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10 Easy ways to wreck your autoclave

You know how to wreck your microscope (yes, we’ve done that ourselves), and how to repurpose them when they’re old and obsolete. We’re busy brainstorming ways to destroy our centrifuge without annihilating the laboratory, so we’ll get back to you on that…

Here’s our least favorite techniques to ruin that larger-than-life-sized autoclave.

(Please don’t try this at home)

1. Not using secondary containment.

Is your media bottle sitting directly on the rack or the chamber floor? When bottles burst (and sometimes they do), glass shards and molten media can block the drain, causing scalding hot water to pool in the chamber. Metal or plastic containment buckets are lifesavers when only one autoclave is available to a group of microbiologists. There’s less inconvenience in washing out a bucket compared to shutting the autoclave down to scrub out the chamber.

2. Using secondary containment…that’s rated lower than 121°C.

Not any ol’ plastic tub will do! 121°C rated autoclave buckets are perfect for typical use, except when you’re deactivating prions at temperatures higher. There it will meet the same fate as every other off-the-shelf plastic tub: melting, oozing, and petrifying as a cycle ends, where it could cement your bottle to the rack, the rack to the autoclave, and even seal the drain!

3. Brutally force the door.

When automation is too slow, think twice about pushing the door along. A strong arm may damage the mechanics, leaving you out of luck with a broken autoclave that just won’t run…and a shrieking alarm that always will.

4. Ignore maintenance signs.

Wait a minute…someone actually did that? It’s a brave move to ignore “Out of Order” signs when a user really doesn’t know why the autoclave is offline in the first place! Running a cycle on a broken autoclave can make a small problem become gigantic, wreck the equipment in an entirely new way, ruin your media and possibly make the equipment become an immediate hazard to personnel and facilities. At best, that autoclave will only be out of commission only slightly longer than before…

5. Use Gravity/dry cycle mode for liquids.

A speedy exhaust may blow the loosened caps off of the bottle tops. A sealed bottle could burst. Of course, couple this cycle mode with….

6. Over filled bottles.

And a fast exhaust cycle can cause your reagents to boil over inside the chamber. (Didn’t you remember the autoclave bucket?)

7. Sterilize lab biohazard in a clean autoclave when another is for “dirty” material only.

Ever worry about cross contamination in your research? How about cross contamination of your autoclaves – and into your “sterile” media? …Not to mention that a stew of hot lab waste smells absolutely horrible, no matter which oven it cooks in.

8. Leave it to chance.

Unmanaged equipment out-of-sight, out-of-mind, can easily fall into a state of neglect and disrepair. With the integrity of your experiments at stake, a proactive lab manager can swiftly respond to problems and train every new user to the same standard.

9. Forget to report problems.

From the rudimentary temperature wheel and pressure gauges to detailed electronic receipts of an entire cycle, this is often the first warning sign before bigger problems crop up. If you don’t tell anyone to come investigate when you notice something amiss, the bet is now on the biological indicator returning positive after the next cycle because the equipment may not sterilize correctly.

10. Autoclave angry chemicals.

Splish, splash don’t turn the lab into a bubble bath. Some chemicals should always be kept far away from the hot environment of the autoclave. Like detergent solutions. And corrosives that will react with the metal innards of the chamber. And volatile organics and everything flammable, for example. Look for another way to sterilize these when mixing up all of your own reagents.

Is there anything else you can add to this list?

1 Comment

  1. JackBean on October 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Concerning point 7. We’ve had recently discussed the use of autoclave for media and waste (actually we always used one autoclave, but this was about using both at the same time). Anyway, the conclusion was that the autoclave should sterilize it all, so you should not get any contamination from the waste. So what’s the reasoning behind using even different autoclaves for each?

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