Lab Safety Series: Autoclave Safety Tips | Cambridge Environmental

by Trevor Neve

Autoclaves are a common essential item in the laboratory, medical, commercial and industrial applications. Using high pressure and high temperature steam, the process kills microorganisms and renders biohazards inactive.  Below, we will give you some safety and troubleshooting tips, items never to autoclave, and an infographic with more information.

Autoclaves do pose a safety risk in the lab, and it is important to understand how to properly and safely operate your unit before you begin.


First, let's identify the risks involved:

  • heat / steam burns

  • hot fluid scalds

  • hand / arm injury from door

  • explosion risk

  • glass - shatter risk


To prevent injury, it is important to wear proper PPE. Here's a list of what you should always have:

  • heat insulated gloves

  • lab coat

  • eye protection

  • closed toe shoes


For the autoclave to do its job, it is important to load it correctly so that the materials can be saturated by the steam produced. Air pockets and insufficient steam will not sterilize the materials effectively.

Here are some tips for safe operation:

  • Don't seal containers - sealed containers under pressure pose an explosion risk

  • Do not stand directly in front of the door, especially during use and while opening after cycle

  • Glassware should always be in a tray, never on the bottom or floor

  • Before using, check for items left behind

  • Clean drain strainer before use

  • Load properly, do not over load

  • Loosen bottle caps

  • Ensure plastic components are compatible

  • Never superheat liquids - disturbance could cause a flash steam and cause burns

  • Ensure door is latched and correct cycle is chosen before starting

  • Wait for pressure to reach 0 and temperature at or below 121C before opening door to prevent burns & shattered glassware

  • Give sufficient time to cool before touching

  • Alert others to a heat hazard in the working area when unloading

Water running out of the bottom? DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR! Clogged steam lines, plugged drains or equipment malfunction can cause a build up of scalding water - a burn risk.

Never Autoclave:

  • Sharps to be discarded

  • Hazardous chemicals - solvents, volatiles, flammables, reactives, or corrosive

  • Dried bleach and bleach associated materials

  • Radioactive materials

  • Low molecular weight biotoxins and prions

From Lab Manager: Autoclave Safety Infographic


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