Comparison: Manual vs Automated Cleaning in Sterilization

Sterilization is a critical aspect of healthcare, ensuring the safety and effectiveness of medical equipment. As technology advances and the medical field continually evolves, it’s more important than ever to understand the differences between manual and automated cleaning methods in sterilization. This comparison manual vs automated cleaning in sterilization comprehensive guide will delve into the intricacies of these two cleaning techniques, explore their effectiveness on medical devices, and discuss their applications in minimally invasive surgical procedures. Join us as we uncover the best practices for sterilization processes and look ahead to the challenges and future developments in cleaning methods.

Search Sterile Processing Technician Programs

Get information on Sterile Processing Technician programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

Sponsored Listings

Understanding Manual and Automated Cleaning Methods

In the realm of sterilization, two primary methods are utilized for cleaning reusable medical devices: manual cleaning and automated cleaning. Manual cleaning involves the use of friction and fluidics, often incorporating enzymatic detergent to thoroughly clean the medical device, followed by manual disinfection to ensure the elimination of pathogens. On the other hand, automated methods, such as ultrasonic cleaners and washer-decontaminators, employ advanced technology to clean medical devices.

However, both methods come with their own set of limitations. Manual cleaning can be affected by numerous variables, including human interaction, the type of brushes used, and the detergent employed. Mechanical cleaning, while offering customization and temperature control, still requires manual pre-cleaning, introducing human interaction as a potential variable.

As healthcare decision-makers continue to focus on proper cleaning protocols, organizations like the AAMI Sterilization Standards Committee work tirelessly to ensure the continual upgrade of the U.S. standards for cleaning reusable accessory devices. Currently, substantial alterations are being made to both TIR30 and TIR12 documents, impacting the guidelines for automated method usage in cleaning processes.

Effectiveness of Cleaning Techniques on Medical Devices

Several studies have been conducted to compare the effectiveness of manual and automated cleaning techniques on medical devices. One such study sought to evaluate the efficacy of these methods on Staphylococcus epidermidis biofilm removal from reusable accessory devices like surgical instruments.

Ultrasonic cleaning, an automated method aiming to eliminate soil through cavitation and implosion, is a popular choice in healthcare facilities. Presoaking or rinsing surgical instruments in artificial test soil is suggested for enhancing the cleaning efficacy, as it prevents blood from drying and softens or removes it from the instruments.

The study found that:

  • Just an hour of contact was enough for bacterial adhesion on surgical forceps, where a multilayer arrangement of S epidermidis was present.
  • Manual cleaning was more efficient than automated cleaning in removing biofilm from cleaning reusable accessory devices like surgical instruments.
  • This suggests that the contact time between the cleaning solution and the instrument is a critical component for cleaning efficacy.

Evaluating Cleaning Methods for Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedures

When evaluating cleaning methods for minimally invasive surgical procedures, a study focused on assessing the effectiveness of ported and non-ported accessory devices employed in minimally invasive surgery. The results showed that automatic cleaning was more effective than manual cleaning. It achieved greater than 99% reduction of soil parameters in both non-ported and ported laparoscopic devices.

For non-ported accessory devices, retro-flushing in an automated narrow lumen cleaner is recommended. Meanwhile, automated cleaning is the most effective approach for cleaning ported devices, providing better cleaning efficacy.

Best Practices for Sterilization Processes

Adherence to best practices is fundamental to ensuring successful sterilization processes. In order to improve the cleaning efficacy, it is necessary to carry out proper precleaning measures, ensuring all contaminants are eliminated from the instruments’ surface before the sterilization process. Moreover, instruments must be transported for cleaning in a timely manner to avoid exposure to any contaminants during the transportation process that could compromise the sterilization’s success.

Health care facilities can significantly reduce infection risk and foster a safer environment for both patients and staff by adhering to these best practices, such as those outlined in the “j infect control” guidelines. Healthcare professionals need to keep abreast of new guidelines and recommendations to confirm they are using the most effective cleaning and sterilization techniques for medical devices.

Challenges and Future Developments in Cleaning Methods

There are several challenges associated with manual cleaning during sterilization processes, such as staffing issues, lack of standardization, outdated or inadequate equipment, preserving the integrity of sterilized items, and limited space or resources. Automated cleaning methods also come with their own set of challenges, including the cost of equipment, the complexity of the process, and the need for regular maintenance and calibration.

Future advancements in cleaning methods are expected to encompass:

  • New technologies to boost accuracy and efficiency
  • Artificial intelligence implementation to automate processes
  • The creation of standards for medical devices’ cleaning and sterilization

These developments will not only address the current challenges but also pave the way for improved infection control and patient safety in healthcare facilities.


Understanding the differences between manual and automated cleaning methods is crucial for effective sterilization processes in healthcare. While both methods have their advantages and limitations, it is essential for healthcare professionals to stay informed and implement best practices to ensure patient safety and reduce infection risks. As new technologies and standards emerge, the future of cleaning methods in medical devices promises to be a dynamic and evolving landscape.

Let us commit to embracing these advancements and continue working towards creating a safer, more efficient healthcare environment for all.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between manual and automated cleaning?

Manual cleaning is inconsistent in terms of quality and can lead to cross-contamination, whereas automated cleaning is precise and consistent every time.

Why is automated mechanical cleaning preferred to manual cleaning?

Automated mechanical cleaning is preferred over manual cleaning as it provides a more predictable outcome, limits the risk of cross-contamination, and ensures that all steps of the cleaning and disinfection process are correctly performed and documented. Ultrasonic cleaning in particular uses cavitation bubbles induced by high-frequency pressure waves to thoroughly clean even blind holes, cracks, and recesses.

Which cleaning method is more effective in removing biofilm from surgical instruments?

Manual cleaning has been proven to be more effective in removing biofilm from surgical instruments than automated cleaning.

What is the recommended cleaning technique for non-ported accessory devices?

Automated narrow lumen cleaners are the best way to clean non-ported reusable accessory devices, using a process called retro-flushing.

What advancements are expected in cleaning methods for medical devices?

New technologies, automation through AI, and standards for cleaning and sterilization are expected to be introduced as advancements in medical device cleaning methods.