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  • Rick

Rapid Sterilization

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

Speed can be important and extremely valuable in many areas. Being faster allows one to get more done and make more money. But there are some things that can only be rushed so much.

As I've said before, one of the most important pieces of equipment in your office is the sterilizer. Without sterile instruments, one can't practice dentistry. Most offices have an autoclave to sterilize instruments. As you probably know, an autoclave uses super-heated steam under pressure to sterilize instruments. An autoclave typically sterilizes at 270-275F. Most autoclaves will also have a "plastics" cycle as cool as 2500 F. Many can even be programmed to run cooler than that.

At 275F an autoclave only requires 2-3 minutes to render unwrapped instruments "sterile". Most of the time, the load is wrapped (bagged, in pouches, or otherwise packaged somehow) as the instruments are not expected to be put into use as soon as they are removed from the sterilizer (a requirement if not packaged, otherwise they will no longer be considered "sterile"). If wrapped, most steam sterilizers are expected to run for 6 minutes at 275F and 30 psi to achieve "overkill". When adding in time for heat-up and drying, most cycles are 15-20 minutes.

The time required to sterilize will increase as the temperature goes down, of course. For example, at 250F the actually sterilization portion of the cycle (with wrapped instruments) increases to a full 30 minutes. Note the temperature resistance of what you are sterilizing and set the appropriate cycle for your load.

Some sterilizers are advertised as being faster than others. The reality is, the 2-3 minute time for unwrapped loads can't really be improved upon. One can skip the drying stage and run cycles back to back so the sterilizer starts from warm to reduce net cycle times. Most sterilizers have standard cycles to complete sterilization within 10 minutes or less (if unwrapped).

Yes, some makes and models will offer slightly shorter times "out of the box" but most are within a minute or two of each other.


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