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Sterilization by Filtration: Advantages & Disadvantages

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  • 0:05 The Filtration of Water
  • 0:37 What Is Filtration?
  • 3:06 Advantages and…
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson will cover how sterilization may be achieved through the process of filtration. We'll discuss how it works, what it is, its advantages and disadvantages, and much more.

The Filtration of Water

At home or near the office cooler, you've probably come across purified and filtered water. This water is supposed to be free from all sorts of impurities, ranging from chemicals, to even bacteria. Some of the methods used by your local city to purify the water include chemicals, such as chlorine, while other methods, more close to home, utilize little filters to further rid your water of contaminants large and small.

What Is Filtration?

However, it's rare that most of us stop and consider what that water filter at the office water cooler or in the fridge at home actually does. While there are many different types of filters, including air filters, and mechanisms of filtration, one of the simplest ones you could possibly use involves basically some type of paper with a bunch of holes in it.

Imagine this: if you were to rip a piece of paper out of a notebook and punch a hole through it using your fist, the hole would be big enough to let a tennis ball through. If you decided to poke a hole into the paper using just your finger, then the tennis ball wouldn't go through, but something like a grape or anything smaller would still go through. Finally, if you were to stick a needle through the page instead, the tennis ball and grape wouldn't pass through, but something as small as a speck of dust just might.

Those are the basics of something known as filtration, which is the process of separating out matter based on chemical or physical properties. Filtration sometimes uses membranous filters that have pores. These pores are holes of varying sizes found in filters that stop anything larger than their size from passing through. Therefore, the smaller the pore, the more likely the filter is to stop more things from going through to the other side of the filter. If the pores of a filter that is designed to remove a microbe are small enough, they should be able to stop all living things from getting through. For example, pore sizes in a filter should be much smaller for filtering out viruses and bacteria than bacteria alone, since viruses are so much smaller than most bacteria.

Besides using membranes filled with pores to filter out certain microbes, there are other types of filters that can be used to filter out different types of substances. For example, air can be filtered using something known as a HEPA filter. This stands for a 'high-efficiency particulate air' filter. Regardless of which filter is used for what type of substance, you must keep in mind that filtration, unlike methods of sterilization, such as radiation or an autoclave, does not kill the microbes, it only removes them.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Filtration

There are different advantages to using filtration as a way to get rid of microorganisms. For example, it's relatively cost effective and can stop a lot of different microorganisms of a similar size just with one filter. However, the greatest advantage of using filtration for sterilization is that very heat sensitive substances, such pharmaceuticals, which are chemicals used to diagnose, cure, or treat disease, can be sterilized using this method. This is in stark contrast to a sterilization method like an autoclave, which generates a lot of heat and may end up destroying a heat-sensitive product, such as a growth hormone.

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