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One of the many uses for an autoclave is sterilization. Steam and pressure are heated to a high temperature and passed through the autoclave and over the contaminated material. Once the correct temperature is reached, the entire process takes about 20 minutes, though the time may vary depending on the equipment being sterilized.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published on 4/10/18 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehension.
Autoclaves can be used for a variety of purposes, like treating wood and the manufacture of rubber tires or hoses.
But did you know it’s also used for sterilizing many items that affect our daily lives?
Think back to the last time you went to your dentist for a cleaning. All those shiny metal instruments your dentist uses to torture, I mean clean, your teeth with?
Well, each time they’re used, they must be cleaned and sterilized – before they can be used on the next patient (or victim!). These are sterilized inside an autoclave.
How about the last time you flew on a plane to an overseas destination?
While you probably try to be a good steward and properly dispose of the trash you made during a flight, inevitably some is left behind.
Nasty little bugs that carry diseases can hitch a ride on these items and arrive in the new environment. In order to minimize this, all trash from overseas flights is processed through an autoclave system before it is disposed of in landfills.
This process kills any of those little critters before the trash is released into its new environment.
What about the resurgence of the use of hemp or mushrooms for medicinal purposes? Well, the medicinal ingredients extracted from hemp are extracted inside an autoclave. And as for mushrooms? The medium they are grown on is sterilized in an autoclave prior to their use, too.
There are many regulations for sterilizing the different items we’ve mentioned, such as this one for medical equipment.
Let’s take a look at how autoclave systems are used for sterilizing work.
Autoclave systems work very much like pressure cookers, in a sense.
Autoclave systems are steel containers, usually in the shape of a cylinder, that use steam from its associated piping into the autoclave and over the item being sterilized inside the autoclave.
The items are placed inside the autoclave. The autoclave’s door is then closed and the sterilization process begins.
The air trapped inside the autoclave is removed either by a pump or released through a valve, while the steam enters the autoclave.
Autoclave systems are working with a much higher power of steam and pressure than pressure cookers in order to completely sterilize the items.
The temperature in an autoclave system will generally reach a much higher than the standard boiling point of water.
The temperature needs to be this hot so that any bacteria or pathogens on the medical instruments, trash, or mushroom growth medium are eliminated.
The entire process, once the desired temperature is reached, usually lasts approximately 20 minutes, which is just enough time to kill all of the bacteria and organisms.
However, depending upon the item type and degree of contamination, the process could take more time.
Without the use of the autoclave system, it would be difficult for dentists to sterilize their medical equipment, mushroom farmers to prepare the mushroom’s growth medium, or airlines to process our leftover trash in order to help protect us from possible virus outbreaks.
The time it would take to properly sterilize any of these items would have a negative impact on our daily lives.
The development of the autoclave system is a great benefit to the medical, agriculture, and airline professions and serves an important purpose.