Poor Facility Cleaning Jeopardizes Medical Tool Sterilization

A study published by Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology found that vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) failed to completely sterilize surgical tools. Seventy-six percent of the time the tools were soiled with salts or blood and not cleaned before undergoing sterilization, which caused the VHP to fail.

Sterilization should be used alongside traditional cleaning methods and not as a catch-all solution for treating medical tools. VHP is one of the multiple low-temperature processes used to sterilize surgical and other medical tools, and all were found to have a varying failure rate when sterilizing soiled tools.

“If instruments are not properly cleaned prior to sterilization and then placed in a low-temperature sterilization technology such as vaporized hydrogen peroxide, there is a possibility of failure,” William A. Rutala, PhD, MPH, director of the North Carolina Statewide Infection Control and Epidemiology Program said.

He continued by saying, “Effectively cleaning, removing visible soil and microbial contaminants from objects, must precede sterilization to ensure tools are thoroughly and optimally sterilized.”

The authors of the study also note that cleaning complex medical equipment might pose even greater sterilization challenges as traditional cleaning might not completely remove remaining salts or blood before being sterilized.

Equipment with hinges, sharp bends, and lumens could suffer naturally occurring biofilm build-up, affecting the success rate of low-temperature sterilization.

Steam sterilization and other high-temperature methods may be ideal solutions to ensure your equipment is properly sanitized and ready for use. However long cool times, internal water damage on certain instruments and low heat tolerance of other materials may necessitate low-temperature sterilization. Be sure all medical staff knows the proper procedures for sterilizing equipment, including cleaning soiled instruments before sterilization.

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