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Autoclaving is an efficient and effective sterilization method for labs, breweries, dentist offices, tattoo parlors, and other places that consistently need sterilized items. However, while autoclaves are effective for many materials, some articles are either unsafe in the autoclave or will degrade when subjected to heat, pressure, and steam.

We’ve already explored how autoclaves are commonly used and how to autoclave delicate articles. Now, we’ll get into what you can and cannot autoclave and why. This article will specifically focus on gravity autoclave cycles.

Can You Autoclave It?

Before we get started, please note that while we did our best to include as much information and as many materials as possible, this list isn’t exhaustive. If you have items that aren’t listed, contact your manufacturer to double-check that they are safe to autoclave.

Can you autoclave glycerol?

Yes, you can autoclave glycerol. Autoclaves’ high pressure and temperature effectively sterilize glycerol without significantly altering its chemical structure or properties, making it safe for use in various biological and chemical applications.

While technically you can autoclave 100% glycerol, it’s less practical than using a 50% solution since it’s generally not viscous enough in its pure form.

Can you autoclave glucose?

While glucose and glycerol are molecularly similar, you risk degrading glucose if you autoclave it. You can generally see it degrade as it visibly discolors after an autoclave cycle.

Glucose is sensitive to heat and has been shown to produce glucose degradation products (GDPs) when autoclaved at 111, 116, and 121°C. Since GDPs may be toxic, you will need to use a different method for sterilization.

Can you autoclave plastic?

Yes and no. There are so many varieties of plastic that to get an accurate answer, we have to break it down by subset.

You can autoclave:

  • PFA
  • Polyacetal
  • Polymethylpentene
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polyetheretherketone (PEEK)
  • PTFE (Teflon) or Teflon Tubing
  • Silicone
  • Viton
You can autoclave, but only for a limited number of cycles:

  • Fluoroelastomer Tubing- Once
  • Polycarbonate (PC)- Weakened when you autoclave repeatedly and do not autoclave for longer than 20 minutes at 121
  • Polysulfone (PSF)
  • Silicone tubing- Once

Do not autoclave:

    • Acrylic
    • HDPE
    • LPDE
    • Nylon
    • Phenol
    • Polyester
    • Polyethylene (PE) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE)
    • Polystyrene (PS)
    • Polyurethane or Polyurethane tubing
    • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
    • Trizol
    • Vinyl tubing

Technically, you can autoclave everything on this list, but the plastic will either melt or weaken. Only autoclave these types of plastic when you need to dispose of them, and make sure you use biohazard bags to combat the risk of combustion.

Can you autoclave materials containing bleach?

No. You don’t want to autoclave anything volatile, corrosive, or flammable. You can neutralize bleach with equal parts 1% sodium and thiosulfate, but you must ensure all bleach has been neutralized before you autoclave it. However, we don’t recommend it.

Can you autoclave metals?

Stainless steel, including 304, 204 L, 316, and 316 L, is generally safe to autoclave. However, you should passivate any metals before autoclaving them since any free iron on the surface can cause corrosion.

Other metals are more hit or miss. For the most part, you can treat corrosion-prone metal by conversion-coating it with Type II or Type III anodizing.

Can you autoclave fabric?

Autoclaving fabric depends significantly on the type of fabric you’re working with, and you’ll also want to take some preparatory steps.

You can autoclave 100% cotton with no issues. As a natural fiber, cotton doesn’t melt and has an ignition temperature of around 400 °C, so you don’t have to worry about combustion. The same goes for other natural fibers.

However, anything synthetic—including polyester, acrylic, nylon, and any other plastic-based fabric—will likely melt at the temperatures required for sterilization. But, like other plastics, they’re safe to autoclave if you intend to dispose of the article and place it in a biohazard bag.

Can you autoclave paper?

As gravity cycles are steam-based, you won’t be able to autoclave paper without water damage. Paper has a relatively low combustion point, so you should never place it directly inside an autoclave. However, you can put paper in biohazardous waste bags if you need to dispose of it.

Can you autoclave pipette tips?

Pipette tips come in various materials, so whether or not you can autoclave them depends on their composition. If they’re made from run-of-the-mill plastic, you’ll be able to use the autoclave for disposal prep, but if they’re made from denser polypropylene, you should be able to get a lot more use out of them.

Items that are unsafe to autoclave

While the above sections are primarily concerned with whether or not the article will survive autoclaving, some items should not be autoclaved for your safety. These include:

  • Anything radioactive, toxic, reactive, or flammable
  • Any sealed liquids
  • Anything containing carcinogens or mutagens
  • Acids
  • Seawater
  • Chlorides or sulfates
  • Organic solvent
  • Chlorine
    Bleach that hasn’t been neutralized

This isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list. If you want to autoclave any items that might be dangerous, make sure to contact your distributor first.

Autoclave with Caution

Understanding what can and cannot be autoclaved is essential for maintaining a safe and sterile environment. By following the guidelines and knowing the limitations of your equipment, you can ensure that your sterilization processes are effective and safe. Like all powerful tools, autoclaves must be used with knowledge and caution.

If you’re looking for a convenient, portable autoclave, TOMY has what you need. Contact us today to learn more.

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