What is used to sterilize lab equipment?

Scientific tests in laboratories must always be carried out in clean, sterile environments. Whether it's a medical or research lab, you need sterile equipment to ensure that results are accurate. In addition, many laboratories including hospitals reuse equipment and there is a real danger of spreading disease if the equipment is not properly sterilised.


Sterilisation is the destruction all microorganisms. For something to be sterile, it must be have no active microbes and be free of bacterial spores.

Types of Lab Equipment

Laboratories have a wide range of equipment, depending on their speciality. Common types include glassware, pipettes, stoppers, clamps, scalpels, syringes/needles and thermometers.

Sterilisation Methods

There are two types of heat sterilisation: dry and moist. Moist heat sterilisation is performed in an autoclave, subjecting items to steam under pressure, at temperatures of 121 degrees Celsius for 15 to 20 minutes. Dry heat sterilisation is done in an oven and requires higher heat and longer incubation times.

Measuring Efficiency

Bacillus subtilis is a heat-resistant bacteria used to test the efficiency of the sterilisation process. If these bacterial spores are killed, then all other microorganisms are also eliminated.

Fun Fact

The autoclave was invented by Charles Chamberland in 1879. Chamberland also worked with Louis Pasteur to develop one of the very first vaccines for chicken cholera in 1881.

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About the Author

Trudi Johnson has spent 10 years working in the biochemistry industry. Currently, she is a lab instructor and technician at a college in northern British Columbia. She is involved in programs that bring science shows to children. She has been published in Experimental Eye Research and Visual Neuroscience. Johnson has attended University of Victoria, Mcgill, and University of Northern British Columbia.