Sanitization of Medical Equipment


Millions of dollars are wasted in medical device repairs and replacements every year due to the mismanagement of safe and effective sanitization of medical equipment. You may have seen the problems at your facility: cracking, bulging, or split plastic, soft spots, and premature wear. These issues are usually caused by powerful chemicals that leave a residue that slowly builds upon the medical device and begins to deteriorate the chemicals in the plastic.

If this looks like your equipment, you’ve probably been concerned enough to look at the operator’s manuals and find the approved chemicals lists. But even then, you may be confused. Many medical devices list sanitizers that contain ammonium chloride on both the approved and not approved list. Same for bleach and isopropyl alcohol. For most medical devices, it’s not necessarily the chemical that’s used, but the concentration. So, a certain chemical’s lower concentration of ammonium chloride may be sufficient to sanitize a device without compromising its structural integrity compared to another sanitizer’s higher concentration.

This is fine, except as the device gets cleaned over time, the chemical leaves residue. And over time, the concentration becomes out of tolerance for the device, and the plastics start to break down. And as the plastics break down, you get broken medical devices, an increased chance for false-positive alarms for certain devices, and the plastic’s cracked and broken areas become nice places for bacteria to grow.

To alleviate this issue, most medical devices also state that after the kill time of a chemical (usually 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the chemical), the medical device should then be wiped down with a damp cloth. Most healthcare workers I’ve spoken with on this subject laugh at the idea that it would even be possible to clean a room and then come back to it 2 to 5 minutes later to get the residue off equipment. It takes too much time.

When I encountered this problem at a hospital I was helping, I brainstormed with some nurses and housekeepers and we came up with an idea that may just work: The very first thing you do when you clean a room is to wipe down all of the medical equipment using an approved sanitizer. Then the room gets cleaned. And then the last thing is to run over the equipment with a damp cloth.

After a few years of implementation, all of the sanitization-related repairs disappeared. Equipment was cleaner, safer, and cost less to operate. I chalked that one up in the “success” category. But the process was not without challenges.

It’s important to communicate to your staff the reason for the change. And it’s an added step that adds a minute or so to cleaning a room, so a little grace may be needed as employees get accustomed to the new routine. But at the end of the day, it was effective and staff took to it.

If you begin cleaning each room by wiping equipment down first, and end each cleaning with a damp cloth wipe-down, you will see the results yourself.


Written by: Ben Archambault, CE/IT Operations Manager