Handwashing Techniques for Surgical Instruments in Sterile Processing: A Comprehensive Guide

Imagine undergoing surgery, only to develop an infection due to improperly cleaned surgical instruments. It’s a frightening thought, isn’t it? This is why maintaining the cleanliness and sterility of surgical instruments is of paramount importance. In this blog post, you’ll learn about various handwashing techniques for surgical instruments in sterile processing, ensuring the highest standards of care for patients and healthcare providers alike.

Search Sterile Processing Technician Programs

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

Sponsored Listings

The Importance of Handwashing in Sterile Processing

In sterile processing, handwashing proves instrumental in preventing infections, preserving instrument functionality, and safeguarding patient safety. In healthcare facilities, proper handwashing is the first and most important step in the cleaning process of medical devices. Whether it’s a manual cleaning method or a mechanical cleaning process, adhering to the manufacturer’s instructions is vital to effectively reprocess surgical instruments.

Hand Hygiene and Surgical Instruments: A Crucial Connection

The link between hand hygiene and surgical instruments is indisputably pivotal. Proper handwashing is the foundation of sterile processing, as it ensures the cleanliness and sterility of medical instruments. More importantly, thorough hand hygiene is vital in preventing the transmission of infection and maintaining patient safety. Standard-setting organizations, the FDA, and the CDC all emphasize the importance of comprehensive cleaning, especially when it comes to medical devices. The cleaning process must be consistent and standardized to ensure the highest level of quality outcomes for patients.

One might wonder, “What if hand hygiene is not maintained?” The answer is simple: if hand hygiene is not maintained, surgical instruments may become contaminated, leading to the spread of infection. This highlights the critical need for proper handwashing techniques in sterile processing.

Step-by-Step Handwashing Techniques for Surgical Instruments

Having grasped the significance of hand hygiene, we can now explore the detailed handwashing techniques for surgical instruments. The initial step in sanitizing surgical instruments after use is to moisten the instrument with a moist towel or soft fabric. However, it is important to note that not all materials are suitable for every cleaning method.

Manual cleaning is a method employed when device loading is not feasible or when the instruments possess complex structures. Two fundamental elements of manual cleaning are friction and fluidics, which are necessary for effective cleaning of surgical tools. Adhering to the device manufacturer’s current instructions for use (IFU) is imperative to confirm the effectiveness of the disinfection or sterilization process.

After manual cleaning, the third step is automated washing and disinfection. Surgical instrument cleaning is often accomplished with sink bay systems, ultrasonic cleaners, and washer disinfectors. These are the most popular choices for sterilizing medical instruments. Presoaking or rinsing of surgical instruments is recommended to avoid the drying of blood and to soften or remove it from the instruments. Lastly, drying is necessary to avoid rust and corrosion when storing the instruments.


Throughout this comprehensive guide, we have explored the importance of handwashing in sterile processing, the crucial connection between hand hygiene and surgical instruments, and step-by-step handwashing techniques. Armed with this knowledge, healthcare professionals can ensure the highest level of patient safety and care by maintaining the cleanliness and sterility of surgical instruments.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the techniques of surgical hand washing?

The techniques of surgical hand washing involve scrubbing hands and forearms with an antimicrobial soap for the recommended amount of time, usually 2–6 minutes. This process should be broken into three stages and includes removal of jewelry, washing of hands and arms with antimicrobial soap, and scrubbing of arms while keeping the hand higher than the arm at all times. The first stage of surgical hand washing is to remove any jewelry that may be worn. This is important to prevent the jewelry from becoming contaminated and potentially causing an infection. The second stage is to wash the hands and arms with an antimicrobial soap.

What are the three methods of hand decontamination?

The three methods of hand decontamination are social (routine) hand washing with soap and warm water, alcohol based hand rubs, and surgical hand hygiene. Each method utilizes different types of cleansing agents to prevent the spread of infection.

How do you clean and sterilize surgical instruments?

Surgical instruments should be pre-soaked in warm water and then cleaned manually using soft cleaning brushes and neutral detergent. Following this, the instruments should be sterilized with steam or autoclave sterilization. Finally, rinse the instruments in sterile water to complete the process.

What is ultrasonic cleaning and how does it work?

Ultrasonic cleaning is a process of using high-frequency sonic waves to remove debris from the surfaces of medical instruments, by generating small bubbles which eventually collapse.

Why is quality control and inspection important in sterile processing?

Quality control and inspection is essential for sterile processing to guarantee the cleanliness and safety of instruments, as well as a safe environment for patients and healthcare providers. It also enables opportunities to identify areas for improvement in sterilization processes.