What is Autoclaving?

Posted by freund-web@berlinpackaging.com BigCommerce on Nov 19th 2019

What is Autoclaving?

By: Berlin Packaging Specialist
Date: November 20, 2019

Autoclaving is a sterilization method that uses high-pressure steam. The autoclaving process works by the concept that the boiling point of water (or steam) increases when it is under pressure.

History of the Autoclave

The name “Autoclave” comes from Greek “auto” ultimately meaning self, and Latin “clavis” meaning key, thus a self-locking device.

The first autoclave was essentially a pressure cooker and was originally invented as a method for preparing food by French physician Denis Papin around 1681. He called his invention a "steam digester" and described benefits of using the device to process food for easier digestion.

The autoclave was re-invented for medical and scientific use by Charles Chamberland in 1879. Chamberland was a microbiologist who worked with Louis Pasteur. By chance, he came up with a vaccine for chicken cholera. He went away on holiday, forgetting to inject the disease into some chickens. When he came back he saw the jar of bacteria still there and decided to inject it into the chickens anyway. To his amazement they did not die. When he reported this to Pasteur, he was told to inject a fresh form into the same chickens. Those chickens did not die. He had found a vaccine. This team also discovered that a weakened form of a disease can act as a vaccine.

How an Autoclave Works?

Items to be autoclaved are subjected to gradual temperature increases under high pressure until 121 °C is reached and then steamed for around 15–20 minutes.

The autoclave allows steam to flow around items in the chamber. The length of time and temperature necessary for sterilization depend on the items to be sterilized and whether they are wrapped or left directly exposed to the steam. Items should be separated to allow the steam to penetrate the load evenly. The steam can reach in small crevices and can kill all bacteria, viruses and bacterial spores.

When to Autoclave?

Autoclaves can be used to eliminate microorganisms, cure composites, vulcanize rubber, and for hydrothermal synthesis. Autoclaving is a very dependable method for the sterilization and decontamination of laboratory glassware, medical instruments and waste, reagents, and other media. Autoclaves can inactivate fungi, bacteria, spores, viruses and other microorganisms on surgical instruments such as scalpels, forceps, scissors and other metal items. 

Why Autoclaving is Good for the Environment?

Because autoclaving sterilizes without the use of reagents and allows for the re-use of lab equipment and supplies, it is environmentally friendly. It can be used to sterilize medical waste before disposal, eliminating environmental concerns regarding incinerators.

What Berlin Packaging containers are Autoclavable?

Glass bottles are generally safe for autoclaving but some caps may not be autoclavable.

Autoclavable products include:


Closures should be autoclaved separately or very loosely on top of container; otherwise a vacuum is created during cooling. Liners will get sucked into the container or bottles and caps can crack or warp. Expanding vapors during heating can also cause containers to crack or explode without sufficient ventilation.

This method of sterilization should not be used if the material to be sterilized can be damaged by heat or moisture. Plastic resins that cannot be autoclaved include PET, PETG, LDPE, and HDPE, PET, PETG.

Paper products like paper and some plastic resins cannot be autoclaved due to the moist heat.