until antibiotics were invented.

Autoclaves also kill disease viruses.  Dirty instruments have lead to infection and the spread of diseases in the past.  We had to research and develop sterilizers to combat these deadly routes over the decades.  Autoclaves are now very effective in this direction.

Steam Sterilization Combats Infectious Disease

Cross contamination is when one patient is infected by a dirty instrument that was used on another patient.  Through the blood (mainly) a disease is given to another patient by way of the instrument, in other words.  Diseases like HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis, and many others can hide on dirty gear, getting into the body through the surgical wound.

These negative outcomes affect tens of thousands of people every year.  This is my main motivation for building this site and writing.  I think it’s important as hell!

I wanted to make the front page of into a knowledge base type of page.  It should be a good place for you to start learning about them.  I will link to, and reference the different types of (mainly) benchtop sterilizers.  I use “autoclaves” and “steam sterilzers” to mean the same thing, since they do!

Philips AVENT Steam Sterilizer
A kitchen top baby bottle sterilizer.

My Autoclaving Experience

So “what gives me the authority to write about autoclaves and sterilizing?”  I worked as a Navy Hospital Corpsman for eight years and served mainly as a surgical tech during my military/ medical career.

I assisted with surgery for nearly a decade in many different environments.  I have seen the importance of properly sterilized gear first hand time and time again.  This is life and death stuff for real.  This work has motivated me to study and write about sterilization for all of you.

The more I can educate people about steam sterilization, the safer it becomes for all medical workers and patients.  This is my main driver to keep studying and writing about this stuff.

There really is no excuse for cross contamination or unnecessary infections from “not knowing” about autoclave principles.  There has been too much study and research into this over the decades!

Laziness is no excuse for patient or client harm, either.  I hope this is the mindset you can find to limit human suffering in general with your efforts.  Yes, you!!  Enough lecturing, though.  Let’s talk about sterilizer sizes a bit.

Autoclaves Come in Many Sizes

Steam sterilizers come in wildly different sizes for wildly different uses.  Some industrial use autoclaves could fit a tractor trailer.  Technologically advanced processes sometimes require sterility in the production process of very large things.  Or, they can be small enough to fit on your kitchen top, like the bottle sterilizer above.

Tuttnauer 2340M manual autoclave
The new version of 2340M

The in between sizes are the most widely used, though.  They fit on the counters of laboratories, surgical offices, dentists’ offices, tattoo parlors, and beauty specialists, to name a few.

The smallest sterilizers are baby bottle sterilizer machines.  These are little electric machines that decontaminate different “baby things” and makes them safe from disease and contamination.  They are popular for decontaminating pacifiers, small toys, and other baby related small objects.

I began this site writing about counter top sterilizers since they are in such wide use across many industries.  I am expanding now, as different machines come out.  A growing trend is the popularity of small, dry heat sterilizers, so I will be covering them too.

Within these table top autoclaves, I think it is time to explain the differences among them.  Keep in mind the box size below that fits on a counter top.

Automatic vs. Manual Autoclaves:

Pelton and Crane OCM Autoclave
The timer knobs show it to be “manually operated”.

Stome steam sterilizers are “manually operated”, (which means operated by a timer dial), or automatic (pre-programmed and run by pushing a button).

The larger models of table top autoclaves are mainly seen in labs, or for fringe purposes such as growing gourmet mushrooms!  These larger steam sterilizers can also have enhanced features for laboratories such as being able to sterilize liquids or incinerate biohazardous waste.

Medium sized bench top sterilizers can be found sterilizing gear in offices such as: surgical clinics and offices, dentists’, tattoo artists, and even pet groomers!  These are the ones that I have used the most.

There is a small version of steam sterilizers, too.  It depends on how they look, so their uses vary.  For the boxy type, Tuttnauer makes a small one called a 173y 0 that can be used for small packages.  It is very popular on Amazon for its versatility.

A different type of small autoclave is actually one of the most expensive types right now (by Scican called a “Stat IM”.  These are the ones which have a “casette”.  It is like a folding, plastic tray. that you take out and move to where you are using it.

They are expensive because they are heavy on electronics and some are specially designed for use with dental hand pieces.  This specialization is required by regulations, so that is the main focus market of Stat IM machines.

Steam Sterilizers are Expanding in Everyday Uses

There are many other uses for steam sterilizers that people use in every day life.  One of the most wide spread is the deconamination of baby bottles, breast feeding gear, and other baby related stuff.  It is good munchkin protection practices.

So, decontamination can stretch into many different facets of life. For most of you reading this, it has stretched directly into protecting your life, whether you know it or not.

Sterilizers have protected you from massive infection if you have ever had: surgery, any kind of dental procedure, or a tattoo.

The range of different steam sterilizers is growing because of the many fields that are requiring sterile gear.  If a dog groomer needs to decontaminate their brushes, they are not going to need the sterilization cycle that a college lab would need, other words.

Which Autoclave Fits Your Needs?

Midmark M3 Ultrafast Autoclave
Do you want a small cassette?

This is going to be a condensed version of my autoclave buying guide.  You can find the full one here.  First off, the size of autoclave you need is central to the buying process.  Do some measurements!  It should be the main driver of your decision.

Next, is your cycle needs.  Think about and write down the needs that your business requires.  Look up the regulations and guidelines for your efforts to see what type of sterilizing regulations you need to follow.  Just like any regulation, it can vary widely from industry to industry.  I suggest making one page with ALL of your requirements for a machine.  It will help immensely.

Cost: Once you have the right size and cycles in mind, there are only a few companies at the top of the steam sterilizer business.  These are Tuttnauer and Midmark (for mid sized models at least).

Both companies have reputations for being reliable and long lasting.  I am not gong to recommend one.  That is up to your!

A reduced cost will come with a touch of risk in this industry (fair warning).  I am talking about looking at the huge market of refurbished autoclaves being offered.  Searching on eBay or Amazon is a good start for small businesses.

The main focus should be the company offering the product.  Do they have good reviews?  Do they have many returns or complaints?  You can check BBB, their seller profiles, or their Google reviews to confirm if you can trust them.