Steam sterilizers require the use of special items to get the job done. Properly sterilizing gear requires a chain of events. It starts with using the right type of packaging. Then, the autoclave must run its cycle for the proper time, pressure and temperature.
After the cycle, the sterilized packages must be dried properly. Newly autoclaved items that stay wet outside the autoclave are generally considered contaminated in my experience.
This entire sterilization process must be properly executed at every step, or else the items are not sterile. This is one of the first lessons I learned in Surgical Tech school. Each step requires specialized sterilizer accessories. Here are some examples.
Instruments need to be wrapped in special steam resistance pouches. They also need to stand up to the high temperatures and pressures. The pouches usually have peel off, fold over stickies. The peel off part is often an indicator that you throw in with the instrument.
Sets of surgical instruments need to be wrapped in special papers. These are usually two ply sheets that allow steam to penetrate to the sets beneath. They are taped closed with indicator tape. This special tape has strips along it that change color when they hit a certain temperature so we know that set has gone through the autoclave.
Since autoclaves require distilled water, some offices buy their own water distiller. Manufacturers also suggest a special inner chamber cleaner. Make sure to check your warranty. It might require you to use a special chamber cleaner. If your autoclave has a printer, you will need to keep up with its paper.
Extra drying racks are also useful for your newly sterilized instruments. This prevents the water contamination that I talked about above. Carts are always awesome if you are transporting a large amount of sterile gear around the building.
It’s always helpful to have backups for parts of your autoclave, too. An extra inner rack or metal cassette is handy to have around. They get dropped or bent somehow all the time. Keep inspecting those door gaskets for cracks, too!
All of this extra gear is needed for the full sterilization process. Make sure you’re honest with your own procedures and gear. Don’t half ass this stuff. It can be putting your patients, clients, and co-workers at risk. Working with non sterile gear and instruments is a hazard that we can avoid when we use the right sterilizer accessories.