In previous issues of Practice Tips we’ve discussed a number of techniques, tools, and principles for repair, but to avoid breakdowns in the first place, the importance of regular maintenance cannot be over-emphasized.
This month, we’ll look at sterilizers. Along with the compressor and vacuum, the sterilizer is the lifeblood of your practice. Without sterile instruments, you can not practice; so it is imperative that your sterilizer keeps functioning well.
The following list is of necessity “generic” but should be applicable to most sterilizers. Consult your owner’s manual for the specific recommendations that pertain to your particular make and model of sterilizer. Feel free to print this list and post it in your sterilization area for easy consultation by your staff.
- Clean the door gasket with a soft cloth or sponge and mild (not anti-bacterial) liquid soap.
- While cleaning, examine the door gasket for signs of cracking, peeling, or wear.
- Drain the waste tank (for steam or chemical vapor sterilizers only).
- Remove the trays and tray holder from the chamber, clean them and the chamber with a sponge and manufacturer approved sterilizer/chamber cleaner. Do not use abrasives or chlorinated cleaners.
- Oil the door pins and tightening bolts (just a few drops is adequate, and wipe up any excess).
- Clean the outside of the unit with a soft sponge or cloth and non-abrasive cleaner.
- Drain and flush the reservoir loosening any evident debris with a narrow brush (as used for test tubes, or our vacuum valve brushes).
- Refill the reservoir and make certain the sterilizer is level.
- Verify the safety valve is functioning by pulling on the ring- it should spring back.
- Remove and clean chamber filters.
- Conduct a spore test.
- **Be certain to wear appropriate heat-resistant PPE during this procedure** Check the safety valve during operation (under pressure) by pulling with a needle nose pliers and allowing steam to exhaust for several seconds.
- Check the chamber door for plumb.
- Check any filters unique to your sterilizer (e.g. Chemifilter of a Chemclave, or the compressor filter of a Statim) and replace if necessary.
- Replace the bellows, door gasket, and filters.
- Check all components for signs of wear and replace if any wear is evident.
- Always make certain the area around the sterilizer is free from clutter or debris – there should always be adequate air flow around the sterilizer (typically 3” around the back and sides – check your owner’s manual for the specific requirements of your sterilizer).
- Make certain the sterilizer is on a flat surface and is level.
- Do not overfill your sterilizer.
- Make certain instruments are clean and dry before loading– pay particular attention to rinsing any cleaning solutions from instruments with moving parts.
- Use only distilled water in an autoclave or the appropriate solution for a chemical vapor sterilizer.
- Make certain that whatever instruments are placed within your sterilizer are designed to withstand the temperature of a cycle (e.g. do not sterilize handpieces in a dry heat sterilizer).
While there are never any guarantees, with proper maintenance your sterilizer should serve you well for many, many years while avoiding costly breakdowns.
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