We all know that cleanliness is next to godliness, but it’s also imperative to many products, especially medical devices, electronics, and industrial equipment. After a product is manufactured, shipped, store, and handled, there’s no telling how many germs or contaminations are on the surface. That’s where sterilization comes in.
What is product sterilization?
Many products require sterilization before use to prevent the spread of infections. Sterilization is the process of destroying all microorganisms on the surface of the product. In fact, several different approaches can be used for effective sterilization. While the end result is essentially the same (a clean, safe product), the choice of sterilization method is critical and based on your product’s tolerance to heat, moisture, chemicals, or other factors.
Common types of sterilization for products and devices
Steam is one of the most popular sterilization methods. In most cases, the item that requires sterilization is placed in an autoclave or similar chamber. The combination of water vapor, high temperatures, pressure, and time destroy the microorganisms.
Advantages of steam sterilization:
- Penetrates fabric
- Dry Heat
In contrast to steam, dry heat sterilizes objects with higher heat and without the presence of water. The temperature – typically at least 320 °F (160 °C) – determines how long the item must be exposed to the heat. However, this process generally takes longer than steam and other sterilization methods.
Advantages of dry heat sterilization:
- Simple, easy to install
- Good option for products that may be damaged by steam
- Vaporized hydrogen peroxide
A newer sterilization method, vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) uses gas plasma in a deep-vacuum enclosure. Radiofrequency or microwave energy produces free radicals, which help deactivate microorganisms. Since VHP requires lower heat than other common methods such as steam, it’s a good solution for items that could be damaged by high temperatures or moisture.
Advantages of VHP sterilization:
- Good for electrical devices, some plastics, and metal alloys prone to corrosion
Gamma sterilization uses Cobalt 60 radiation with high-energy photons that destroy microorganisms. Since gamma has high penetration, it can be used to sterilize products inside their packaging.
Advantages of gamma sterilization:
- Highly effective and reliable
- High penetration
Another form of irradiation, X-ray sterilization is effective for a wide range of materials, configurations, and densities. X-Ray is common for medical devices and pharmaceuticals, among other industries.
Advantages of X-Ray sterilization:
- Safe and reliable
- Good penetration of dense items
- Ethylene oxide
Ethylene oxide (ETO) is a gas that sterilizes by preventing normal cellular metabolism and replication within a microorganism. ETO is often used by healthcare facilities to sterilize critical equipment that is sensitive to heat or moisture (making the item a poor candidate for steam). ETO’s downsides are that it can be costly, a lengthy process, and some materials require an aeration time after exposure.
Advantages of ethylene oxide sterilization:
- Good for heat- or moisture-sensitive products
Sterilization process indicators
Once you decide which sterilization method is most appropriate for your product, how do you ensure the sterilization process is completed? A simple, cost-effective solution is sterilization printed indicators. Featuring functional ink that changes color when exposed to a specific environmental element (such as temperature, moisture, chemical, etc.), printed indicators provide clear, reliable verification that a sterilization process has occurred.
Printed indicators not only ensure compliance but also provide peace of mind to users. At Tapecon, we have experience designing and manufacturing all types of printed sterilization indicators, including packaging, labels, tags, pouches, and more.
Get started with printed indicators
At Tapecon, we have over 100 years of experience helping customers solve their complex product challenges. Learn more about our printed indicator applications.