Decon Pete – hints and tips for purchasing benchtop autoclaves


Decon Pete outlines everything you need to know when buying benchtop autoclaves and how to choose the right one for your practice.

Whether you are looking to replace a piece of equipment or you’re purchasing for the very first time there are some things that you should consider to aid your choice and ensure you purchase the correct equipment.

Benchtop steam sterilisers

Benchtop sterilisers are a must have for all dental practices, after dental chairs and compressors. They play an integral part in ensuring all patient and staff safety.

Whether you’re looking to replace an existing unit or starting from scratch, it’s important that you consider a few things.

All small benchtop sterilisers need to comply with European standards EN 13060 (2014). This highlights the following cycles and intended use:

  • B Class (vacuum): For products that lie within the limits specified for the relevant test loads, this includes solid products, porous products and lumen devices, wrapped (single- and multiple-layer) or non-wrapped
  • S Class (Specific): The sterilisation of products as specified by the manufacturer of the steriliser including non-wrapped solid products and at least one of the following: porous products, small porous items, lumen devices, bowls and receivers, single-layer wrapped products, multiple-layer wrapped products
  • N Class (Non-Vac): The sterilisation of non-wrapped solid products.

Understand the load types

Understanding the various load types and intended use of your autoclave is incredibly important in ensuring full sterility of the dental instruments.

Understand what loads you are wanting to process through each sterilisation cycle – this is an important factor to consider when choosing a new autoclave.

If you are wanting to only process solid non-wrapped instruments then an N class would be an acceptable choice. If, however, you are wanting to process pouched, hollow, lumen instruments, you would need to look at either a suitable S class or B class autoclave.

Instruments where air can be present are identified as follows..

Narrow lumen

This is a hollow device which is beyond the range defined for a simple hollow item and which is neither solid nor porous.

Examples: Long tubes, mating surfaces (two surfaces touching), hinged devices (forceps/scissors etc).

Simple hollow item

This is a single-ended open-space items where the ratio of length to diameter of the cavity is greater than or equal to one, and less than or equal to five. In addition, the diameter is greater than or equal to 5mm.

Double-ended open-space items are where the ratio of length to diameter of the cavity is greater than or equal to two and less than or equal to 10. The diameter is greater than or equal to 5 mm.

Examples: Bowls, Handpieces, three in one tips.


This is product that is not made from porous material. In addition, it has no recesses or features which present a greater or equal challenge to steam penetration than a simple hollow item.

Autoclave capacity

As well as understanding the types of instruments that you want to sterilise, it’s also important to consider how many instruments you are needing to sterilise at any one time.

Any bottle-neck that occurs in the decontamination room will happen at the autoclave stage, especially if the unit is too small for the number of instruments that you are wanting to process.

Once you understand this you will also want to look at units that have a high weight limit to minimise the tendency of overloading.

The higher the weight, the more instruments can be processed. If autoclaves are overloaded then a couple of things can happen:

  • Complete sterility cannot be guaranteed
  • Pouched instruments may come out still wet
  • If using a B or S class, this can put additional pressure on the vacuum pumps and they can fail earlier than expected.

A good selection of cycle types

Once you know the instrument types and amounts, you want to ensure that your new unit has a good selection of cycles available.

Having a variety will offer you more flexibility with using the unit and ensure that it is used to its full potential.

Future proof

Dentistry has well and truly entered the digital revolution and decontamination equipment is also progressing that way.

It’s worth considering units that could be networked. Even if you’re not looking for it to be networked now, having it ready is a great addition for the future.

By having the units networked, all the daily cycle logs can be stored directly onto a computer, minimising the need for downloading them.

Networking units also allows you to use other items such as track and trace software and barcode label printers for a complete package.

All tests and daily checks should also be recorded in a suitable record book and kept for a minimum of two years somewhere that is easily accessible by all staff and any clinical inspector.

In next months article we will be looking at tips to consider when purchasing new washer disinfectors.

If you have any questions or would like to view any of the services that I offer, please either email me on [email protected] or visit the website

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