Autoclaves (now called Sterilisers)

  • dental sterilisation procedures
    March 3, 2019

    When was the last time you reviewed your sterilisation procedures?

    Sometimes induction procedures can get ‘lost in the system’ when hiring new staff. And before you know it, the wrong procedure becomes ‘the way we always do it’.

    Have a look at the instrument packs after they come out of the steriliser. If you notice they are a bit wet – not completely dry – then you might want to read on…

    Packaging is not supposed to come out of the steriliser wet. This is called ‘wicking’. If they are wet, they are vulnerable to contamination.

    This might happen because you have put too many instrument packs in the steriliser.

    The paper used on wrapped instruments (either wrapping or in a sterilisation pouch) are designed so that when they get wet or damp, the air and steam penetrates it, thus allowing the steam to contact the instruments inside while they are going through the sterilisation cycle.

    overcrowded steriliser

    However, if you overcrowd the chamber, the steam cannot circulate, and the packets cannot dry properly. Think about it as if you put too many clothes in your washing machine – it won’t wash the clothes properly.

    Instrument pack ready to be placed in the steriliser.
    Wet or damp instrument pack after sterilisation.
    Wet or damp instrument pack after sterilisation.

    The Solution?

    Here’s a tip to help you work out the right number of instruments to put on the trays.

    • Find the user manual for your steriliser. In the manual, look for information about the sterilisation cycles and find the section on maximum load weight limits. For example, the maximum load limit might by only 4.5 kg of solid instruments.
    • Take a set of scales and gather up a series of instruments that make up a typical load for your practice. See how much 4.5kg (or whatever the load limit is for your steriliser) actually looks like.
    • Take a photo or show all other staff members. This will help you not overload the steriliser.
    • Of course, the way the instruments are placed in the steriliser also matters.  Make sure instrument pouches are not placed on top of each and they are in a single layer. Check with the steriliser’s instructions as to whether the pouches should be placed paper-side up or paper-side down.

    Remember, packaged or wrapped instruments must come out of the steriliser dry.
    And it’s not ok to place as many instruments in the steriliser as it will hold.

    Here is what a correctly loaded steriliser can looks like. See how the packs are nicely spaced and not sitting on top of each other.

    Note: some steriliser brands requires the packs to be place paper-side up. Make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions.