Steps for Effective Cleaning and Decontamination in Sterile Processing: A Comprehensive Guide

Sterile processing plays a vital role in healthcare as it directly impacts patient safety. Steps for effective cleaning and decontamination in sterile processing are crucial to prevent healthcare-associated infections and ensure optimal patient care. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the four-step process of steps for effective cleaning and decontamination in sterile processing, the importance of adherence to guidelines and best practices, and the significance of proper training and education for sterile processing technicians.

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The Importance of Decontamination in Sterile Processing

Sterile processing greatly relies on the decontamination process, which helps prevent healthcare-associated infections and ensure patient safety. Surgical instruments must go through a thorough cleaning process to ensure they are free from microbial contamination, foreign material, and other potentially infectious materials.

Sterile processing technicians, also known as sterile processing technician, play a crucial role in ensuring proper decontamination, as they are responsible for tasks such as:

  • Receiving trays
  • Operating the cart washer
  • Readying the workstation
  • Cleaning instruments
  • Assessing the decontamination equipment

The effectiveness of the decontamination process relies on their ability to follow best practices and adhere to guidelines.

If decontamination is inadequate, it can result in a variety of serious consequences, ranging from decreased efficiency and tray discrepancies to staff and patient injuries, as well as increased costs for inventory and equipment. With potential sources of failure (PSFs) including people, tools and technology, internal environment, and organization, it becomes essential to address these challenges to ensure proper cleaning and maintenance of medical instrumentation.

In summary, the importance of decontamination in sterile processing cannot be overstated. By adhering to guidelines, employing effective cleaning techniques, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement, healthcare facilities can ensure the safety and well-being of their patients.

Pre-Cleaning at Point of Use

Commencing the decontamination process, pre-cleaning at the point of use is a fundamental step that aids in the removal of organic matter and reduction of microbial levels on used surgical instruments. According to a study, only 54% of the trays were received in good condition, highlighting the importance of thorough cleaning and decontamination in sterile processing.

Point-of-use reprocessing involves pre-cleaning at the point of use, which is a critical task in the decontamination process. This step helps prevent contaminants from drying and spreading other potentially infectious materials, ensuring that instruments are easier to clean when they reach the sterile processing department.

During extended surgical procedures, it is recommended to wrap instruments in moist towels to avoid the risk of contaminants drying and the spread of other potentially infectious materials. This simple measure can significantly improve the effectiveness of the cleaning process once the instruments reach the sterile processing department.

In conclusion, pre-cleaning at the point of use is a vital step in the decontamination process that helps ensure the effectiveness of subsequent cleaning and sterilization processes. By following best practices and manufacturer’s instructions, healthcare facilities can reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections and improve patient safety.

Environmental Cleaning and Maintenance

Maintaining a safe and sanitary environment in sterile processing areas, which ultimately helps prevent healthcare-associated infections, necessitates regular environmental cleaning and maintenance. Guidelines for environmental cleaning in sterile processing areas, including the sterile storage area, are stipulated by organizations such as AORN, AAMI, and the Joint Commission, which provide best practices and recommendations to ensure optimal cleaning and maintenance.

AORN’s environmental cleaning recommended practice outlines three steps to establish a routine for cleaning: daily cleaning, terminal cleaning, and process monitoring. These steps help minimize the risk of cross-contamination of environmental surfaces and limit the transmission of microorganisms in the sterile processing area.

To evaluate the effectiveness of cleaning practices, AORN recommends employing qualitative measures, such as visual and fluorescent marking, as well as quantitative measures, such as adenosine triphosphate cultures. This process improvement approach helps to identify areas for improvement and ensure that cleaning practices are consistently effective.


By following the best practices and guidelines outlined in this guide, healthcare facilities can ensure the safety and well-being of their patients and provide the highest quality care. Remember, effective cleaning and decontamination in sterile processing are not just about following procedures; they are about making a difference in the lives of the patients we serve.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the correct stages of decontamination?

The stages of decontamination are cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation, in that order. Pre-sterilisation cleaning, inspection and storage should also be included for best results.

What is the process of decontamination and sterilization?

Decontamination is a process of removing soil and pathogenic microorganisms from objects such as medical devices by cleaning, disinfection and sterilization. This process can range from sterilization by autoclave or ethylene oxide to simple cleaning with soap and water. Sterilization, disinfection, and antisepsis are all forms of decontamination.

What is the importance of pre-cleaning at the point of use in sterile processing?

Pre-cleaning at the point of use is critical in sterile processing, as it eliminates organic matter and reduces microbial levels on instruments, ensuring a successful surgical outcome.

What are some examples of manual cleaning techniques in sterile processing?

Manual cleaning techniques in sterile processing include disassembling instruments, inspecting for bioburden, manually scrubbing, and flushing cannulated instruments with a syringe or flushing device.

What are the benefits of using mechanical cleaning methods, such as ultrasonic cleaners and automated washer-disinfectors?

Mechanical cleaning methods, such as ultrasonic cleaners and automated washer-disinfectors, offer many benefits, including reduced labor, improved consistency, and the ability to process large volumes of instruments more quickly.