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Decontamination is a term used to describe a process or treatment that renders a medical device, instrument, or environmental surface safe to handle.

A decontamination procedure can range from sterilization to simple cleaning with soap and water.

Sterilization, disinfection and antisepsis are all forms of decontamination.
 Sterilization is the use of a physical or chemical procedure to destroy all microbial life, including highly resistant bacterial endospores.

Disinfection eliminates virtually all pathogenic non sporeforming microorganisms but not necessarily all microbial forms on inanimate objects (work surfaces, equipment, etc.).

Effectiveness is influenced by the kinds and numbers of organisms, the amount of organic matter, the object to be disinfected and chemical exposure time, temperature and concentration.

Antisepsis is the application of a liquid antimicrobial chemical to skin or living tissue to inhibit or destroy microorganisms. It includes swabbing an injection site on a person or animal and hand washing with germicidal solutions.

Although some chemicals may be utilized as either a disinfectant or an antiseptic, adequacy for one application does not guarantee adequacy for the other. Manufacturers’ recommendations for appropriate use of germicides should always be followed.

General Procedures

  • All infectious materials and all contaminated equipment or apparatus should be decontaminated before being washed, stored or discarded. Autoclaving is the preferred method. Each individual working with biohazardous material should be responsible for its proper handling.
  • Biohazardous materials should not be placed in autoclave overnight in anticipation of autoclaving the next day.
  • Autoclaves should not be operated unattended or by untrained personnel.
  • Special precautions should be taken to prevent accidental removal of material from an autoclave before it has been sterilized or simultaneous opening of both doors on a double door autoclave.
  • Dry hypochlorites, or any other strong oxidizing material, must not be autoclaved with organic materials such as paper, cloth or oil.




There are four main categories of physical and chemical means of decontamination. They are heat, liquid disinfection, vapors and gases, and radiation.

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