What Is the Definition of Autoclave?

Autoclaves are used in sterilization. The advantage of using an autoclave is that it can reach temperatures higher than boiling water alone, so it can kill not only bacteria but also bacterial spores, which tend to be resistant. Autoclaves are used in laboratories to assure items such as glassware and surgical equipment are sterile.




  • A rudimentary autoclave was first created in 1879 by French microbiologist Charles Chamberlain. He worked with the famed Louis Pasteur on his research into sterilization and pasteurization.


  • Autoclaves are built around the principal that the boiling point of water increases when it is under pressure. At 15 pounds of pressure per square inch, the boiling point of water increases from 100 degrees Celsius to 121 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, all life forms are killed within 15 minutes.


  • Autoclaves are filled with water and work by creating steam within an enclosed environment, which builds up pressure. The air within the autoclave is gradually replaced with steam, which can reach higher temperatures than the air. High-temperature steam can surround and infiltrate the items, even reaching within the crevices in stainless steel instruments. This process kills all bacteria, viruses and bacterial spores.



  • Autoclaving allows materials to be sterilized within a relatively short time frame without the use of reagents. It also allows objects such as surgical and dental equipment to be reused. Therefore, autoclaving is an environmentally friendly option.


  • To assure the autoclave has sterilized the objects within it, it is important to note the maximum temperature and how long it was held there. There are also indicators that can be purchased and placed on the items in the autoclaves, which will change color when they have been held at the appropriate temperature for a certain length of time.


  • Autoclaves can be extremely dangerous. Pressure builds up within the autoclave and if the door is not sealed properly it can open with great force and cause injury. If liquids are autoclaved, care must be taken to have adequate head space in the container and to not have it sealed. Liquids also must be cooled slowly after the process is finished.


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