For many years, pressurized steam (autoclaving) at 120°C for 30 minutes has been the basic method for sterilizing instruments and other heat-resistant materials. When autoclaving is not possible, as with lensed instruments and materials containing plastic and rub-ber, ethylene oxide—diluted with either fluorocarbon or carbon dioxide to diminish explosive hazard—is used at 440–1200 mg/L at 45–60°C with 30–60% relative humidity. The higher concentra-tions have been used to increase penetration.
Ethylene oxide is classified as a mutagen and carcinogen. The OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for ethylene oxide is 1 ppm calculated as a time-weighted average. Alternative sterilants now being used increasingly include vapor phase hydrogen peroxide, peracetic acid, ozone, gas plasma, chlorine dioxide, formaldehyde, and propylene oxide. Each of these sterilants has potential advan-tages and problems. Automated peracetic acid systems are being used increasingly for high-level decontamination and sterilization of endoscopes and hemodialyzers because of their effectiveness, automated features, and the low toxicity of the residual products of sterilization.