Autoclave Use and Quality Assurance Program

The goal of decontamination is to render a material safe for reuse or disposal. Steam sterilization is the most effective method of physical decontamination of instruments, reagents, and waste.

Other methods of physical decontamination include the use of ionizing and UV radiation, but autoclaving is the most commonly used method in many laboratory operations.

In order to be effective, the autoclave, essentially a steel pressure vessel, must attain a pressure of at least 15PSI and achieve a chamber temperature of at least 121oC. The physical make-up of the items to be autoclaved determine how much time this temperature must be held for effective decontamination. This would include the volume of material, what it is made of, whether loosely or tightly packed, whether solid or liquid, and container material. In some cases, multiple controlled cycles of defined pressure and time are required to achieve effective and safe decontamination of certain items.

All UMB autoclaves must be maintained on a quality control program as outlined below:

Effective quality assurance includes:

  • Autoclave operation: including using effective decontamination processing times for each cycle and selecting appropriate containers to hold waste while being decontaminated
  • Autoclave validation: using chemical and biological indicators to check autoclave operation
  • Autoclave recordkeeping
  • Autoclave odor control
  • Personnel training for the operation of an autoclave

Click the links below for more information on the proper implementation of these elements: