Risk Management & Safety

Autoclaves are commonly used equipment in laboratories. Each autoclave has unique characteristics. Review and understand the owner's manual before using any autoclave for the first time and as needed thereafter. Contact the manufacturer to request on-site training as needed. Ensure the owner's manual is readily available in case questions arise during operation.

Autoclaves operate at high temperatures and pressures. Primary hazards include:

  • Steam burns resulting from contact with steam escaping autoclave
  • Burns resulting from physical contact with the autoclave structure
  • Burns resulting from handling of vessels of boiling liquids removed from the autoclave
  • Explosive breakage of glass vessels during opening and unloading

When using an autoclave

  • Before use, check inside the autoclave to assure it is empty & contains no broken glass
  • Load the autoclave properly (as described in the owner's manual)
  • Loosen caps on liquid containers to prevent bottles from shattering during pressurization
  • Use secondary containment to catch spills (a tray with solid bottom & walls works well)
  • Ensure plastic materials are compatible with autoclaving before initial use in autoclave
  • Glassware should never be placed directly on the autoclave bottom (instead use tray as secondary containment)
  • Assure door of autoclave is latched & appropriate cycle is selected prior to initiation of cycle
  • Use heat-resistant gloves when opening the autoclave door.
  • Wait 5 minutes after the pressure reaches zero for loads containing only dry glassware, and 10 minutes after the pressure reaches zero for autoclaved liquid loads before opening the autoclave door
  • Minimum personal protective equipment (PPE) when removing items from an autoclave are rubber aprons & heat resistant gloves. Rubber sleeve protectors should be used if heat resistant gloves do not extend up arm.
  • The load must cool prior to touching it with ungloved hands. Allow a minimum of 15 minutes for non-liquid loads and an hour for liquid loads.
  • Let others know the load is hot (use signage if leaving the load)

Using an autoclave safely

  • Do not autoclave items containing corrosives (e.g. acids, bases, phenol), solvents or volatiles (e.g. ethanol, methanol, chloroform) or radioactive materials.
  • All staff must be properly trained prior to initial operation of an autoclave and should work under the supervision of an experienced autoclave worker.
  • Most accidents involving autoclaves occur during opening and unloading.
  • Never open the autoclave before the pressure gauge reaches zero.
  • Stand so that the door shields your body when opening the autoclave.
  • Also, remember that glassware may have cracked during autoclaving.

All autoclaves must have current inspections & state-issued certifications (posted near the autoclave). If you do not see your certificate or have questions about autoclave safety contact Risk Management & Safety at 895-4226.

This document was last modified on August 25, 2010.