10 Steam Sterilizer Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Buy One.

A steam sterilizer is a large (and important!) purchase, especially if you are getting a new business off the ground.  It’s easy to waste a lot of time and money in this department.  So, it’s time to get out a pen, pencil, crayon, marker, and some paper to write (or make sketches) the bullet points that are on this page.

Each industry and office is going to have different autoclave demands.  The focus of this article is to guide you in lining up your needs with the right machine.  My advice is to assume nothing and write it all down to get a full picture.

Tuttnauer 3870EA AutoclaveThere may be only a couple of models that are perfect for you, so I urge you to take this process seriously.  Autoclaves can be a “make or break” piece of machinery for a business that needs to decontaminate and/or sterilize items and they are expensive!

Most importantly, contaminated instruments are a huge danger to you, your co-workers, patients,and customers.  You need the right type of knowledge and the right steam sterilizer to keep everyone protected.

Your autoclave must be large enough, fast enough, and have the correct features, otherwise you will be sending it back for something else.  You’ll be saying to yourself, “I should have listened to Autoclave Reviews!”  Anyway, let’s dive into:

10 Questions to Answer Before Buying a Benchtop Autoclave

1. What sizes are the items your business will be sterilizing?

A rule of thumb here is to look at your longest and widest instruments and gear you will be autoclaving.  Don’t forget pans, bowls, etc.  Measure them yourself.  Don’t take for granted that they are labelled a certain size.  Of course, your steam sterilizer will need to fit everything!

2. What type of instruments are you decontaminating and sterilizing?

For the most part, all autoclaves can process stainless steel instruments.  It is the specialty ones that you must keep in mind.  An example here is if you are buying for a dentist’s office, the autoclave needs to have a special rating for sterilizing the Midmark M3 Ultrafast Autoclavedental hand pieces.

Some instruments might be too delicate for vacuum, so they need a gravity cycle.  Sometimes your instruments won’t fit the cassettes or trays of a certain autoclave.  The chamber might, but the trays inside might not!

It is a lot to consider.  Read up on your “weirdo instruments”.  I have seen instruments worth tens of thousands ruined or damaged from ignorance of these details.  If you are in doubt, research it further.  After reading this, you have no excuse!

3. Will your instruments and gear be wrapped, unwrapped, or both?

In the operating room, most gear to be sterilized is wrapped in special paper that allows the steam to penetrate, or in pouches.  You may need to do the same.  Some autoclaves have different cycles, such as wrapped, unwrapped, gravity, and liquids.

You want to make sure the autoclave you buy has the selection of cycles that you need.  This is in addition to question 2.  What cycles do you need: prevac, gravity, wrapped instruments, unwrapped instruments, a drying cycle?

4. How Many steam sterilization cycles will you run per day?

Speed of autoclave cycles is another major detail to consider.  If you are at say, a busy surgical clinic, you will need to keep up with the tempo of the work day.

This is one of the more subtle aspects to study.  I would keep track of the gear you turn over for a few days, even weeks or months.  You need to get an average of cycles that you run.  Keep track of which days are busier than others.  Keeping in mind which cycles you need, those times wiil vary.  Cycles are: prevac (vacuum), gravity, and drying time.

Drying might be the biggest issue.  Some machines have a built in drying cycle.  Others need to have their door opened for a certain time so the load doesn’t become wet and contaminated.  You can easily fall behind in the turnover process during the day if your machine is too slow.

5. How much counter space can you spare for an autoclave?

This is one of the easiest errors to avoid when looking to buy a sterilizer.  The dimensions are always clearly explained in product descriptions.  Don’t assume on this point.  Take careful measurements of your available space and don’t forget things that stick out like the cord or any water fill doors.

If you need to move things around to make space, do it and then measure before you make your purchase to be certain.

6. Are you able to monitor a manual autoclave?

There are computer automated autoclaves and manual, dial run ones.  The manual ones need a little more attention during and after the sterilization cycles.

If your office is too busy, or you are short handed, you may not be able to give a manual machine the needed supervision.  An automatic one is “set and forget”, though they are generally more expensive.

7. Do you need to sterilize fluids?

This mainly applies to laboratory autoclaves, though not always.  Liquid sterilization can be tricky and hazardous.  Usually, they require a gravity cycle.  If you are sterilizing large amounts, you may need an autoclave with a door on top, like a Tuttnauer 3870LV (lab, vertical).

8. Do you need to decontaminate hazardous waste?

Again, this is mainly for labs.  Look at the size of each load of waste you will be processing.  Do you want a separate autoclave for waste and one for instruments?

9. Will you need to print out your cycle information for documentation?

Automatic autoclaves are the types that can come with an optional printer.  Keeping this documentation can save your ass sometimes, in case of lawsuits from infection.

10. Are you willing to buy a used autoclave to save money?

This is a question that I can’t help much.  It is up to you.  Many autoclave vendors online will offer a one year warranty on refurbished models, so keep an eye out for that.  Steam sterilizers are built to be durable, but you won’t know the history of the ones you are considering.

That’s the bulk of questions you need to ask when looking to buy a counter top steam sterilizer.  It can be an in depth process, but worth it!  You need to take a holistic approach when you look at your needs for sterilization.  All of these points need to be considered, plus circumstances that are specific to your business.

A Final Couple of Points about the Autoclave Buying Process:

  • Write everything down in one place as you study your sterilizing demands.
  • Take this process seriously for safety, money, and hair pulling reasons.

It is a case of minimizing cost while covering ALL of the details about your steam sterilizer process.  Ask similar offices about their autoclaves, but keep in mind every single office is different.  Hope this helps!

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