In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend weekly testing of autoclaves to ensure that they are properly sterilizing implements. Other countries have similar rules or recommendations. Autoclave maintenance is relatively easy. The autoclave’s owner manual provides information about regular maintenance requirements, e.g. cleaning, replacing seals, etc. Contact the manufacturer for more information about repairs and maintenance. Don’t let the color-changing indicator strips on autoclave bags mislead you. These are only an “indicator” and don’t assure you that the autoclave is working properly. In fact, these strips can fool nail professionals. Of course, if they fail to properly change colors this will tell you the autoclave is not properly functioning. However, these indicators can give false results and will change color even if the proper and required pressures were not reached.
Achieving the correct pressure is just as important as the temperature; again indicator strips only detect temperature, not pressure. Regular maintenance is also required to ensure the autoclave gets to proper temperatures and pressure. Follow the manufacturer’s schedule for cleaning, changing the water, service visits, replacement parts, etc. The only way to ensure the autoclave is working properly is to do regular “spore testing”.
What is a spore? A spore is like a seed for fungal or bacterial organisms. Normally, spores do not cause infections in salons, but they are a concern in hospital surgical wards where they can cause infections. Even so, spore testing is useful for determining if an autoclave is working properly. You can purchase a sealed packet of specially prepared spores, designed to be run through a complete autoclave cycle. You then need to send this packet to a laboratory for testing. If the autoclave is functioning correctly, it will kill 100% of the spores. If any survive, the autoclave is malfunctioning. You can search the Internet for a source to purchase these spore test kits and a lab to have them tested. Or you can ask the manufacturer of the autoclave, they should be able to provide this info. Web search for “autoclave spore testing.”
I recommend performing a spore test at least once per month. If a salon doesn’t perform these tests regularly, then they cannot claim to be properly protecting their clients. In fact, they may be putting their clients at risk. Hospitals perform these tests weekly, but salons are not at all like hospitals and the risks of infections are thousands of times greater for hospitals, so monthly is probably fine for the salon setting. Many companies offer plans for monthly testing that are surprisingly low in cost. If you have an autoclave, I recommend signing up for at least the monthly plan. If you’re using the autoclave constantly, then you might want to sign up for weekly testing.
You don’t want your autoclave malfunctioning for weeks or months without your knowledge. This is the only way to make sure that your autoclave is working properly. Also, each time you perform a spore test my recommendation is to record this in a logbook along with other records related to cleaning, disinfection, and maintenance of your autoclave and other equipment.
Read more on autoclaves in Sterilization in the nail salon: Yay or Nay?