Autoclave vs. Sterilizer

Defining the seemingly synonymous terms for sterilization equipment

In the world of sterilization, there are a number of terms related to the equipment used to sterilize items in a laboratory such as: bedding, cages, instruments, tools, and hazardous waste. That equipment is frequently called a sterilizer, steam sterilizer, or autoclave, often shrouded in unknown reasoning behind the word choice.  While often used synonymously, there are distinctions between the three descriptions of sterilization equipment that must be understood.



steam sterilizing autoclaveA sterilizer is any piece of equipment that is used to destroy all living organisms within the chamber through the use of specifically programmed sterilization cycles. By definition, Webster’s defines a sterilizer as a piece of equipment used to destroy microorganisms in or on, usually by bringing to a high temperature with steam, dry heat, or boiling liquid. However, there are a broad range of processes used for sterilizing:

  • Dry Heat Sterilization
  • Gas/Chemical Sterilization
  • Glass Bead Sterilization
  • Steam Sterilization
  • Sterilization With Ultraviolet Radiation

As a manufacturer, Beta Star specializes in the manufacturing and service for sterilizers that utilize saturated steam as the agent for sterilizing laboratory equipment and vivarium supplies such as animal cages, bedding, and waste. Beta Star also manufacturers specialized steam sterilizers used for bio-pharmaceutical research and production. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that of all methods available for sterilization, moist heat in the form of saturated steam under pressure is the most dependable.



While the terms Autoclave and Steam Sterilizer are often used interchangeably…it is important to note that Autoclaves are used in many industrial applications including rubber vulcanization, plastic production and composite material curing. Autoclaves and Steam Sterilizers utilize a pressure vessel to subject vessel contents to controlled temperature and pressure conditions.

Steam Sterilizers are a specialized type of Autoclave which are designed, programmed and calibrated to render biological material sterile by precisely controlling, monitoring and recording chamber pressure, temperature and exposure time. Steam Sterilizers fulfill a critical role in laboratory research, bio-pharmaceutical production, and healthcare facilities as they provide precisely controlled, reproducible conditions used to maintain research integrity, pharmaceutical drug development and patient contact and inject-able materials.