Chemical Sterilization Methods

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  • 0:04 Chemical Sterilization Reasons
  • 1:35 Types of Chemical Sterilants
  • 2:46 Chemical Sterilization Steps
  • 5:21 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Scott Keane

Scott has a Bachelor's degree in Nursing, a Master's degree in Christian Studies, and has taught college level nursing.

Learn what is involved in eliminating germs from healthcare equipment with liquid and gaseous chemicals. Diseases can be prevented by using the right chemicals and proper techniques.

Chemical Sterilization Reasons

Let's say that on Aunt Nelly's birthday, Uncle George cooked her a wonderful birthday dinner. Without knowing it, he served the meatloaf on the same dish that Nelly had used to defrost chicken earlier in the day. Nelly ended up getting diarrhea and developed a high temperature for a few days. She thought she contracted food poisoning from bacteria left on the unwashed dish.

Her bacterial infection could have been prevented if the infectious microorganisms had been removed from the plate. Similarly, removing pathogenic (disease causing) microorganisms from equipment in healthcare settings makes disease less prevalent.

Partial removal of pathogens is called disinfection. Complete removal of microorganisms is called sterilization. Sterilization not only eliminates all pathogens, which are bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, but also spores, the resilient reproductive form of some microorganisms. Sterilization is accomplished with high heat, irradiation, or strong chemicals. In this lesson, we are going to focus on chemical sterilization. Chemical sterilization is the elimination of all viable microorganisms and their spores using liquid or gaseous compounds.

The method you use for chemical sterilization varies with the form of chemical you use. Liquid sterilization involves submerging equipment in a chemical fluid for enough time to kill all viable microorganisms and their spores. Gas sterilization involves exposing equipment to chemical gases in an enclosed heated or pressurized chamber.

Types of Chemical Sterilants

Liquid sterilants include glutaraldehyde, ortho-phthaldehyde, peracetic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and hypochlorite. Evaporating chemical sterilants may be toxic, so it is a good idea to place them in covered containers. Two of these liquids are found in many households and used as disinfectants. Hydrogen peroxide for home use is 3.0% concentration. You will need a 7.5% to 25% hydrogen peroxide concentration for sterilization. Another disinfecting liquid you may have at home is bleach, which is a type of hypochlorite solution. Submerging items in bleach for short times kills many pathogens (disinfects) but only submersion for 24-32 hours results in sterilization.

At times, liquid sterilizing agents are impractical or ineffective for sterilizing items. Gaseous chemicals are more effective sterilants because they are able to permeate small openings and crevices easily. Gas chemicals also sterilize faster than liquids because they usually are combined with high heat. Gas residue is also easier to remove from sterilized articles, but requires much more expensive equipment.

Chemical Sterilization Steps

Chemical sterilization of healthcare equipment involves four steps: protection, preparation, processing, and packaging.

Step 1. Protection

All stages of chemical sterilization involve protecting your skin, eyes, lungs, and face with personal protective equipment (PPE). You should wear a water resistant gown with gloves pulled over the cuff or up to the elbow to protect you from splashes and vapors. Rubber or PVC gloves are the most resistant to any of these liquids. Latex gloves provide some protection, but ortho-phthaldehyde can penetrate latex in less than fifteen minutes.

Goggles, respiratory masks covering the mouth and nose, or whole face shields should also be used as protection. Adequate ventilation is important because some fumes can be toxic, such as glutaraldehyde fumes, which smell like rotten apples and are particularly irritating and toxic. You also need to have an eyewash kit on hand through all stages of chemical sterilization.

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