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Autoclave Basics: What Every Life Scientist Needs to Know Part 2
In order to be confident that the autoclave is doing its job, you must use indicators that prove either that sterilization has occurred or that the proper parameters to achieve sterilization have been met. “We recommend or require (as per permit) a biological indicator be used for cycle development,” says Mark.
In order to keep the autoclave running smoothly, immediately clean any spills in the chamber with appropriate chamber-cleaning solutions, ensure that the drain strainer is free of debris, and drain the generator at the end of each day if your autoclave does not do so automatically. You should also inspect your autoclave on a regular basis to ensure that there are no leaks and that the materials are not warping. Schedule professional inspections at least once a year or more, depending on use. Given the importance of preventing contamination from ruining your work or infecting the public, it is vital to stay on top of autoclave maintenance.
Something else to keep in mind is that your water source should be as pure as possible to prevent the buildup of minerals inside the autoclave pipes and chambers. Also, if your autoclave is made of stainless steel, there are certain materials that you should not sterilize in your autoclave, as they can contribute to the corrosion of the chamber. As a rule of thumb, avoid sterilizing anything with high levels of chlorine or chlorides.
How to choose a cycle
It is important that you consult your state and institution regulations and the manufacturer protocol to ensure that you are using an appropriate cycle for your load. Different materials, packaging, and end goals may require different conditions to be appropriately sterilized.
Autoclaves are designed to promote safety of lab members and the public, but autoclave users need to follow the safety protocol in order to avoid burns or other problems.
“Training programs are important, followed by an instructor-led demo,” says Mark Wang, “and users should always use thermal-protective PPE.”
When autoclaving liquids, leave the lid loose or cover with foil to prevent explosions. Never autoclave cracked glass or radioactive, corrosive, or flammable materials. At the end of a cycle, verify that the temperature and pressure have dropped all the way and the slowly open the door to let steam escape gradually. Let items stand for at least 10 minutes.
Autoclaves are essential tools in research to prevent contamination, but they can only be effective if end users use them appropriately. Make sure you understand which of your materials need to be autoclaved, which cycles to use, and how to operate the machine safely. It may also be worth investing in a training program or contacting technical support for more assistance.