What should a podiatrist know about autoclaves?

Autoclaves are machines that look a lot like pressure cookers. These highly modern pieces of medical equipment use elevated pressures and high temperatures well over 100 degrees Celsius to sterilize (i.e. remove all potentially infectious bacteria and spores) both wrapped and unwrapped instruments that are put inside the chamber of the podiatry autoclave.

There are quite big models out there on the market that are used by many larger medical facilities like hospitals, but fortunately, there are much more compact machines too that are perfect for smaller clinics. Just like Celitron’s medium steam sterilizer, which we will discuss in detail in the later part of this article.

The reason podiatry clinics need to (and should) use autoclaves

In case you are a practicing podiatrist or chiropodist, then it is more than likely that you will be expected to use some form of sterilization method that follows your government’s guidelines.

For example, in the United Kingdom, the Society of Chiropodists & Podiatrists strongly recommends the use if autoclaves for the sterilization of podiatry instruments. Regardless, almost all main associations that have some connections with the private foot care market are in favor if using autoclaves, so even if you are just doing basic, non-invasive procedures, it is highly advisable that you use a steam sterilizer in your practice.

In our Podiatry autoclave buying guide we take a look at the most important points to assess.

With all these elements it can be difficult to make a decision. The best option is too break it down into manageable sections. When all the criteria are taken into account then the right podiatry autoclave becomes clear.

Below I take a look at the sections in more detail. At the end I’ll provide a couple of useful examples of a description making process.

Sterilization method

The way or method of sterilization among most bench top podiatry autoclaves is quite similar and can be broken down into three categories. ‘N’ Type or steam sterilization. ‘s’ type or single phase vacuum sterilization and ‘B’ type or triple phase sterilization. The type you require depends on the way in which you wish to process your instrument. This brings us onto. types of load.

Types of load

Un-wrapped instruments laying exposed on a tray are put directly into the sterilizer and the steam will circulate round the instruments to sterilize them.

TOP TIP – To put instruments in an autoclave in a pouch you require a S or B type autoclave with a vacuum cycle.

Wrapped instruments that are put into pouches before the instruments are loaded into the autoclave.


The ability to select cycles, how the machine is fed with water as well as how data is stored or printed on the machine are all important considerations. A printer or data logger is a common feature and allows the user to store cycle date.

Quantity or sets of instruments to be sterilized

The overall size or an autoclave generally dictate the quantity of instruments that you can decontaminate in one cycle, although this is not always the case.

When assessing this people can have different opinions on what a set of instruments is, as this can vary between practitioners.

For the purposes of this guide we are classing “a set” as defined in the society of chiropody and podiatry decontamination illustration:

It is worth mentioning that the standard definition for how instruments are loaded can vary. It is necessary for the instruments to be laid out in such a way as they are not touching and the steam can circulate correctly.

Listed below are some of the most common types of autoclave name and brand in the UK. We show how many instruments can be sterilized with each machine.

Record keeping facilities

How you store vital information about your autoclave cycle is usually recorded on either a connected or in-built printer or via a data-logger which can be downloaded onto a computer.

How long does an autoclave last?

Depending on how well looked after it is, a podiatry autoclaves have been known  last upwards of 10 years.

Buying a podiatry autoclave needn’t be a difficult decision. Hopefully with a little bit of research the machine you choose will serve your practice for many years.

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