How to Clean Your Autoclave’s Chamber Drain Strainer [w/ Video]

Arthur Trapotsis
Written by: Arthur Trapotsis

MS Biochemical Engineering, MBA, Consultant

Have you ever, after getting out of the shower, grabbed a piece of tissue and used it to quickly clear the drain of any hair, soap residue or other debris? If you have, you know firsthand that taking a few moments to clean up after yourself can prevent bigger issues further down the line — in this case, a clogged drain and an all-around unpleasant showering experience.

The same is true for your autoclave’s chamber drain strainer. Much like a shower drain, chamber drain strainers are prone to becoming clogged with debris — which can range from rust and dirt to bottle labels and melted plastic — especially after multiple sterilization cycles. The key difference is that forgetting to clean your drain strainer has more serious consequences than forgetting to clean your shower drain. Instead of a pool of standing water, you risk clogged valves, drain line blockages and other issues that could cause unnecessary downtime — a fairly major problem, given that autoclaves are an essential piece of equipment in most laboratories and research facilities.

In this blog post, we’ll offer step-by-step instructions on how to clean your chamber drain strainer, potential issues to watch for, and more.

3 Good Reasons to Clean Your Drain Strainer Regularly

We’ve already provided a brief overview of the issues you might encounter if you fail to clean your autoclave’s chamber drain strainer on a regular basis, but let’s talk about them in greater detail.

There are three major reasons to clean your autoclave chamber drain strainer:

  1. If your drain strainer is clogged, it can create a blockage in your sterilizer’s drain line, which slows down the exhaust line. If left untreated, over time, your drain line could become completely blocked, preventing your autoclave from exhausting at all — and if your autoclave can’t exhaust, you can’t safely open the chamber.
  2. Drain line blockages can also impact the flow of steam bleed from your autoclave. That little bit of bleed is what enables your autoclave to achieve your desired temperature; any interruption to its flow can create discrepancies between your autoclave’s indicated temperature and its actual temperature and prevent loads from being adequately sterilized. This could be a reason biological indicators fail to turn negative.
  3. Although your drain strainer is designed to catch all debris, if it hasn’t been cleaned in some time or it’s damaged, some could slip through. This debris can quickly build up in your sterilizer’s valves, which could prevent cooling water from flowing through and cause steam to go down the drain.

As you can see, taking just a few minutes to clean out your autoclave’s chamber drain strainer can help performance issues and save you from more expensive repairs in the long run.

Watch Out For These 7 Common Autoclave Problems >>

How to Clean Your Chamber Drain Strainer [w/ Video]

Cleaning your chamber drain strainer is an incredibly easy task, one that should only take a few minutes to complete:

  1. First, remove any trays or shelf racks from your autoclave chamber.
  2. Wipe loose debris away from the strainer using a microfiber cleaning cloth. Be sure to wear the appropriate safety gear while doing so — in this case, a pair of gloves.
  3. Remove the strainer from the drain. We recommend using a pair of tweezers or small pliers to do so, as the strainer can sometimes get stuck or be hot to the touch if you try to clean it shortly after running your autoclave.
  4. Flip the strainer upside down and gently tap it against the surface of a table to remove debris. For more stubborn debris, we recommend rinsing the strainer under water or using a small instrument, such as a toothpick or a pair of tweezers, to remove the material.
  5. Place the strainer back in the hole, making sure it’s securely in place using a band or spring (if it has one).
  6. Reinstall any tracks or racks in your autoclave chamber.

And there it is; it’s really that simple. If you’d like a visual aid, we’ve created a brief, one-minute video illustrating the process:

You should ideally clean out your autoclave’s chamber drain strainer every day or, for loads with more debris, after each cycle.

Potential Issues to Watch for When Cleaning Your Drain Strainer

Although the process of cleaning your autoclave’s drain strainer is straightforward, you could run into issues if the strainer is broken, if you choose the wrong sterilization cycle, or if you try to sterilize materials that aren’t autoclave-safe. The obvious answer to a broken strainer is to replace it, but the latter two problems are a bit more complicated.

Many laboratories and research facilities need to sterilize media, which requires a special liquid sterilization cycle. Failure to use this cycle can cause media to pass through the drain strainer and down through the drain, causing many of the issues outlined earlier in this article.

Some operators will put media in a plastic tub as an extra precaution before placing it inside the chamber. While well-intended, sterilizers operate at incredibly high temperatures — temperatures that can easily melt a plastic tub if it isn’t made from autoclave-safe material. Similar to media and other debris, melted plastic can pass through the strainer, clogging the drain or even the strainer itself, requiring more intensive cleaning or replacement.

Don't Buy An Autoclave Until You Read This

Find out the 17 questions you need to ask before buying your next autoclave.

Download eBook
Don't Buy An Autoclave Until You Read This