7 Tips for Sterilizing Medical Instruments - American Hospital Supply

7 Tips for Sterilizing Medical Instruments

Brian Barkeley ·

Healthcare facilities all over the world use medical instruments and equipment on patients all day long. These instruments can come into contact with germs, bacteria, and other microorganisms that run the risk of spreading harmful infections and diseases to medical professionals and patients. Therefore, it’s very important to clean this equipment properly to avoid the spread of infection. Sterilization is the method that medical professionals use to clean their instruments. Here are seven tips for sterilizing medical instruments that will help you ensure the safety of patients and medical personnel.

Benefits of Sterilization

Nurses, doctors, and surgeons use medical instruments to perform procedures and surgeries on patients. During these procedures, the medical instruments make contact with the patient’s tissue, mucous membranes, and bodily fluids. If the instruments are not sterile, they can spread germs and bacteria that can cause infection. Therefore, as a best practice to ensure the safety of both patients and medical professionals, all instruments must undergo a sterilization process. Sterilization removes any leftover bodily fluid, germs, bacteria, and foreign particles that could be left behind after use. Sterilizing also helps keep the instruments and equipment from rusting or corroding over time.

The Process of Sterilizing Medical Instruments

As mentioned previously, sterilization helps eliminate bodily fluids, germs, bacteria, and other harmful pathogens that medical instruments may come in contact with during procedures and surgeries. It’s important to use clean instruments on patients to avoid spreading any kind of infection or disease. You must follow a series of procedural steps to clean, disinfect, and sterilize your medical instruments.


The first step in the sterilization process is cleaning the medical instruments. This step requires that you wash your instruments with soap and warm water so that they are clean to the visible eye.


Disinfecting is the second step in the sterilization process. In this step, you will use liquid chemicals to remove any bacteria and kill germs that may be lingering on the instruments.


Sterilization is the third and final step in the process. In this step, you will use a sterilization method of your choice to eliminate any remaining bacteria and microorganisms that could cause infection or disease.

Determining Sterilization Level

All medical instruments need to be clean in order for a doctor or nurse to use them on a patient. However, not all instruments need the same level of sterilization. There are three separate sterilization levels: low-level disinfection, high-level disinfection, and high-level sterilization. Medical instruments are grouped into one of three categories to determine the level of sterilization they need. When deciding which group an object will fall into, you must look at how medical professionals plan to use the instrument. For example, the more invasive the procedure, the higher the level of sterilization must be.

Non-Critical Objects

Non-critical objects need low-level disinfection, as they only come into contact with a patient’s skin. An example of a non-critical object would be a stethoscope.

Semi-Critical Objects

Semi-critical objects need high-level disinfection, as they come into contact with a patient’s mucous membranes. An example of a semi-critical object would be an endoscope.

Critical Objects

Critical objects need high-level sterilization, as they come into contact with a patient’s sterile tissues. An example of a critical object would be a surgical instrument.

Sterilization Methods

There are many different methods of sterilization. It’s essential that you use the right sterilization method for your medical instruments to ensure they are clean and safe to use on patients. If you use an improper method of sterilization, you can increase the risk of transmitting germs, bacteria, and pathogens that cause the spread of infections and diseases. Therefore, you’ll want to make sure that you are using the proper method to avoid causing harm or illness to patients and medical professionals.

Steam Sterilization

One of the most common methods of sterilization in healthcare facilities today is steam sterilization. Steam sterilization utilizes a machine called an autoclave to sterilize medical instruments. An autoclave is one of the safest and cheapest ways to clean equipment. Autoclaves apply heat and intense pressure to rid instruments of any microorganisms that may spread infection. To prevent damage to your medical instruments when using an autoclave, you can wrap them in sterilization wrap or smaller items in a sterilization pouch in accordance with the autoclave manufacturer's instructions for use. 

Dry Heat Sterilization

Dry heat sterilization is another method that medical professionals use to sterilize equipment. However, dry heat is not as effective as steam sterilization. Because of this, professionals tend to only use dry heat with objects that would experience damage from the steam sterilization process. Due to the high temperatures of dry heat, this is not an appropriate method of sterilization for plastic materials, as they could potentially melt during the process. In addition, dry heat sterilization also uses higher temperatures and takes longer than steam sterilization.

Plasma Gas Sterilization

Plasma gas sterilization is a method that uses a chamber with low-temperature gas plasma that is hydrogen peroxide-based to kill microorganisms on medical instruments. This method is more costly, but it is safe for the environment and incredibly effective. Plasma gas sterilization is also an appropriate method for sterilizing equipment that is sensitive to moisture. The vaporized hydrogen peroxide sterilizes the instruments when added to the chamber. Once you remove the vapor from the chamber, it produces a lower temperature plasma that ensures complete sterilization.

Chemical Sterilization

Chemical sterilization utilizes chemical solutions like bleach, ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and ethylene oxide to sterilize equipment. Chemical sterilization is commonly used where the aforementioned methods are not feasible for heat sensitive medical devices. Mitricide® OPA Plus is a high-level disinfectant used to reprocess medical devices. The active ingredient is ortho-phthalaldehyde making it glutaraldehyde-free solution. With this method, you submerge your medical instruments within the chemical solution, and the chemicals kill any bacteria and pathogens that are present. However, this method is not suitable for instruments and materials that are highly sensitive, such as fiber optics and biological materials.

Now that you have a better understanding of several essential sterilization tips for medical instruments, you can implement these strategies at your healthcare facility. Check out American Hospital Supply’s extensive selection of hospital equipment today. With properly sterilized instruments and equipment, medical professionals all over the world can save lives and perform amazing procedures.

7 Tips for Sterilizing Medical Instruments

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