Autoclave Maintenance – The Never-Ending Cycle

Written by: Leah Gehrke

Autoclaves – it’s no secret that we all struggle with remembering the guidelines in our office. “Which side faces up – paper or plastic?”, “Can I autoclave plastic?”, “What is the difference between each cycle?”. Making sure these questions are answered allows us to ensure we are following the principles of proper infection control. 

These questions come up daily in dental offices. Many factors can cause these machines to fail. Leaving us with non-sterilized instruments. Overloading your sterilizer, mechanical error, and user error can make a difference in ensuring our instruments are sterile. Have you checked your user manuals recently? 

Let’s start with “Which side faces up – paper or plastic?”. This is dependent on your autoclave’s make and model. Some machines recommend plastic side up, to allow the condensation to drip and escape easier. Another recommends alternating paper/plastic up to allow proper circulation. Thoroughly learning about your autoclave and its proper instruction is the first step in proper sterilization. Take out that user’s manual and read up on the machine’s recommended techniques.

“Can I autoclave plastic?”. The most commonly sterilized plastic material comes from radiograph Rinn/XCP systems, which are circulated often in a dental office. The ADA announced that sterilizing the plastic separately from the metal components is recommended to avoid warping or melting. It is also recommended to avoid placing these pieces on the bottom shelf of the autoclave and ensure your autoclave does not exceed 270 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Remember, plastic parts are more fragile than metal and require more frequent replacement. Keep an eye on the plastic components and any cracking or warping that may occur. Any and all sterilization can affect the lifespan of plastic instruments. Below is a diagram to show the proper temperature, pressure, and time for each type of cycle. 

“What is the difference between each cycle?”. Are your instruments wrapped, unwrapped, or heavily wrapped? These characteristics make a difference in how we sterilize. Checking the color indicator on the sterilization pouches with each cycle will prevent non-sterile instruments from being circulated in the office. Stop, look, and identify after each cycle to see if your instruments are ready to be used. And, as always, make sure your autoclave is undergoing weekly tests using biological indicators to ensure proper sterilization protocols are being followed.

Interested in more information regarding sterilization? Contact us today for a walkthrough to get you on track for infection control compliance.