Maintenance and Troubleshooting of Sterile Processing Mechanical Cleaners: A Comprehensive Guide

Imagine a world where surgical instruments and medical devices are not properly cleaned or maintained. This would lead to increased infection rates, procedural delays, and decreased patient satisfaction. This is why sterile processing mechanical cleaners play a critical role in healthcare facilities, ensuring that instruments are safe and functional for patient use.

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Understanding Sterile Processing Mechanical Cleaners

Sterile processing departments (SPDs) play a pivotal role in healthcare facilities by guaranteeing the appropriate cleaning and sterilization of surgical instruments and devices, which upholds patient safety. A well-functioning SPD is vital for the smooth operation of an operating room and other patient care areas. With the advent of complex instruments and medical devices, the cleaning process has become more intricate and demanding, necessitating the use of advanced technologies like ultrasonic cleaners and washer/disinfectors.

Routine Maintenance for Optimal Performance

Consistent maintenance of mechanical cleaners is essential for their best performance and offers multiple benefits such as:

  • Cost reduction
  • Limited downtime
  • Longer equipment life
  • Enhanced cleanliness and hygiene
  • Heightened safety
  • Boosted efficiency

Performing and documenting efficacy tests on mechanical cleaners are necessary measures to affirm that instruments are clean and secure, and that the cleaning cycle is effective. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and adhere to industry standards, such as AAMI ST79(2017), which emphasize the necessity of documenting the cleaning process.

Regular inspection and manual cleaning of mechanical cleaners, including enzymatic cleaners, are paramount to guarantee their optimal functioning. This includes checking for any visible signs of wear and tear, removing debris and other contaminants, and replacing any worn or damaged parts. Maintenance tasks also involve the calibration and monitoring of cycle parameters, such as water temperature, chemical concentration, and flow rate, to ensure that the cleaning process is efficient and effective.

Besides maintaining the mechanical cleaners, it’s also important to scrutinize the surrounding environment and supporting systems. This includes checking water quality, sterilization records, and any other factors that may impact the cleaning process. Regular maintenance ensures that the mechanical cleaners continue to perform at their best, reducing the risk of errors and ensuring patient safety.

Healthcare facilities should establish a maintenance schedule for their mechanical cleaners, which will vary depending on factors such as the type of cleaner, the volume of instruments processed, and the specific needs of the facility. Regular maintenance checks should be conducted at least once a week, with more comprehensive inspections and servicing performed as needed.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Detecting and addressing common problems with mechanical cleaners is necessary for staying compliant with industry standards and preserving patient safety. Several measures can be taken to ensure that instruments are processed correctly, such as:

  • Verifying that ring-handled instruments have been exposed to a lubrication cycle
  • Confirming that orthopedic instruments have achieved thermal disinfection temperatures
  • Ensuring that the correct ultrasonic cleaning method has been applied to a cataract set

To regain functionality, it’s important to initially pinpoint the root of the problem. This may involve:

  • Troubleshooting the mechanical cleaner itself
  • Examining the surrounding environment and support systems
  • Consulting the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines

Once the cause of the problem has been identified, appropriate solutions can be implemented to restore functionality and ensure compliance with industry standards.

Some examples of common issues with mechanical cleaners include clogs or obstructions in the spray arms, malfunctioning heating elements, or incorrect water temperature settings. In these cases, the solution may involve cleaning or replacing the affected component, adjusting the settings, or recalibrating the equipment as needed.

Regular maintenance can help to prevent many common issues with mechanical cleaners by ensuring that they are functioning properly and that any worn or damaged parts are replaced promptly. However, even with regular maintenance, issues may still arise, making it essential for healthcare personnel to be knowledgeable in troubleshooting techniques and solutions.

Ensuring Proper Training and Compliance

Adequate training and compliance are key for sterile processing staff to operate and maintain mechanical cleaners effectively, thereby reducing the risk of errors and safeguarding patient safety. This includes understanding the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines for maintenance and troubleshooting, as well as adhering to industry standards and best practices.

Healthcare facilities should provide comprehensive training programs for sterile processing staff, which may involve hands-on instruction, online courses, workshops, and seminars. These training programs should cover topics such as the proper handling and cleaning of surgical instruments, the sterilization process, and the use and maintenance of mechanical cleaners.

Implementing Quality Management Systems

Quality management systems (QMS) hold a significant position in sterile processing departments; they aid in standardizing procedures, tracking performance, and consistently enhancing the maintenance and troubleshooting processes for mechanical cleaners. A QMS is a system used to document various organizational processes, procedures and responsibilities. It is designed to help enhance policies and objectives within a certain department..

Implementing a Quality Management System (QMS) in sterile processing departments can provide numerous benefits, such as:

  • Meeting regulatory requirements
  • Increasing operational efficiency
  • Establishing standardized procedures and best practices
  • Ensuring consistent and effective cleaning and sterilization processes across all healthcare facilities.

Monitoring performance is another critical aspect of a QMS. By tracking key performance indicators (KPIs), such as the number of instruments processed, the time taken for cleaning and sterilization, and the rate of equipment failures, sterile processing departments can identify areas of improvement and implement changes accordingly.

Continuous improvement is the ultimate goal of a QMS. By regularly reviewing and updating processes, procedures, and best practices, sterile processing departments can ensure that they are always operating at peak efficiency and effectiveness. This not only helps to maintain compliance with industry standards but also fosters a culture of quality and accountability within the department.


Throughout this comprehensive guide, we have explored the importance of sterile processing mechanical cleaners, the intricacies of their operation, the need for regular maintenance and troubleshooting, the significance of proper training and compliance, and the benefits of implementing quality management systems. By understanding and implementing these best practices, healthcare facilities can ensure the efficient operation of their sterile processing departments, maintain compliance with industry standards, and ultimately safeguard the safety and well-being of their patients. With this knowledge, you are now armed with the tools and insights necessary to become a master of maintaining and troubleshooting sterile processing mechanical cleaners.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should cleaning equipment be tested in the SPD department?

Cleaning equipment in the SPD department should be tested and documented daily to ensure correct settings and proper function.

What are the 3 major physical areas of a typical sterile processing department?

A typical Sterile Processing Department comprises three major physical areas; decontamination, assembly and sterile processing, as well as sterile storage and distribution. Barriers should be used to separate the decontamination area from other sections to contain contamination on used items.

How do you clean sterilization and maintenance of surgical instruments?

It is recommended to use warm or cool, distilled water and solutions with a pH below 10 for cleaning, rinsing, and sterilization. After presoaking or rinsing to prevent drying of blood, instruments should be manually cleaned, rinsed in sterile water and then autoclaved or cold-sterilized. Dry the instruments thoroughly to minimize corrosion and water spots and make sure they are dried in an open position.

What are the challenges of sterile processing department?

Staffing issues, lack of standardization, outdated or inadequate equipment, difficulty meeting regulatory standards, and lack of interdepartmental communication are some of the biggest challenges facing sterile processing departments. Quality management issues and insufficient space or storage resources can also pose a challenge.

What is the significance of sterile processing mechanical cleaners in healthcare facilities?

Sterile processing mechanical cleaners are essential for healthcare facilities as they guarantee the safety and functionality of surgical instruments and other reusable devices, providing a safe environment for patient care.