Autoclaves and steam sterilizers often have preset cycles for various loads types. Small tabletop gravity sterilizers (which are most typically used in small physician, dental or veterinary offices) have sterilization cycle selections. These preset selections change the sterilization time and the sterilizer’s temperature and pressure settings. We often get asked by the user, what cycle they should be selected; so the following is a brief guideline for standard steam sterilization cycle parameters:
Flash Sterilization Cycle (or Unwrapped Sterilization Cycle)
This cycle is the shortest sterilization cycle. This cycle can be used when it is not necessary to wrap the instruments that are being sterilized in any kind of bags, sterilization wrap or pouches. This sterilization cycle parameter is generally is preset to reach an exposure temperature of 270° or over for a total of 3 minutes with 30 minutes of drying time. The instruments sterilized in this cycle should be placed loosely on the sterilizer’s trays.
Pouches or (Wrapped)
This cycle is for when instruments are placed in sterilization pouches or separated with sterilization wrap. This Cycle typically is preset for an exposure temperature of 270° or over for a total of 5-7 minutes followed by 30 minutes of drying time. These pouches can tend to hold moisture if not dried properly after the cycle. In order to ensure proper drying, the air has to enter the chamber during the dry cycle via either opening the sterilizer door or pumping air into the chamber thru a HEPA filter.
Packs (Surgical Wrapped Cloth Packs)
For sterilizer surgical packs wrapped with a textile wrap that is for larger bulk surgery packs the “packs cycle” should be selected. This cycle has a longer sterilization exposure time of 30 minutes minimum to allow for the steam to properly penetrate the packs. Generally, a lower temperature of 250° is preset with a dry time of 30 minutes minimum.
Liquids (Liquids held in Glassware)
Liquids are generally sterilized at 250° with a 30 minute exposure time however the cycle times can vary depending upon the number of liquids being sterilized. The Liquid cycle has a slow vent process which only allows the chamber to vent at a slow rate of 1lb per minute. These sterilization cycle parameters prevent the liquids from escaping the chamber and into the sterilizer during the exhaust.