In addition to the original purchase price, long-term maintenance and repairs can
add a significant amount to the cost of an autoclave.
Autoclave Costs: Much More Than You Think
Shopping for an autoclave? Chances are that this is your first time or you’re not satisfied with the autoclave you have and the price you paid for it.
One of the largest concerns is the cost- if you’ve dealt with other equipment you’ll know that not only initial purchase costs but that ongoing maintenance and repair costs also need to be factored in the equation. Whether it’s utility costs, cost of replacing door gaskets, and worst of all, costs of repairing that dud of an autoclave that broke way too soon, you’ll be paying more than you expected and in the process, regret the decision that you made on the purchase.
I’ll be covering initial purchase costs, long-term upkeep, and maintenance costs, as well as other factors that ratchet up the costs so that you can know what to expect financially when purchasing an autoclave.
Initial purchase cost
Chances are also that you’re overwhelmed with the tremendous number of choices for autoclaves and you don’t know where to start. You may have started crawling the web and logging different models and their costs, and choosing one that meets your budget.
If this is your approach and you’re searching first for autoclaves by cost, stop right now, because you’re wasting valuable time, and may end up with an autoclave that won’t meet your needs!
Before starting any search, know what you’re looking for in terms of size, configuration, and features.
First of all, you’ll need to know what you’ll be autoclaving and what kind of capacity you’ll need. Though you may sometimes only autoclave a few pieces of glassware or utensils, other times you’ll need to autoclave many items, and thus, you should think about the maximum amount that you’ll need.
You’ll then need to figure out the dimensions of these items and how much total space that all the items put together will require. This is tricky, because of unique shapes, and how different items will fit together.
A good rule of thumb is to think of the largest item that you’ll be autoclaving and how many of these you’ll need on any given day. Though height, width, and depth (or diameter) will all be important to take into account, overall, the vertical clearance is likely to be the largest hurdle and thus the most important factor to consider, which differs greatly depending on whether your autoclave is front-loading or top-loading (see the section below).
No matter what other factors you take into account, make sure to accommodate your largest items and you’ll avoid getting an autoclave that is too small for your needs.
People often find that they’ll need more space than what a typical microwave-sized benchtop autoclave offers, but aren’t able to invest in a large autoclave that you’ll find in a university lab.
In terms of bang-for-your-buck, this is where top-loading or vertical autoclaves come in handy. Though autoclave chambers are cylindrical in both front-loading and top-loading autoclaves, in the latter the chamber sits vertically and accommodates stackable baskets. With these, you can fit a large amount of media inside, including large items like 2-liter bottles or flasks and bioreactors/fermentors.
If you’re autoclaving tall and large items like bioreactors or fermentors, it is important to know that top-loading autoclaves are the most affordable for accommodating large items, due to the compatibility with the vertically-oriented chamber. So if you’re looking to do more than just a few vials or bottles, a top-loading type may be your best choice of an autoclave.
When looking for an autoclave you’ll also need to consider special features. One of the main additional features is the vacuum feature. Whether you’ll need this or not solely depends on what you’ll be autoclaving.
If you’re autoclaving standard glassware, liquids, or smooth-surfaced items that don’t have hard-to-reach places or air pockets, a standard gravity autoclave will do.
If you’re autoclaving fabrics, other porous items, or items inside sterile envelopes, you’ll need the vacuum function. For more information on this please see our vlog on types of autoclaves.
Once you know the size, configuration, and necessary special features on your autoclave, you’ll finally be ready to start looking at prices.
As you make your way through, you’ll notice that there’s a pretty large range of prices, and not much consistency in value, ie. what you get for the price you pay.
I suspect that the reason behind these outrageous prices is that manufacturers know that they can overcharge because people are willing to pay high prices on equipment that they’re familiar with and don’t bother to look outside of what they know.
Don’t ask “how high?” when these outdated manufacturers tell you to jump for their high prices, especially when this equipment doesn’t cut it in terms of capacity and quality. Would you pay the price of a luxury car for an outdated, underperforming car that your father drove 30 years ago? If the answer is “no,” then don’t overpay for an outdated autoclave either!
The Price Rule
In the new autoclave market, the basic rule is that if it’s priced above $10,000 and doesn’t have at least a 40L chamber capacity, then don’t even consider it! If you need special features like a vacuum function, that will add several thousand to the price, but if you’re looking for a standard gravity autoclave, if you’re getting less than a 40-liter capacity, don’t pay over $10,000; it’s pretty much priced way higher than it should be.
Also, consider the configuration– for the same chamber volume, you’ll fit way more inside a top-loading autoclave, because you’re using the whole chamber, not just the box space built in a sideways cylinder on a front-loading autoclave.
If you’ve ever been in a lab with an autoclave, you’ll know that the costs don’t end once you’ve purchased it. This includes both maintenance and repair costs, which can be significantly different depending on the autoclave type.
The most common type of autoclave maintenance is a lid gasket change. This is something that can’t be avoided because the proper operating temperature and pressure depend on a lid gasket in good working condition, free of cracks and deterioration. Your autoclave’s life also literally depends on a good lid gasket, because steam leaks can damage an autoclave’s electronics and render it useless in a short amount of time if not changed.
The Gasket Cost
Lid gasket replacement costs differ wildly, depending on the material and how often they require changing. Certain lid gaskets can require changing in as little as one month. Your cost is basically the lid gasket cost multiplied by the number of times it needs to be changed over the lifetime of your autoclave. Usually, at around a couple hundred apiece, this can drive your autoclave’s maintenance costs up to thousands of dollars per year!
TOMY SX-Series autoclave lid gaskets are quite unusual, being much thicker and sturdier in build than the flimsy, thin rubber band-like lid gaskets found on many front-loading autoclaves, which are the main culprit in the astronomical maintenance costs of many front-loading autoclaves. TOMY SX-Series lid gaskets require changing once every 1,000 operating hours, which works out to be once every 1 – 3 years. Starting at around $550 a piece, compared to the total price for changing the gasket every month on other types of autoclaves, the TOMY lid gasket alone will save you thousands of dollars in the long run.
So, always remember to factor gasket replacements in your maintenance costs, and choose an autoclave that will keep this to a minimum, ideally a couple hundred a year for moderate use and no more than $600 a year for heavy use.
Autoclaves breaking down and the associated repair costs can be extremely costly. Not only is this devastating to your overall budget, with so many things to do around the lab it’s simply one of the last things that you will want to deal with. Because of the numerous mechanisms in certain types of autoclaves and the tremendous heat and pressure that they operate under, autoclave break-downs are quite common. Some autoclaves, especially large core facility autoclaves seem to be broken as much as they working.
If you have ever dealt with autoclaves being broken you know that it is quite expensive. It may cost a couple of hundred dollars or more per hour to have a specialist come to diagnose and work on your autoclave. There are also part costs as well- burnt out heaters and electronics can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to replace. This can easily add up to several thousand every time your autoclave breaks down. Just multiply the thousands of dollars a breakdown can cost by the frequency that they break down and you’ll get the long-term cost of repairing your autoclave, which can easily exceed the original purchase price.
Saving on Repair Costs
It’s not only the monetary cost of the repair itself, but the time lost due to the breakdown can have an even more devastating effect on your operation. Basically, to reduce this cost, you’ll want to go with an autoclave that has a reputation to last and is known for quality and durability.
TOMY SX-Series autoclaves are quite simple in their design with few moving mechanical parts and are built with a sturdy gasket to keep your autoclave running for years. In Japan, where they’re manufactured, the average lifetime exceeds 15 years, which is quite remarkable because it means that most of the first generation models are still up and running. By making sure that you’re regularly changing your gasket, you can prevent problems associated with leaking heat and steam and ensure that you’ll be saving money on repairs. Basically, a small investment in maintenance will go a long way in saving you lots in the future.
In summary, the cost of your autoclave is the aggregate cost of the purchase price, and costs to maintain and repair your autoclave. By taking the time to know what features you need, you can easily find a great autoclave that meets these needs at a reasonable cost that will also save you lots on repair and maintenance in the future.
Thank you for visiting and I look forward to assisting you with any questions that you may have!
Tomy SX-Series Autoclave Sterilizer
Saves You Lots