Autoclave tape is a specialized tape product which is used on packages of materials placed in an autoclave. The tape has chemical strips sensitive to high heat and pressure which change color when they are exposed to sufficiently high heat and pressure, indicating that a package of materials has been in an autoclave. This tape product does not necessarily indicate that the contents of a package are sterile, as it is possible for the tape to be exposed to the right conditions without the interior of the package reaching a sufficiently high level of pressure and temperature. It is important to operate an autoclave properly and to periodically check the autoclave to confirm that it is working.
Several companies manufacture autoclave tape for use in laboratories, hospitals, clinics, and other facilities where instruments, tools, and other materials are sterilized by autoclave. Classically, the tape is made with a series of stripes which appear light beige under normal conditions, and darken in the autoclave. Other tapes may have text which appears after a trip through the autoclave, reading “autoclaved.”
Also known as autoclave indicator tape, autoclave tape is usually required by protocol when anything is placed in an autoclave. Using this tape is one among many steps which are designed to ensure safety when it comes to handling sterile materials. If a package of materials does not have autoclave tape, it is assumed to be non-sterile, which means that it needs to be processed in the autoclave before it can be used.
When materials are packaged for the autoclave, the tape is added last, and most people include a notation of the date on the tape. The tape is designed to adhere in spite of the high heat and steam in the autoclave. With the use of autoclave tape, people can determine whether or not packages of material have passed through the autoclave, and they can also see how recently supplies were sterilized, by referring to the date noted on the tape.
A number of manufacturers have historically used lead-based inks for their chemical strips. Some labs have raised concerns about this, arguing that people dispose of autoclave tape without realizing that it can contain dangerously high levels of lead. Some companies have switched to making lead free tape in response to these concerns, with such tape sometimes being clearly labeled on the package as lead free. Tape which does contain lead needs to be disposed of in the same way that other hazardous materials containing lead are; one of the best ways to do this is to designate a container for collection of the tape and other lead containing materials, calling for a hazardous materials collection when the container is full.