Sterilizing Medical Equipment: The Top Three Techniques

HealthcareFebruary 24, 2015

The sterilization of medical equipment is an important part of health care. The process protects both health care workers and patients by preventing infections, and it allows devices to be used again instead of thrown away after one procedure. Before sterilization was common, patients often died from infection after surgery. Because of the importance of this process, hospitals and other health care facilities often have specific sterilization departments. As one of their trained technicians, you can make a difference by protecting patients and staff.

There are several common techniques for sterilizing medical equipment. None can be used in all circumstances or on all devices. While you're learning to be a sterile processing technician, you will learn more about these methods, and you will also get to practice newly acquired skills both in the lab and in the real world.

Most sterile processing departments will have a steam sterilizer, also known as an autoclave. This is because many common medical devices can be sterilized using steam, and it's generally the cheapest and safest option.  In fact, most technicians will only consider another option when the device is made with a material that is sensitive to heat or cannot be sterilized using steam. A steam sterilizer applies heat and intense pressure to destroy all microorganisms on an object.

Dry Heat Sterilization

When steam could destroy the instrument or fail to penetrate it, dry heat is the next logical option. Dry heat is a powerful but slow method that requires time and high temperatures. Because of this, it is unsuitable for many materials, but it is still often more reliable than other options. A dry heat sterilizer uses air that is typically between 300 to 340 degrees Fahrenheit to kill microbial life.

Gas Sterilization

There are several types of gas that can be used to sterilize medical devices. The most common one is ethylene oxide (EO). EO is a chemical that sterilizes by killing the cells of bacteria. The gas is placed in a sterilizing chamber that is explosion-proof. As you train to become a sterile processing tech, you will learn to master the complex process of varying gas concentration, temperature, humidity and time to find the perfect balance for a device.

While these are generally the best techniques for sterilizing medical equipment, there are many other options that are used in specific circumstances. To learn more, enroll in a sterile processing training program.

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