An autoclave is a specialized piece of equipment designed to deliver steam generated heat under pressure to a sealed chamber, with the goal of decontaminating or sterilizing its contents.

What materials are autoclaved?

  • Autoclave ALL cultures and stocks of infectious agents, consumables used in the manipulation of said cultures, recombinant materials (r-s-NA), human, non-human primate, or infectious animal tissue waste, cages and bedding of potentially infected animals, and reusable lab ware.
  • DO NOT AUTOCLAVE items contaminated with solvents, volatile or corrosive chemicals, radioactive materials, or items containing carcinogens, mutagens or teratogens.
  • Contact EHRS at 215-898-4453 for more information on how to dispose of non-autoclavable items properly.
  • Contact your autoclave vendor for training on how to operate the autoclave.

Autoclave Etiquette:autoclave


  • Use a secondary container to prevent spills in the autoclave
  • Remove material from the autoclave in a timely manner
  • Place autoclaved waste in appropriate waste collection bins


  • Leave autoclaved material in the autoclave overnight!!! (plastic bags may break down, spilling their contents in the autoclave chamber)
  • Leave any waste bags on the floor
  • Abort someone else’s autoclave cycleautoclave

How to use an autoclave:

Before Autoclaving 

  • Review the operator’s manual for instructions as different makes and models of autoclaves have different controls.
  • Wear appropriate PPE while loading and unloading the autoclave, including heat resistant gloves, lab coat, and eye protection.  A face shield should be worn if a splash hazard is present. 
  • ONLY use autoclavable biohazard bags. 
  • Use a heat resistant SECONDARY CONTAINER to retain any leakage that may occur. 
  • DO NOT overfill bags or autoclave chamber as this decreases its effectiveness. 
  • Leave bags unsealed to allow for steam penetration. 
  • Fill liquid containers only ½ full and loosen caps or use vented closures. 

During Autoclavinggloves

  • DO NOT autoclave liquid and dry material together.
  • Segregate autoclave loads (infectious waste, liquid, or labware).
  • Use appropriate cycle times for autoclaving. See the autoclaves user manual or the Biosafety Manual for further guidance.

After Autoclaving 

  • HOT, HOT, HOT! - Allow materials to cool down for 15-20 minutes prior to their removal.
  • Always handle autoclaved material with HEAT RESISTANT GLOVES.
  • ALWAYS make sure the pressure has gone to ZERO before opening the door!
  • Use extreme CAUTION when opening an autoclave door – there still may be steam inside the chamber after the pressure has dropped to zero which can cause severe burns.