If you need a low-temperature sterilization process for your medical products, then two of your main options are ethylene oxide (EO) and vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) sterilization. These two medical device sterilization protocols have been in use in the United States for years, and they are both good options when heat-sensitive medical devices and products need to be sterilized before they are packaged or used by patients. 

Read on to learn how these two medical device sterilization techniques are performed and each of their unique advantages. 

How Ethylene Oxide Device Sterilization Works

Ethylene oxide sterilization starts with placing the medical devices that need to be sterilized in a special chamber. The chamber is then adjusted to the ideal humidity level for the devices. Next, the air is removed from the chamber, and ethylene oxide gas is introduced into it. The devices being sterilized then remain in the chamber as long as needed to kill all bacteria, virus particles, and other pathogens that may have settled on them during the manufacturing process or when used by a patient.

Finally, gas is released from the chamber and both air washing and aeration of the devices are performed to remove all EO residue from them. Depending on whether ambient or mechanical aeration is chosen, aeration time can range from 8 hours to 7 days. 

The EO sterilization process is extremely effective, compatible with a wide variety of materials, and can typically be completed in just 2.5 hours. EO chambers are also available in a wide variety of dimensions to suit medical devices and batches of various sizes. However, aeration can take longer when ambient aeration is chosen instead of mechanical aeration. 

How Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide Sterilization Works 

Vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP) sterilization also begins with the placement of medical devices in a special chamber. Next, liquid hydrogen peroxide is added to the chamber where it is quickly vaporized. Medical devices typically complete the sterilization process after being bathed in this vapor for about 3 hours, although many factors can affect exactly how long items must remain in this chamber. 

Finally, the vapor is removed from the chamber and medical devices undergo aeration to remove hydrogen peroxide residue. 

Hydrogen peroxide sterilization is also effective, can be completed relatively quickly, and is compatible with many materials. However, since cellulose-based medical products cannot be treated with this sterilization process, EO is a better option for medical devices that contain paper or wood. VHP sterilization chambers are also typically relatively small, so keep this fact in mind when you need to sterilize large items or large batches of smaller items. 

If you have medical devices that must be sterilized in a low-heat environment, then now you understand how two of the most common low-temperature medical device sterilization techniques work and each of their unique pros and cons. While VHP sterilization is a good option for some devices, EO device sterilization is a suitable option for virtually all medical products.

Contact a local EO sterilization service to learn more.