How Does Steam Destroy Microorganisms?

Steam cleaning is an ideal method for sterilizing surfaces. Sterilization involves increasing the temperature of the water until it becomes a gas (vapor), which raises the temperature of a given surface. The high temperatures quickly kill any microorganisms living on the surface.

Various facilities rely on steam generation for sterilization, including hospitals and various other critical care facilities.. Electro-Steam offers a line of steam generators for sterilization in food production, food processing, and even winemaking and bottling. We have been a trusted manufacturer of steam generation equipment since 1952.

How Steam Eliminates Microorganisms

Steam sterilization uses thermal energy from steam to kill microorganisms. During the sterilization process, high-pressure saturated steam comes in contact with lower-temperature surfaces and releases heat from condensation. Microorganisms in a steam sterilizer are killed by exposure, leaving surfaces sterile for production.

Steam sterilization works well for several reasons. Moist air is exponentially more effective at conveying heat energy than dry, hot air. For instance, cooking potatoes in a steam pressure cooker reduces cooking time from several hours to several minutes.

Steam also softens the outer layers that protect microorganisms, coagulating the sensitive inner portions of the microbe in a process similar to cooking an egg white. However, greasy or oily environments can protect microorganisms from the effects of steam. Thoroughly cleaning the treatment area in advance is critical for proper sterilization.

The following variables can be adjusted to ensure the lethality and overall effectiveness of steam:

  • The degree of heat exposure
  • The duration of exposure
  • The volume of moisture

Assess the packaging material and surfaces that you intend to treat. Certain items will not maintain their integrity when exposed to steam. Additionally, moisture can damage sensitive products such as electronics and soft plastics.

How Is Steam Sterilization Performed?

Autoclaves (pressurized vessels) are the most popular moist heat sterilization devices. Autoclaves use pure moist heat to generate clean steam by removing air from the chamber and replacing it with pure, saturated steam.

The full steam sterilization process occurs in three basic steps:

  • Preconditioning the chamber and load. Air is removed from the chamber and replaced by saturated steam.
  • Running the sterilization cycle. Chamber pressure increases, raising the water’s boiling point to 121 C. Steam heats the chamber walls as it accumulates, raising the temperature of the solution and destroying microbial proteins.
  • Removing steam from the chamber. Once steam has been removed, pressure is normalized.

Applications of Steam Sterilization

Moist heat steam sterilization (such as autoclaving) is preferred for sterilizing utensils, instruments, wrapped goods, and hollow items in medical settings. Other applications that depend on moist heat steam sterilization include:

Contact Electro-Steam Generators for Steam Generators

Electro-Steam is an OEM manufacturer of steam-generating equipment for a range of applications. Our quality, efficiency, and warranty make Electro-Steam products suitable for pharmaceutical applications, medical settings, food processing and packaging, and more.

Contact us or request a quote to speak with a team member about your steam generation needs today.

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