1. Top or Front Loading?
A Top Loader has a smaller ‘footprint’ and accommodates taller items but loading/unloading can be more difficult. A Front Loader is easier to load, has better steam circulation, and is more difficult to overfill, but has less useable space for a given volume.
2. Electrically or Steam Heated?
Electrical heating by heaters inside the chamber is easy to maintain and service but cooling will be slower unless the water charge can be emptied. Steam heating has the fastest heat up/cooling times but a reliable supply of dry steam is required. There will be additional costs for installing steam reducing and condensate return sets.
3. Can a single sterilizer be used for multiple load types?
Generally all autoclaves are capable of sterilizing all types of loads, but in order to get the most from your considerable investment it is worth investigating what options might be available to more efficiently process the different types of materials. A waste load can be processed far more effectively by using options such as vacuum and free steaming, but using these on a media load could lead to disaster. Some laboratories use a different autoclave for each load type to avoid cross contamination, but for smaller laboratories this can easily be overcome by having pre-set selectable programs for each load type. Once programmed and ‘locked off’ these cycles can also be qualified.
4. How much space is required?
You must consider where and how the autoclave is to be installed. Will there be enough space for service access, and can the autoclave be moved into the suggested location via stairs, corridors, tight corners, and doors? Any reputable supplier will be able to provide assistance, advice, and information on these factors.
5. Do I need a canopy or extractor hood for my autoclave?
Always an advantage, but not essential. An extractor hood will help to reduce steam and heat build-up in the room, and help to reduce odors. If disposable plastic ware is being processed then the possible build-up of potentially harmful fumes is eliminated.
6. How do you prove sterilization?
Today more than ever an emphasis is being put on the ability to demonstrate an autoclave is being used properly and is correctly set up. An autoclave should have the option of a data print-out to prove a cycle has been completed, and required parameters met. Many can also transfer information securely to a computer for storage and analysis. At a minimum, a thermocouple entry port should be available to allow a remote chart recorder to be used. A second cable entry port should also be available to facilitate testing and calibration of the autoclave for external monitoring and approval requirements. Most manufacturers take account of these factors in their designs and many are expert in testing, and can give valuable advice and offer additional features to optimize autoclave performance.