Steam is the most widely used form of decontamination in the medical device industry. It is effective, dependable, relatively inexpensive and, of course, non-toxic and environmentally friendly. This type of Decontamination typically occurs in an autoclave. Autoclaves use pressurized steam as their sterilization agent. The basic concept of an autoclave is to have each item sterilized (whether it is a liquid, plastic or glass) come in direct contact with steam at a specific temperature and pressure for a specific amount of time.
How does Steam Decontamination work?
In microorganisms, moist heat kills by denaturizing enzymes and proteins causing them to lose structure and coagulate (clot together). Heat transfer in a most, humid environment is significantly more effective and efficient than a dry one and allows for the destruction of microorganisms in lower temperatures (121°C – 134°C) and in less time than dry heat (160°C – 190°C).
Steam Decontamination has three states:
- Conditioning: During Conditioning, the air is removed from the autoclave (steam sterilizer) and replaced with saturated steam. The load is heated to recommended temperatures.
- Exposure: Once the load has been heated, the items are exposed to steam at a set temperature and pressure for a pre-determined time. This is the Exposure stage.
- Exhaust: In the Exhaust stage, steam is removed from the autoclave and the pressure released. A vacuum is created to remove the steam and to help dry the load.
What materials are compatible with Steam Decontamination?
Steam effectively penetrates textiles and other porous materials like surgical linens and is also used to decontaminate reusable metallic devices and instruments. The CDC recommends Steam Decontamination be used whenever possible on items that are heat and moisture resistant.
We provide several standard cycles to accommodate your medical devices.
During GRAVITY cycle conditioning, steam displaces the air in the chamber and the force of gravity causes the heavier air to exit the chamber via the sterilizer drain. Gravity cycles typically require more exposure time because the air removal method is more passive in nature.
PREVACUUM cycles condition wrapped loads through a series of pressurizations with steam and evacuations of the chamber using a mechanical vacuum system. The vacuum system facilitates more efficient air removal when compared to the gravity method, especially when processing lumened items. During evacuations of the chamber, the pressure in the chamber drops to below atmospheric.