How Much Does Your Sterilizer Really Cost Your Facility?

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Written by: Scott Mechler

BS Mechanical Engineering, Mechanical Engineer

When purchasing a piece of capital equipment, such as an autoclave, it’s important to assess the total cost of ownership (TCO) because there can be many costs hidden in the ongoing service and maintenance of the machine. This article will help buyers, users, and owners determine the direct and indirect costs of procuring and operating a laboratory autoclave.

There are two primary categories of costs for your steam sterilizer: upfront costs and operating costs. Consider the following points with your next steam sterilizer TCO assessment.

Upfront Costs

The upfront costs associated with procuring an autoclave include:


The basic equipment cost is the price of the autoclave itself and accounts for a sizeable portion of the TCO. When determining your equipment cost, make sure that you have the right sterilizer configuration for your application. Ensure that you have an onsite consultation with your local sterilizer representative; they will recommend a best fit sterilizer build and control your equipment cost.


Space is at a premium at most facilities. Your facility might have space constraints that require the autoclave to be customized to fit.  If you are replacing a sterilizer, there may be costs associated with modifying the service areas and wall opening used by the existing sterilizer. Verify that your manufacturer can customize the footprint and accessibility of the sterilizer to maximize space, match an existing sterilizer’s footprint, and/or fit into a tight space.


Lab autoclaves can weigh thousands of pounds, so shipping is not an insignificant expense. One way to save money on exorbitant international shipping and handling costs is to invest in a sterilizer manufactured in the United States.


Installation costs can include receiving the sterilizer, uncrating, setting in place, leveling, final assembly, connecting utilities, performing start-up, and user training. Make sure your manufacturer provides turnkey installation from a local factory-trained service technician.


Some facilities require autoclave validation to verify that it can achieve sterilization to the degree the manufacturer claims. If these services are needed, look for a manufacturer that can offer complete validation services like IQ, OQ, and PQ to ensure that you get your money’s worth.

Operating Costs

Basic operating costs are ongoing and accrue after the sterilizer is commissioned for use. Operating costs are a significant contributor to TCO and are often overlooked at point of purchase. Here are some operating costs that should be carefully considered when selecting a sterilizer:


Steam sterilizers use energy to heat water and create steam; this energy can come from electricity, gas, or coal. Laboratory sterilizers can use anywhere from 5,000 kWh per year to 50,000 kWh per year. When evaluating energy costs, find out what the local kWh cost is for electricity at your facility and ask your sterilizer manufacturer whether they offer energy-saving features.


Steam sterilizers require water for steam generation, effluent (wastewater) cooling, and vacuum creation. Depending on usage and configuration, a steam sterilizer can use millions of gallons of water over the course of its life. When evaluating water costs, find out the local cost of water and sewage and have your sterilizer manufacturer assist you with calculating your water consumption.


Steam sterilizers give off a lot heat — up to 20,000 BTU/hr. This makes it challenging to maintain a comfortable room and places a significant burden on electricity costs due to excessive use of air conditioning. Check to see whether your manufacturer has Smart Controls that can communicate with the HVAC system and/or the local overhead hood to reduce HVAC costs.

Operating Labor:

To get an accurate idea of your operational labor costs, ask yourself whether your facility requires a dedicated autoclave technician to manage your sterilization processes. If they answer is “yes,” ensure that that technician’s hours are accounted for in your TCO calculation.


Every steam sterilizer will require service at some point in it’s lifespan.  The costs associated with service include: emergency (i.e. unscheduled) service visits, scheduled preventative maintenance visits, and spare parts.

When analyzing service costs, ask the following:

    • What is the recommended frequency of service visits? (Be wary of arbitrary recommendations, such as “once per quarter,” and look for more usage-based estimates, such as “once every 300 cycles.”)
    • What is the cost of a preventative maintenance agreement?
    • What is the cost for each preventative maintenance service visit?
    • What is the hourly or daily service rate for emergency service calls? (Watch out for service companies that charge a minimum labor fee and charge for travel time.)
    • Does your sterilizer company allow for competitive independent service groups, or do they require use of their own exclusive service teams?
    • Is there a cost for phone-based technical support?

When evaluating the cost of parts, ask the following:

    • Are the parts non-proprietary?
    • How much does it cost for a door gasket? For a steam trap? For a basic valve rebuild kit?
    • How often does the manufacturer recommend I change out parts?
    • How much is a complete annual preventative maintenance parts kit?

Consumables and Supplies:

These costs may include paper for printouts, biological and chemical indicators, Bowie Dick test packs, sterilizer load containers or bins, chamber cleaning solutions, and filters for water and steam. Consumable and supply costs are dependent on use and application, but should be included in your TCO calculation.

Additional Costs


In some labs — for example, at universities — there is yearly turnover of staff and graduate students who use the autoclave. Each new crop of researchers will require training. Training costs are lower if your sterilizer is easy to use and intuitive. Ask the manufacturer to allow you to “test drive” the autoclave user interface to make sure it is simple to use and seamless for day-to-day operation.  Also, ask if the manufacturer will allow you to videotape the training;  as odd as it sounds, some manufacturers do not allow videotaping.


Autoclaves are often mission-critical tools; any downtime can bring an operation grinding to a halt. The quality of the sterilizer and a simple, reliable manufacturing philosophy are key components to reducing downtime. A proactive PM plan by a local service team can help address this challenge, as well.

TCO Formulas

There are a few different ways to calculate your TCO using the costs shown above.  TCO can be analyzed as an annual cost or a total lifetime cost.

Lifetime TCO = Upfront Costs + (Operating Costs * Number of Years in Service) + Additional Costs

Annual TCO = (Upfront Costs/Years in Service) + Operating Costs per Year + Additional Costs per Year

Contact Us

Consolidated is happy to work with you to provide a complete total cost of ownership assessment. Please contact us today.

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What is the Total Cost of Owning An Autoclave?