What Makes One Benchtop Autoclave Different from the Other?

Table top autoclaves have been the main focus of Autoclave Reviews since I started it a couple of years ago.  These types of sterilizers are used by millions every day. Whether you know it or not, you have been protected by a benchtop autoclave multiple times in your life.  It could have been at the dentist, hospital, tattoo artist, or any number of offices that use them.

Steam sterilizers are important!  Contaminated items are a monumental hazard, especially in surgery  I want to protect you, your co-workers, clients, and patients through education.  So, who am I to talk about autoclaves?

I’m Jared Broker.  I was a Navy Hospital Corpsman with a surgical tech specialization for eight years from ’01-’09.  That means I’ve used and cursed many autoclaves!  I want to share my experiences and research with you to help fight possible infections and spreading of diseases.  Let’s start going over the different types of machines together.

An Overview of Table Top Autoclaves for Sterilization

Midmark M11 Chamber
A typical chamber for a table top model. This one is Midmark M11.

This article is going to define and breakdown the topic of table top sterilizers.

If you have ever had surgery, ANY dental procedure, a tattoo, or piercing, you have been protected by an autoclave.  This goes for your pets at the veterinarian, too!

OK, Let’s Define an Autoclave.

An autoclave (also called a steam sterilizer) is a strong, heated container that can operate under pressure to sterilize instruments and gear with steam.  I’ll add that they are a device or machine.  Most of the electronic sterilizers use a vacuum, or air pressure control mechanism.  The temperature is the main driver of the pressure level.

In most autoclaves, a vacuum is created in the chamber first.  Then steam is injected.  This is to make sure the steam penetrates all surfaces of the instruments and items inside.

Some machines inject only a small amount of steam per cycle at a time.  Others use a larger water reservoir that needs to be completely heated.

The Different Types of Table Top Sterilizers

One focus of AutoclaveReviews.com is to help you find the right decontamination and/or sterilization machine for your surgical needs, dental office, lab, tattoo shop, or any other reason you may need one.  Education about the different types and functions is the first step in the buying process.

I hope to provide this education primarily to promote safety in terms of reducing instrument contamination.  Autoclaves are the main link in breaking the infection and disease transmission chain after decontamination is accomplished.  The right steam sterilizer with the proper education and usage will enhance safety for you, your co-workers, and your patients or clients.  I cannot stress how important it is to find the right one.

Learning about various autoclaves, their functions, and features will save you time and money when buying.  I don’t want you to blindly buy a sterilizer only to have it show up and be too small or not have your needed functions.

I am focusing on table top autoclaves for now.  So, here is a broad breakdown of table top machines into their different categories and functions.  I break down bench top ‘claves into the categories of stove top, cassette, manual, and automatic.

Cassette Fed, High Tech Autoclaves

Statim 5000 G4 AutoclaveThese are the smallest, yet generally most sophisticated for professional use.  They are very fast in their sterilization cycles, compact, and automated.  Statim has dominated this niche market for decades and they continue to update their machines.  Midmark’s M3 is giving it a run for their money, though.

Autoclave cassettes are stainless steel trays between high grade plastic.  You can take out and move instruments aseptically to the point of use to prevent contamination.  They often save on water by using only a small injection that creates steam with a generator instead of needing to heat a large water reservoir.

These machines are often rated for dental hand pieces, so they are sometimes called dental autoclaves, though they are used across many industries and professions.

Stove Top “Pressure Cooker” Types

OLizee Portable AutoclaveThese types of sterilizers look and act very much like pressure cookers.  They are stainless steel, have screw down lids, and a temperature – pressure gauge.  I reviewed two brands together here: Orion Motor Tech and OLizee.  They have electric thermal heaters at the bottom to speed up the process.

They are great for decontamination of instruments.  I’ve seen people use them for nail salons, dog grooming, mushroom growing operations, and other places.  I caution people to not use them for more important sterilization uses, as they are very low tech.  Dentists, surgical clinics, tattoo parlors, and labs should really be using an autoclave machine, in my opinion.

These “pots” are difficult to monitor precisely.  A certain temperature and pressure for a specific time is needed to truly sterilize instruments for invasive (skin puncturing) human use.

This brings me to the…

Manually Operated Steam Sterilizer Machines

Tuttnauer and Midmark are the leaders in bench top autoclaves.  Often, there are models that are similar, except one will ve automatic and one is manual.  Table top autoclaves are generally box shape with a cylinder chamber inside made of polished stainless steel.

They are electric run and have water reservoirs to produce steam in the chamber.

Tuttnauer 2540M AutoclaveManual means that it is run by dials on the front.  It is up to you to monitor the cycle and set the dials correctly.  You often need to dry the gear after a sterilization cycle by opening the door yourself and venting it.

These can be difficult in an office that is very busy.  They need more attention during cycles than the automatic autoclaves, though not much more.  Their prices can be much lower than their automated cousins.

Manual autoclaves are great for nearly every practice.  We had them in our operating rooms for quick sterilization.  Dentists offices, tattoo shops, surgical clinics, labs, and other locations use them extensively.

Automatic and Computer Operated

Tuttnauer EZ10 Automatic Autoclave

Automated autoclaves are computer run.  They have digital displays and preset cycles with their specific parameters.  Often the loaded cycles are unwrapped, wrapped, and drying cycles.

You are usually able to enter in custom cycles in case you have a specific purpose.  Again, Midmark and Tuttnauer are the leaders in this field. They come in a range of sizes for different needs.

They also have a variety of different features and special additions such as a paper printer for every cycle to be recorded.  Each company has a different mechanism for creating steam and pressurizing it.

Within the automatic autoclave category there are a host of different types, such as:

  • Cassette: These cross over with automatic because they ARE automated.  They are just small and use the slide out cassettes.
  • Regular Table Top: box looking, horizontal door.
  • Lab/ Vertical: Door at the top, usually can process liquids, glass, and decontaminate hazardous waste.
  • High Speed: Some autoclaves come in a version that heats up faster than the original.  They are great for high volume turnover, but require a higher voltage, so this is something to research.

There are also a host of features across all machines to keep in mind when looking to buy a sterilizer.  Some include:

  • Automatic door opening at end of the cycle
  • Automatic shutoff at end of cycle (usually for automated machines)
  • Steam injection generators to save water.
  • LCD control display
  • Preset sterilization cycles (automatic autoclaves)
  • Active, closed door drying at end of cycle.
  • Thermostat and monitoring of temperature and pressure during cycle.

That’s my broad overview of table top autoclaves.  I hope I broke them down into categories and features that make sense.  It can be quite a process to find the right one for your business.  I write this often, but you can save yourself a ton of time and money by doing your sterilizer homework thoroughly.