Autoclaves and water baths are both commonly used to sterilise medical equipment, instruments, tools, and apparatus in various medical, dental, and other industries.
However, each piece of equipment uses a very different means of providing sterilisation.
It is important to take the following differences between an autoclave and water bath into consideration relative to how effective they are at providing sterilisation in different settings.
- An autoclave uses pressurised steam in a closed unit as opposed to a water bath which is an open unit that uses water.
- Water baths reach a maximum boiling point of water 100 °C (212 °F). Autoclaves ideally operate at higher temperatures of 120 °C (248 °F) and can go as high as 133 °C (273 °F).
- The optimal sterilisation time in an autoclave is 30 minutes although some cycles can run longer. Boiling in a water bath can take an hour or longer for effective sterilisation to be achieved.
- Water baths deliver sterilised items that need to be either air-dried or manually dried. Autoclaves deliver sterilised items that do not require drying after sterilisation.
- Autoclaves reduce the risk of injury or burns to the operator whereas the use of a water bath can be hazardous to the operator.
- Most types of materials can be placed in an autoclave for sterilisation. Delicate items can be wrapped in order to reduce the risk of damage or breakage. Not all types of materials are suitable for sterilisation in a water bath such as glass and plastic items that can crack or break.
- A water bath may need to be cleaned and sterilised before every use. An autoclave, by its very nature, is self-cleaning. However, an autoclave does need to be well maintained and kept in optimal operating condition in order to provide effective sterilisation.
In summary, an autoclave provides a simpler, faster and more effective solution to sterilisation than a water bath for a variety of different reasons.
1. Effective Elimination of Pathogens and Microbes
An effective sterilisation process should eliminate all pathogens and microbes.
The higher temperatures that can be achieved through the use of an autoclave are more effective at destroying microorganisms and other contaminants that are responsible for the spread and transmission of infection and disease.
Although water at boiling temperature is considered to be a suitable means of sterilisation, it is not as effective as an autoclave.
2. Contamination After Sterilisation
The moment that sterilised items are exposed to the air, they run the risk of becoming contaminated by microbes and pathogens that are invisible to the naked eye.
Due to the fact that sterilised items are wet after boiling in a water bath makes them more susceptible to this type of contamination.
An autoclave, on the other hand, keeps sterilised items contained in a sterilised environment until they are dry and cool and therefore are not exposed to contaminated air or materials required to dry the items.
Items should be placed directly into sterile plastic sleeves or envelopes to maintain optimal sterilisation.
3. Turnover Time
Autoclaves deliver sterilised items much faster than water baths and require no down-time to function optimally.
Boiling in a water bath takes much longer and the equipment will need to be allowed to cool in order to be cleaned before another round of sterilisation can take place.
Autoclaving is therefore much more suitable for use in industries that have constant sterilisation requirements and a fast turnover time.
Although both an autoclave and a water bath deliver effective sterilisation and eliminate pathogens and microorganisms, it is important to keep in mind the application of the equipment in a specific setting, industry or environment in order to achieve the best results.
We were originally established in 1952 in order to provide electro-medical products to healthcare professionals across the country.
The company (Medical Equipment Services) was acquired by Medical Equipment Australia in 2009. Since then, we have also expanded into the dental industry.