A laboratory autoclave is a device that uses high pressure and an inert gas (usually nitrogen) to destroy microorganisms and sterilize equipment. This small, sealed room has a bench that exposes the equipment to heat and steam, which boils the water in the air. Using this method, oxygen can be removed from inside the chamber to kill bacteria without destroying other organic compounds in the solution, such as proteins or DNA. Once any lab type of equipment is used for any purpose, it needs to be adequately sterilized before reusing it. This is where a laboratory autoclave comes into action, used to sterile this lab equipment at high temperature and pressure.
Working of A Laboratory Autoclave
The Laboratory Autoclave is operated by pumping an inert gas such as nitrogen into the chamber. This displaces the air in the chamber and prevents it from coming into contact with the sterilized items. A pressure-controlled valve maintains constant pressure in the chamber during the sterilization process, and a temperature probe monitors and regulates temperature. The mechanism for heating varies between autoclaves, but sometimes electricity is used to heat the contents. Other times steam heat is used or a combination of both.
Advantages of Autoclave Sterilization
Using this sterilization method, no organic matter that cannot be destroyed by heat will survive in your sample. The steam helps to sterilize the sample by breaking it down into its chemical components. Other such advantages of using Laboratory Autoclave include
Recovery of heat-sensitive proteins and nucleic acids from the autoclaved material is common and relatively straightforward because most are stable at temperatures below 100 ˚C.
The temperature at which an autoclave operates is usually between 121 to 132 degrees Celsius. It rapidly heats the contents of the chamber but cools down quickly when the sterilization process is complete. This helps prevent damage to delicate components or samples that are heat sensitive.
Since it utilizes very high pressure, autoclave sterilization is excellent for destroying vegetative bacterial forms. Unfortunately, this includes most of the commonly occurring pathogens.
It also kills any viruses and other infectious agents that might be present in your sample. Other than the heat and pressure, steam is also used to sterilize equipment, making autoclaves even more effective.
Understanding The Physical structure
The chamber of a Laboratory Autoclave is generally made up of stainless steel to prevent rusting of metals; this works best for preventing damage by humidity. All joints are welded to make them airtight and sealed against deterioration. Steam and water traps are also present in these autoclaves to remove the excess moisture from the system when the sterilization process is complete.
The heating mechanism has a pressure relief valve so that in case of emergency, it can release some of the steam that has built up inside. The door should also have a pressure release valve so that if any pressure builds up as you are closing it, you can open a small gap for it to escape through.
Different types of Laboratory Autoclaves
There are different types of autoclaves, each designed to work best for a specific type of application. They have been specifically constructed and designed to handle a specific load and perform certain functions.
Bench Top Autoclaves – These autoclaves are usually used in laboratories and other similar places for sterilizing small items. They can be placed on a laboratory bench or table and fit inside standard refrigerator units or fridges.
Floor Standing Autoclaves – Such autoclaves hold more significant equipment or samples than the bench models. They can even hold racks of trays, making them suitable for commercial applications where there is a need to sterilize larger loads. In addition, they usually have a door that opens on the front side to make loading and unloading easier.
Load-lock autoclaves – Load-lock is commonly used for situations where there are only a few heat-sensitive materials but where the sterilization process must be completely enclosed and closed off from the external environment.
Steam Pressure Autoclaves – These autoclaves will often be very large to accommodate larger or multiple loads at any one time. They can also be used for sterilizing pipettes, valves, or other laboratory equipment that may not fit into smaller lab autoclaves.
In a nutshell, Autoclaves are an effective way to ensure that your laboratory equipment is properly sterilized before reusing it. These units have a variety of applications and may be used in a wide range of facilities. This includes the home laboratory, laboratories in research centers, medical clinics, and government offices. However, they should always be used with caution as they can cause severe physical damage to sterilized items if not used properly.