Surgical Supplies: Maintenance and Cleaning Guide

Aug 27th 2018

It’s no secret that one of the biggest expenses in healthcare management is medical and surgical supplies. While  improving supply chain management systems can reduce costs, there is another step you can take to protect your investments.

Properly cleaning, sterilizing, and maintaining your surgical supplies and medical equipment is the easiest way to ensure their utmost quality and a longer lifespan.

What Damages Surgical Supplies?

The number one enemy of surgical supplies is moisture. Moisture can be in the form of water, blood, pus, or chlorhexidine solutions. By letting moisture dry on your instruments, it can cause severe damage such as staining, pitting, or rust.

Another enemy to be wary of is washing your surgical supplies with the wrong solution. Avoid solutions that include laundry soap, iodine solutions, bleach, surgeon’s hand scrub, or anything that contains chlorhexidine or is a chloride-based solution.

Even though most surgical instruments are made from 300 and 400 series stainless steel, it can still stain and rust.

Handling and Storage

The first and one of the most important aspects of protecting your medical surgical supplies is to ensure they are being stored and handled with care. Having a well organized and efficient supply room is the first step. Many surgical instruments such as scalpel blades and scissors are small and easy to misplace or break even before being used.

Keep smaller and larger instruments in separate containers to prevent damage from the weight of larger instruments. Using color coded supply containers prevents supplies from being misplaced. Also, keeping an update-to-date surgical supplies list will help regulate inventory control.


The best way to keep surgical supply enemies away is to ensure a regular and proper cleaning routine. Cleaning removes dirt and debris as well as moisture.

After surgery, this process should begin within 20 minutes. Washing your medical surgical supplies as quickly as possible prevents blood or other surgical fluids from drying and causing pitting or rust.

For cleaning and disinfecting, it is recommend to use fluid that specifically states “for surgical instruments” on the label instead of water or general disinfectants.


A useful method for disinfecting surgical supplies is boiling them. Boiling your instruments in 212°F for at least one minute kills the majority of microorganisms.  Distilled water is preferred for boiling in order to eliminate lime build up.

Be careful with smaller, more delicate instruments as a rolling boil can cause them to bounce around and possibly cause damage. After your surgical supplies have been boiled, remove them with tongs. Do not leave them in the water to cool since they could become re-contaminated.

You should note that boiling your instruments is not sufficient enough for them to be considered sterilized.


All surgical supplies prior to surgery must be sterilized to prevent spreading infection. Sterilization can be done two ways: autoclaving or cold sterilization.


Autoclaving, which is saturated steam under high pressure, is the most popular method to sterilizing surgical supplies.

Before autoclaving, your surgical instruments must be cleaned, disinfected, and lubricated. Make sure they are placed in an open position. You should never lock or close your instruments as the steam will not be able to sterilize all surfaces of your surgical supplies.

Do not overload the chamber or stack the instruments as they may not be sterilized properly. The steam should be able to freely circulate in order to reach all of the supplies inside.

Adjusting the time, temperature, and pressure of the autoclave cycle should be done by following the manufacturer's instructions. Laboratory Equipment gives great guidelines for processing the instruments:

  • Unwrapped instruments at 121°C for 20 minutes at 15 PSI above atmospheric pressure or at 134°C for 3–4 minutes at 30 PSI above atmospheric pressure
  • Wrapped instruments at 121°C for 30 minutes at 15 PSI above atmospheric pressure or at 134°C for 15 minutes at 30 PSI above atmospheric pressure

Once the sterilization process is complete and pressure is at zero, slightly open the door to let the steam escape in order to avoid burning yourself. A dry cycle (usually 30 minutes) should be run as directed by the manufacturer. Using a sterile tong, remove all of your surgical supplies and allow them to cool before putting them back into storage or using them for surgery.

Cold Sterilization

In order to sterilize your surgical instruments with cold sterilization, you’ll need to set aside 10 hours or more for soaking.. You must be careful when sterilizing  fine surgical instruments for this amount of time since they can be damaged. Since this process is so long, autoclaving, which sterilizes in 20 minutes, is typically the preferred sterilization method.


Lubricating your surgical supplies after use is one of the easiest ways to prolong their lifespan. Moving parts on instruments such as joints, hinges, ratchets, and screw joints should be lubricated consistently. As mentioned above, It is important to lubricate all surgical supplies that have flexible joints or moving parts before autoclaving.

Surgical Supply Store Guarantee

Your surgical supply store should guarantee the safety and quality of their products. Even if their supplies come sterilized, you should always take extra steps to personally ensure they are properly sterilized and disinfected before surgical use. A good surgical supply store will always deliver your products on time and damage free.

Implementing and following these simple methods of properly caring for your surgical supplies will lower costs and prevent waste. By maintaining a proper and thorough cleaning and maintenance regime, not only will your medical supply investment be protected, your patients’ health will be as well.