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What is an Autoclave?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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An autoclave is, perhaps, one of the most important devices in the medical field. It heats solutions above their boiling point to sterilize medical or laboratory instruments. The autoclave is also used in industry to “cure” some products during the manufacturing process.

There are several types of autoclaves. One of the simplest looks a great deal like a pressure cooker. It is a large pot with a gauge on top and bolts that fasten the top to the pot. The idea behind this is that water inside a pressurized container can be heated above the boiling point. It will only reach 212°F (100°C) in an open container. However, in a pressurized autoclave, the water will reach much higher temperatures.

Most doctor’s offices have a small autoclave in their labs, and these are used to sterilize small batches of instruments. This type is usually on a cart and is similar in size to a microwave oven. It can also be wheeled around to where it is needed.

Hospitals use large autoclaves that look similar to a dishwasher. This machine can process large numbers of surgical instruments in one cycle, keeping up with the constant demand from the operating rooms and emergency department. An autoclave should ideally be a one-touch instrument. That is, the technician should be able to load the machine, press a button to begin the cycle, and the machine does the rest. The technician should not have to monitor the unit constantly for temperature or to begin or end a cycle.

The autoclave was invented in 1879 by Charles Chamberland. The benefits of sterile surgery were starting to catch on and medical professionals needed a more reliable way to sterilize their instruments besides heating them in the fire. The benefits of the machine were quickly evident, and it became an indispensable part of every medical office and hospital. The autoclave is not quite as common, with the introduction of single-use needles and other instruments, but it is still a necessary part of any medical or lab setting.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at InfoBloom. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By anon129395 — On Nov 23, 2010

This article explains only one type of autoclave for one specific use, which is wet-processing for sterilization. Wet-process autoclaves are also used in the cement manufacturing industry, as well as rubber vulcanization, and wood treatment.

There are also dry-process autoclaves which use gas pressurization with electric, oil, and gas heating systems. These autoclaves are common in the composites industry and in glass laminating.

Within the composites industry, autoclaves are used to cure parts for aerospace, automotive, marine, and other industries. As composite technology has developed rapidly over the past few decades, autoclaves are increasingly being used for aerospace components where weight and strength are critical factors determining the development of advanced aircraft for aerospace firms around the world. Companies such as Boeing, Airbus, and GKN use autoclaves every day to cure composite materials used to make jets for commercial and military use. The largest autoclave in the world, at 30' diameter (9.2M) and 76' length (23M) was built in 2006 for Vought Aircraft to support the curing of Boeing's new composite-fuselage jet, the 787. The 787 is expected to be approximately 20 percent more efficient in fuel usage than comparable modern aluminum body jets, along with multiple other attributes.

By anon53542 — On Nov 22, 2009

How does an autoclave have any correlation with airplanes?

By Duan — On Oct 28, 2007

what are the materials in the autoclave?

By Duan — On Oct 28, 2007

i want to know about the step to make the products in the autoclave.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at InfoBloom. With...
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