The autoclave uses high pressure and high temperature steam to effectively kill microorganisms or inactivate biohazardous material.
The potential risks of using an autoclave are heat and steam burns, hot fluid scalds, injuries to hands and arms from the door, or bodily injury in the event of an explosion. If a load of biohazardous waste is inadequately autoclaved, there is potential for human and environmental exposure to biohazardous materials. In order to prevent injuries when using the autoclave, please observe the following:
- Never put sharps or liquids in autoclave waste bags. Consult the Biological Waste Disposal Table for information on pipettes, needles and syringes, slides, blades, scalpels, liquid tissue culture media, and other laboratory materials.
- Do not autoclave plastic unless it is rated as “autoclavable”.
- Do not exceed the temperature that the material is rated for. Melted plastic releases fumes, ruins autoclave surfaces, and can clog chamber drains.
- When unloading an autoclave, wear heat resistant gloves, eye protection, and lab coat.
- To prevent steam burns, make sure that the autoclave pressure is near zero before opening the door.
- Allow steam to escape gradually by slowly cracking open the autoclave door. Allow load to cool for 10 minutes before removing.
- Do not autoclave sealed containers or full bottles with narrow necks as they may explode.
- Do not autoclave materials containing solvents, or volatile or corrosive chemicals (such as phenol, chloroform, bleach, etc.).
- If radioactive material is autoclaved, the autoclave and surrounding area must be surveyed for contamination prior to reuse.