An autoclave is an instrument that is used mainly for sterilizing surgical equipment, pharmaceutical items, laboratory instruments such as your pipettes, and many other items. It can not only disinfect solids, but it can also work on liquids, hollows, and instruments of various sizes and shapes which makes it a highly versatile device.
When it comes to the uses that you can get from a quality autoclave sterilizer, there are close to no limits. You only need to consider just how many areas rely on clean instruments and you will soon realize that the use of an autoclave does not only limit to medical or research purposes. Below we will explore some of the known and unknown ways in which an autoclave can be used.
Medicine is probably the first area that you associate with autoclaves since such a device is used to sterilize equipment and other objects using steam. In a hospital environment, everything needs to be cleaned of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and spores because their presence can spell disaster.
Autoclaves can be found in many medical settings nowadays such as laboratories and other places that might need to ensure the sterility of an object. It should be mentioned that since many procedures nowadays utilize single-use items such as forceps, scalpel handles, and needle holders, the use of autoclaves to sterilize reusable items has dwindled a bit.
Autoclaving is now often used in medicine to sterilize these single-use objects so that they can be disposed of safely in the standard municipal solid waste stream.
In dentistry also, autoclaves are used to sterilize dental instruments. Once cleaned, the tools can be kept for up to 12 months using high-quality sealed pouches. Medical-grade autoclaves are optimized for continuous hospital use, which is why they favor a rectangular design that demands a more rigorous maintenance regime, and they often require more resources to run.
In research and the chemical industry
For research purposes, most medical-grade autoclaves are not appropriate to use which is why general-use or non-medical autoclaves are starting to be used more and more in educational, research, and industrial settings. In these settings, efficiency, ease of use and flexibility are the main factors that users will focus their attention on.
For example, in 2016, the Office of Sustainability at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) conducted a study and found that research-grade autoclaves performed the same tasks with equal effectiveness, but used around 83% less energy and 97% less water when compared to their medical-grade counterparts.
This versatile device can also be employed for chemical industry applications for purposes that have nothing to do with sterilizing objects. Industrial-grade autoclaves are used to cure coatings, vulcanize rubber, and for hydrothermal synthesis. The manufacture of high-performance components from advanced composites will also often require autoclave processing.
While the medical and industrial fields might seem a bit too complicated for the average person, there are many fields or professions nowadays that require the use of an autoclave. Take for example your favorite tattoo studio. As is the case with medical instruments, tattoo supplies and equipment need to be kept sanitized too.
Getting a tattoo from a shop or person that does not clean their tools properly can lead to skin conditions, infections, and many other health problems. The same thing is true for beauty and barber shops and many other fields that require hygienic and sterile equipment.
Even your favorite sterilizer for baby bottles utilizes a technology that is very similar to that used in an autoclave but miniaturized in a frame that is much more portable and compact.