5 Most Common Problems When Using An Autoclave

5 Most Common Problems When Using An Autoclave
Authored By Tom Toi

Is your autoclave working flawlessly? Have you experienced any problems when operating your autoclave? Are you aware of the common problems users face when using an autoclave?

Autoclaves are reliable sterilisation devices and are widely used in a variety of industries. Ideally, these steam sterilisers work without any issues but at times, they don't function as they should and that can lead to big problems. Here is a close look at some of the common problems users face when using an autoclave:

1). Autoclave Overloading

One of the most common reasons for sterilisation failure is overloading the sterilisation chamber. If the chamber is overloaded, it may not only prolong the warm-up time but may also prevent proper sterilisation of all the items in the chamber. Overloading typically happens when the wrapped instruments are placed close by without enough spacing. Most modern autoclaves have a number of racks to help with proper spacing. It is up to the user to ensure that racks are not overloaded.

2). Poor Steam Quality

If the items are still wet after a complete cycle, it may be due to the poor quality of steam. This can happen due to a number of reasons. One of the most common reasons is the inadequate water content of the steam. Similarly, it might also happen due to superheated steam which is not good for sterilisation. Checking the data logs should provide a clear picture of the reasons for poor steam quality. It is also important to have your autoclave serviced and maintained on a regular basis.

3). Load Damage

Autoclaves are designed to run at extremely high temperatures and some materials can melt at such temperatures, especially some plastics. Operators should ensure that all the items placed in the steriliser are autoclave safe or have a melting point higher than the maximum temperature that can be reached inside the chamber. Liquid loss is another common issue. This happens when a cylinder that is full of water is placed inside the sterilisation chamber and a complete cycle is run.

The problem happens when the temperature inside reaches at least 121 degrees C and the pressure is released immediately once the cycle is complete. This immediate release of pressure causes the water to boil over which may cause splashing. In such cases, it is recommended to run a special liquids cycle where the pressure is released slowly. This provides adequate time for the liquid to cool down and reach below its boiling point once the pressure is released.

5 Most Common Problems Using  Autoclave

4). Incomplete Sterilisation

This may happen due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it happens due to improper cleaning of the instruments. In case the instruments retain saliva, blood, or other contaminants, they may shield microbes and compromise the sterilisation process. Another reason is improper loading such as placing smaller objects without wrapping inside the chamber. Wrapping is essential to ensure that steam reaches all the nooks and crannies evenly.

Incomplete sterilisation may also happen due to the selection of the wrong cycle for the contents. Different types of predetermined settings are needed for sterilising different types of materials as not all the materials are sterilised with the same parameters. For example, using the autoclave’s gravity cycle for wrapped medical tools will always result in incomplete sterilisation. Some other common reasons for incomplete sterilisation include insufficient steam, component failure, steam dryness, overpacking or user errors.

The best way to avoid incomplete sterilisation is proper user training. If you are having any doubts about proper sterilisation, the best way to move forward is to validate the autoclave with the help of a biological indicator. Check out the instructions provided by your autoclave manufacturer on how to use a biological indicator to validate the unit.

5). Sterilisation Cycle

Aborted Midway If you are sterilising a huge liquid load, it is going to take an exceptionally long time which may cause the sterilisation cycle to abort midway. In such cases, it is better to use a number of small containers to sterilise the liquids.


Autoclaves provide a reliable way to sterilise instruments in a laboratory or clinical setting. However, problems happen with all types of machines and an autoclave is no different. Some of the most common problems happen due to user errors such as not selecting the right cycle or improper packaging or overloading the autoclave but sometimes, component failure also leads to issues.

The best way to avoid any such issues is to ensure proper training of autoclave users and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the proper use of autoclaves.

If you are considering purchasing or upgrading an autoclave, MES Medical Equipment Services has been Australia’s leading provider of autoclaves and other medical equipment and equipment services since 1952. 

We were originally established to provide electro-medical products to healthcare professionals across the country. Our products range from sterilisation, dental systems, dental imaging, electrosurgical equipment, medical consumables,  dental lasers, and equipment service maintenance.

We sell only top of the line equipment and machines produced by the leading manufacturers in the world. Our integrity and standards are your guarantees!

If you are searching for an autoclave supplier in Australia, then look no further than Medical Equipment Services Australia

For all your medical and dental supply requirements, please call us today on 1300 342 013 or contact us through our website.


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