Last Updated on October 27, 2023


Learn about the role of autoclave sterilization in inactivation of waste potentially containing coronavirus (COVID-19)

WHO, CDC, and other authoritative bodies outline the need for autoclave sterilization to inactivate lab waste containing coronavirus (COVID-19).

As a distributor of laboratory autoclave sterilizers, which you can use for decontamination of bio-waste to prevent dispersal of biohazardous material, we have been monitoring developments with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2), also known as COVID-19.

Handling, processing, and disposal of waste that might be infected with coronavirus (2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2), including but not limited to coronavirus (COVID-19) Real-Time PCR assays (testing kits) require strict adherence to laboratory biosafety protocol as outlined by organizations including the WHO (World Health Organization), CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).

Please find select information and resources on laboratory biosafety related to the proper sterilization and disposal of waste containing coronavirus (2019-nCoV/SARS-CoV-2) specimens, PCR Assays (testing kits), and other disposable items used in coronavirus (COVID-19) laboratory research and testing.

Autoclaves and Safe Disposal of Laboratory Bio-waste 

As outlined in many guidelines covering the safe disposal of laboratory bio-waste, the use of autoclave sterilizers to deactivate pathogens and decontaminate potentially infectious waste prior to disposal is integral in preventing the spread of disease to laboratory workers, waste management personnel, and the public.

The importance of bio-waste sterilization is reflected in the core facility design requirements in the WHO’s Laboratory biosafety guidance related to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which states that “appropriate methods for the decontamination of waste, for example, disinfectants and autoclaves, must be available in proximity to the laboratory.”¹


As a fundamental aim of biosafety programs to contain potentially harmful pathogens, in the CDC’s Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, it is recommended that laboratories of all BSLs (biosafety levels) not only create secondary barriers which include separating laboratory work areas from public access, making available decontamination facilities (e.g., autoclave), and handwashing facilities.²


Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is classified as BSL 2, for which many authoritative sources include autoclave sterilization as a requirement prior to disposal for laboratory waste potentially containing it. Source: NIH NIAID.


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Managing Waste Associated with Coronavirus (COVID-19)

For laboratories handling specimens potentially containing coronavirus (2019-nCoV / SARS-CoV-2), one of the most critical biosafety tasks is managing waste that includes but is not limited to real-time PCR assays (test kits) and other disposables including gloves, pipette tips, and vessels containing specimens.  Noting the principle that we should handle all samples as if they are infectious³, following the proper biosafety precautions includes the decontamination of all waste that has come into contact with all specimens prior to disposal.

A Biosafety Level (BSL) 2, the advised level for handling and processing of COVID-19 test specimens potentially containing coronavirus (2019-nCoV / SARS-CoV-2) ⁴, many sources cite the use of autoclaves and other decontamination methods to treat bio-waste before disposal.

In Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the CDC instructs “handle laboratory waste from testing suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patient specimens as all other biohazardous waste in the laboratory.”⁵  According to CDC BSL 2 guidelines, all laboratory waste, including all cultures, stocks, and other potentially infectious materials, should be treated via autoclave, chemical disinfection, incineration, or other validated decontamination methods before disposal.⁶

Sometimes, guidelines explicitly endorse the use of autoclaves to treat laboratory waste before disposal, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s OSHA, which clearly states on its COVID-19 safety guideline page to “use an autoclave to inactivate infectious material in all waste prior to disposal.”⁷

Autoclaves for Biosafety in Waste Management

As outlined, many guidelines endorse the use of autoclaves to inactivate potentially infectious laboratory waste prior to disposal. As part of creating secondary barriers that prevent the infectious disease from spreading to laboratory workers, waste management personnel, and the public. When moving to a higher BSL, the proximity of autoclaves moves from within the facility, to within the laboratory, to being a double-door pass-through autoclave next to a Class III biological safety cabinet.⁸

This positive relationship between higher safety needs and the proximity of the autoclave may suggest that the closer an autoclave is to the area in which potentially infectious pathogens are being handled, the safer it is in preventing the potential spread of the virus within and outside the laboratory and potentially infecting countless individuals.

Laboratories in immediate need of a primary or secondary autoclave may be interested in learning about TOMY top-loading autoclaves. Because of their compact size, portability, a setup that requires no installation, and ability to operate anywhere in proximity to a source of power, they can be placed next to a biosafety cabinet or at the end of a workbench in any laboratory.

For information on features, pricing, and availability, please email, call 858-800-3900, or use the contact form to contact an autoclave expert.


Disclaimer: TOMY autoclaves for research use only. Information in this blog entry is not meant to substitute for proper research, execution, and maintenance of laboratory biosafety practices. Please check the most up-to-date information from authoritative sources for laboratory biosafety and adhere to applicable federal, state, and local biosafety regulations.


²https://www.cdc.gov/labs/pdf/CDC-BiosafetyMicrobiologicalBiomedicalLaboratories-2009-P.PDF p.23
³PrimerdesignTM Ltd Coronavirus (COVID-19) genesig® Real-Time PCR assay Instructions for Use (IFU)https://www.genesig.com/assets/files/Path_Coronavirus_COVID_19_CE_IVD_IFU_Issue_10.pdf?timestamp=1582079599
⁴Frequently Asked Questions about Laboratory Biosafety and SARS-CoV-2 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/lab/lab-biosafety-guidelines.html
⁵Interim Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Handling and Processing Specimens Associated with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/lab/lab-biosafety-guidelines.html
⁶Based on CDC Biosafety Level 2 guidelines concerning Laboratory Facilities (Secondary Barriers) which states that “A method for decontaminating all laboratory wastes should be available in the facility (e.g., autoclave, chemical disinfection, incineration, or other validated decontamination method).” Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories 5th Edition https://www.cdc.gov/labs/pdf/CDC-BiosafetyMicrobiologicalBiomedicalLaboratories-2009-P.PDF p.38
⁷U.S. Department of Labor OSHA Covid-19 Informational page.  https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/covid-19/controlprevention.html#laboratory
⁸From autoclave use in BSL 2, BSL 3 and BSL 4 guidelines.  CDC Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories 5th Edition https://www.cdc.gov/labs/pdf/CDC-BiosafetyMicrobiologicalBiomedicalLaboratories-2009-P.PDF



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