Autoclave Maintenance: Common Problems + Troubleshooting

Autoclave Maintenance: Common Problems + Troubleshooting

An autoclave is a sophisticated and important piece of equipment that is indispensable in many medical and scientific settings where it is used to sterilize equipment with heat, water, and pressure. As it performs a very important task, it’s crucial that you stay on top of your autoclave maintenance. 

Though autoclaves, sometimes referred to as steam sterilizers, are designed to disinfect and sterilize laboratory media (glassware, plasticware, etc.) as well as biohazard waste, they must be maintained and used in a way that allows them to properly function and is suitable for long-term use. 

Being able to recognize problems with an autoclave is the first step in troubleshooting. Here is how to maintain your autoclave and common problems you can easily troubleshoot. 

Monthly Autoclave Maintenance 

It is recommended to check that the pressure bleed valve is functioning properly at least once a month. During a cycle, use a long screwdriver or a pair of pliers to momentarily open the bleed valve by pulling on the relief pin. Use a long tool and protect your hands to avoid burns from the steam which will exit from the relief pin. 

Annual Autoclave Maintenance 

To prevent water leaks and the obstruction of some holes, it is recommended to have some of the components of the autoclave (door gasket, bellow, air-jet, and EPA filter) checked and replaced by a qualified technician at least once a year. 

Chamber Maintenance 

The chamber is the primary component of a steam autoclave, consisting of an inner chamber and outer jacket. Chambers can be subject to corrosion if not cleaned frequently and properly. Wiping down the chamber after each run with a mild solution can go a long way in keeping your chamber in good shape. Be sure to wipe up spills right after they happen and use non-chlorinated water when rinsing the inside of the chamber.

Monitor Cycles

Monitor cycles to ensure that all indicators and information displayed on the screen are as expected. Any errors will be highlighted on the screen and the autoclave control system will automatically take the required action (i.e. halt the cycle in the event of a critical error to the sterilization process).

Common Problems and Troubleshooting 

Here are some of the common problems you can easily troubleshoot in an autoclave: 

The Autoclave Is Not Turning On

If your autoclave does not turn on, you will almost always find a problem with the power supply. The most common cause will be the outlet that the autoclave is plugged into. The current building code states that autoclaves need to be plugged into GFCI (ground fault current interrupt) outlets that have a resettable breaker built into them to cut power if there is a sufficient fluctuation in the amperage or the ground. Check the outlet to make sure that that relay hasn't been tripped, and reset it.

Goods Are Not Sterilized 

Improperly sterilized goods can lead to contamination, growth in the media, or a failed biological indicator. The reasons a sterilizer may not sterilize the load are many:  improper loading (e.g. covering the drain port, overpacking), steam dryness, component failure, insufficient steam, wrong cycle type, user error, etc. The best way to ensure proper sterilization is to validate the unit using a biological indicator (BI). In order to validate an autoclave, simply place the BI into a typical load. 

When the load is complete, take out the packet, put it in a special broth, and incubate to see if there's any growth. If there is no growth, it's safe to assume that your load is validated to that cycle recipe and sterilization should occur. Please note: This paragraph is a very short over-simplification of the processes around validation and cycle development.

Autoclave Is Not Fully Pressurizing 

A pressure issue in your autoclave will have one of two causes. First, the autoclave isn't able to build sufficient pressure in the chamber to hit its setpoints (a water supply or heating element problem). Secondly, the pressure is escaping the chamber before it can build to the setpoint (a bellows or door gasket problem). You need to check the water supply or the condition of your bellows and door gaskets. 

At Tacoma Quick Sale, we offer the quickest, preferred service for professionals seeking solutions for their equipment. Contact us to learn more and get the help you require.