Treat your autoclave with TLC

July 1, 2005
I can almost hear readers saying, “Dave, you just wrote a column about autoclaves! What’s the deal? Is that all you know about - autoclaves?”

I can almost hear readers saying, “Dave, you just wrote a column about autoclaves! What’s the deal? Is that all you know about - autoclaves?”

The reason autoclaves are such a “big deal” is the frequency with which the sterilizers need repair. About 20 years ago, Healthco Dental Supply did a survey of their service calls. They found 60 percent of all service calls were for autoclaves and film processors.

From my experience, I don’t think that number has changed significantly. Do you know what two pieces of equipment in your office require the most maintenance from the office staff? You’re right - autoclaves and film processors. What a coincidence!

Something we don’t know is the percentage of service calls on film processors and autoclaves that can be directly attributed to a lack of TLC. I can tell you many stories about things that we have seen - and I doubt any service technician will dispute me when I say that at least 35 percent of the repairs on those two pieces of equipment are preventable.

Please, doctor, don’t go and throw this article in front of your assistant and blame her for all of your equipment problems, although it might be a good subject for your next staff meeting. Clean sterilizers are not always trouble-free, and some really poorly kept ones somehow just keep on going. However, your odds are better with a well-kept unit.

How to clean your autoclave

This method of cleaning is for the more common, chamber type of autoclave. It might differ somewhat from your operator’s manual which accompanied your sterilizer. If you have been cleaning your unit regularly and have a good, clean sterilizer, we do not want to disrupt your methods. Then again, you might find this method more to your liking.

Get some CLR® from your hardware or discount store. This product is very good for many uses, and I keep some on hand at home and we always had some in our shop. You also need some nonmetallic scouring pads. The Scotch-Brite® pads are very good.

First, you need a good place to do the cleaning. On a cabinet, next to a sink, is the best place. If this option is not available to you, have a large waste basket handy. You will need to tip the autoclave forward during this process to empty the sterilizer chamber. If your autoclave is large, have someone help you when it’s time to clean it.

Remove all trays and racks so the chamber is empty. If you do not know how to get the racks and trays out, call your dealer or service tech and ask. We have found tons of ruined instruments, ortho wire, burs, and other items under the trays.

This method of cleaning works better with a warm chamber. Pour a small amount of CLR directly into the chamber. Spread the liquid over the bottom half. After allowing the solution to soak for several minutes, scrub the chamber with the scouring pad. If the solution becomes too dirty, tip the unit and dump it out - then, reapply. When the chamber is clean, dump all of the CLR out. Rinse out any remaining solution with water.

Next, pour a small amount (1 to 1/2 oz.) of CLR (or your manufacturer’s cleaner) into the reservoir with the water that is in the reservoir. Run two regular cycles, and abort any automatic drying cycle. Drain the reservoir and refill with enough distilled water to run a short flush cycle. Drain the reservoir and refill.

If you can see into the reservoir when it is empty and it contains some debris in the bottom, get it out. (Your high-speed suction works well here.) Any debris left behind can damage valves and other parts.

Wipe the door gasket weekly with a wet cloth. Also clean the facing where the door gasket meets the chamber.

Although chemiclaves, statims, and other styles are not depicted here, they still need TLC. Use what you can of these tips to keep these types of autoclaves clean.

Dave Cheney is a retired service technician from Patterson Dental with more than 30 years in the dental industry. He is the author of “Doctor, Did You Check the Breaker, Too?,” a manual written to assist the dental staff in analyzing and performing minor equipment repairs when a technician is not warranted or not readily available. To order the manual as a book or CD, call (800) 695-0943. You may also order online through his Web site at

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