What is an autoclave in the medical waste management industry?


What is an autoclave and what does it do?

At its most basic description, an autoclave is a piece of equipment that uses steam to sterilize tools and small equipment, such as those found in hospitals, surgical suites, laboratories and in some pharmaceutical facilities. Autoclaves can also disinfect certain types of medical waste prior to transportation and ultimate safe disposal.

Autoclaves come in a variety of sizes, depending on scenario, but they all have one thing in common: they kill germs, aka microbial life. The machines can be set at different temperatures and run through a number of cycles. Some autoclaves offer numerous functions, such as special cycling or vacuum functionality.

The key to sterilization in a medical setting requires heat. Lots of heat. Steam is extremely effective in producing the heat required to kill microbes. It achieves this by breaking down cellular proteins and causing them to coagulate. The length of time it takes for an autoclave to sterilize an object depends on the temperature of the steam.

How exactly does an autoclave sterilize? At a very basic description, it goes through a number of processes:

  • Phase 1: During this stage, known as the purge stage, the steam starts to flow through the autoclave (sterilizer) to the desired temperature and pressure.
  • Phase 2: Called the sterilization or exposure stage, the exhaust valve of the autoclave closes, further increasing internal pressure and temperature to the desired setting. The machine maintains this setting for a set period of time.
  • Phase 3: The ‘exhaust’ phase occurs as pressure is released from the sterilization chamber through a valve and interior pressure and temperature return to its ambient setting.

Autoclaves can range in size from a typical microwave size to larger than a refrigerator to bulk waste sizes – they can reach twenty-five feet long and ten feet high. Different sizes are accommodate different volume and types of medical waste based on facility and scenario. Temperatures of autoclaves used in medical settings average 250° to 300°F (121°C to 135°C).

Autoclave requirements for medical waste

In Georgia, autoclave requirements for medical waste specific that all biological waste be autoclaved for at least 30 minutes at 249°F (121°C). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends steam sterilization at either of two temperatures: 250° or 270° to ensure destruction of microbes for infection control.[1] Sterilization timeframes will differ depending on the types of items being sterilized.

Autoclaves developed for medical use are generally used for regulated medical waste. That waste is put into the machine on carts, the door is shut, and steam temperatures set up to 300° kill infectious or hazardous microbes in timeframes averaging 30 minutes to an hour. Afterward, the waste is considered non-infectious. Because it doesn’t pose a bacterial or infectious threat, it can be treated as solid trash and shipped out on a non-hazardous manifest to a non-hazardous landfill.

Know the rules for autoclaving

In order to legally operate in certain capacities, medical waste management companies should always be fully permitted and insured. Autoclaving is no exception. Reputable waste management companies not only maintain compliance, but are able to provide advice on numerous aspects of healthcare waste management and all it entails.


MCDS series shredding autoclave for medical waste is newly developed and produced by our company. It is widely used in hospital, clinic, health center and dentists etc. It meets the standard of GB150-2011 Pressure Vessel and TSG R0004-2009 Pressure Vessel Safety Rules. Shredding, sterilization and drying can be done in one autoclave, thus to avoid second pollution. It saves space. And can greatly reduce costs of packaging, transportation and burying.

For more information about autoclaving or the proper sterilization of biomedical waste, please contact us, a waste management company with specific experience in the proper treatment of biomedical and hazardous waste.

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