Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Autoclave Sterilization

Sterilizing body jewelry for first time use is important, but the body mod industry is not universally regulated, if at all. Hence, the method/s involved in sterilization are left to the imagination for many customers.

As a professional piercer, I autoclave sterilize body jewelry prior to shipping to my Beltane Moon Etsy customers. I could simply say "autoclaved" in my descriptions, but inclusion of  redundant "sterilized" helps contextualize the concept. It is key to know that all piercing rings, barbells and screw on components in my shop jewelry are brand new and have never been worn. 

Autoclave: Auto means 'self",  clavis is Latin for "cleaning".

An autoclave as defined by Wikipedia is:

 " instrument used to sterilize equipment and supplies by subjecting them to high pressure saturated steam at 121 °C for around 15–20 minutes..."

The application for an autoclave includes (but not limited to), Veterinary,  medical, dental, piercing, tattoo and nail salon industries for the purpose of sterilizing associated tools and equipment. 

Autoclave use is most often used in the medical field.  Medical waste requires sterilization in favor over incineration (thermal oxidation) due to  environmental concerns . There are exceptions to this rule, for example, such as when dealing with pathological waste. An designated autoclave is used for medical waste only. 

As for piercing jewelry, the method for sterilizing new jewelry in an autoclave employs the use of an autoclave pouch. An autoclave pouch has a sterility indicator printed on the outside which changes color upon proper processing.
Example of pouch

The jewelry is inserted into the pouch and then into the autoclave for sterilization.  The chemical or steam indicator color change reflects successful exposure to time & temperature during processing. A symbol or lettering on the pouch indicates color change and should state as such. 

In medical autoclaves, a chemical indicator may be present:

"... Biological indicators contain spores of a heat-resistant bacterium, Geobacillus stearothermophilus. If the autoclave does not reach the right temperature, the spores will germinate when incubated and their metabolism will change the color of a pH-sensitive chemical. Some physical indicators consist of an alloy designed to melt only after being subjected to a given temperature for the relevant holding time. If the alloy melts, the change will be visible...." (wikipedia)

In my shop, I use an FDA approved Prestige unit accepted for piercing jewelry. The temperature specs for this unit are: 
Sterilizing temp': 121°C
Sterilizing temp': 250 F
Arriving at sterizing temp: 16 mins
Cycle time - total 26 mins

I hope this lends some clarity on the basic concept and mechanics of what an autoclave is and how it is used in my shop. If you have any questions, please contact me and I am more than happy to respond!