Sterilisation 101 – test devices for a safe, compliant practice – David Gibson

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  Posted by: Dental Design      3rd November 2018

Marketing Manager of Eschmann, David Gibson, considers the similarities between regular car checks and daily and weekly tests carried out by the practice team on washer disinfectors and autoclaves.  

Before leaving their driveway or car parking space, most people tend to carry out a series of checks first to determine that the car is ready and safe to drive (I know I do!). These might include small inspections such as confirming the position of the wing mirror, checking the fuel gauge and testing the windscreen wipers, or more comprehensive weekly checks like type pressure, engine oil and water levels. These short, simple but essential tests are what let us know that a car is roadworthy – and can help to flag up any problems, if there are any. It’s the same premise with dental decontamination equipment.


Indeed, problems can and do occur with decontamination equipment (they’re in action multiple times a day, at least five days a week, after all). But with appropriate testing using the correct test devices it is possible to tell if a washer disinfector or autoclave is operating to the expected standard. It is these stringent checks that ensure compliance is maintained in line with HTM 01-05 guidelines and cross-infection catastrophes are avoided. Here’s what you should be doing and why:

Washer disinfector

In addition to the daily tasks of removing and cleaning strainers and filters and carrying out a visual examination on load items to ensure cleaning efficacy, practices are also required to carry out a weekly protein residue test – a simple test used to detect levels of protein on a processed load. A visual inspection alone will never be able to determine if an instrument is clean, but with a protein residue test you can both successfully demonstrate compliance to CQC and prove the performance of a washer disinfector.

Typically, the results are indicated by a colour change of the protein test, but it’s always best to check with the manufacturer/supplier of the product to ensure the results have been understood correctly. Remember to keep documentation of each test in a logbook as evidence, as the test itself cannot be deemed a reliable long-term record.

Where a test fails, it is always recommended to re-test, as detergent residue can sometimes present a false positive, as can handling instruments during testing without gloves. It can even be the case sometimes that the test product is past the expiry date, rendering the results inaccurate. Thus, while it sounds obvious, it’s always best to rule these possibilities out first before writing a washer disinfector off as faulty.

Of course, when a protein residue test fails it can sometimes be as a result of a fault with the washer disinfector. In the same way you would if a warning light came on in your car, if you see error codes seek expert advice immediately.


Daily and weekly tests must also be carried out on any autoclave within the practice. Firstly, there’s the automatic control test, which tests the parameters of bench top autoclaves and should be completed first thing every morning. When all the parameters have been met the indicator of the TST test will change colour.

On a side note, if an autoclave’s cycle record cannot be checked immediately after the cycle has ended, it’s always worth considering using a TST test with each and every load. Although this is not necessary with state-of-the-art autoclaves such as the Eschmann Little Sister vacuum range, as there are independent control and monitoring systems built into the equipment, which constantly monitor the parameters.

The other test that must be carried out at least once a day where vacuum autoclaves are in use is a steam penetration test using either a Helix test device. The product that you should use very much depends on the autoclave manufacturer’s recommendations – though the test needs to be recorded manually recording either manually in a printed logbook or an Auto log or using an electronic logbook. Again, if a test fails then it’s always wise to perform again, but if it fails a second time the manufacturer must be called immediately. You wouldn’t drive a car around if you weren’t sure it was running properly, and you can’t use a faulty autoclave.

Choosing your test devices

Eschmann offers a range of quality, high performance test devices within its Essential range as well as both a manually printed logbook and Cycle Logger with Electronic Logbook and Cycle Manager. To find out if these would be compatible with your decontamination equipment, contact the manufacturer today.


For more information on the highly effective and affordable range of decontamination equipment and products from EschmannDirect, please visit or call 01903 753322


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