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16.8 Autoclaves

Autoclaves have the following potential hazards:

  • Heat, steam, and pressure. 
  • Thermal burns from steam and hot liquids. 
  • Cuts from exploding glass.

Some general safety guidelines to follow when using autoclaves:

  • All users should be given training in proper operating procedures for using the autoclave. 
  • Read the owner’s manual before using the autoclave for the first time. 
  • Operating instructions should be posted near the autoclave. 
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions for loading the autoclave. 
  • Be sure to close and latch the autoclave door. 
  • Some kinds of bottles containing liquids can crack in the autoclave, or when they are removed from the autoclave. Use a tray to provide secondary containment in case of a spill, and add a little water to the tray to ensure even heating. 
  • Only fill bottles half way to allow for liquid expansion and loosen screw caps on bottles and tubes of liquid before autoclaving, to prevent them from shattering. 
  • Do not overload the autoclave compartment and allow for enough space between items for the steam to circulate. 
  • Be aware that liquids, especially in large quantities, can be superheated when the autoclave is opened. Jarring them may cause sudden boiling, and result in burns. 
  • At the end of the run, open the autoclave slowly: first open the door only a crack to let any steam escape slowly for several minutes, and then open all the way. Opening the door suddenly can scald a bare hand, arm, or face. 
  • Wait at least five minutes after opening the door before removing items. 
  • Large flasks or bottles of liquid removed immediately from the autoclave can cause serious burns by scalding if they break in your hands. Immediately transfer hot items with liquid to a cart; never carry in your hands. 
  • Wear appropriate PPE, including eye protection and insulating heat-resistant gloves.