One problem that we all face in medical situations is how to sterilize instruments and possibly homemade dressings. One possible solution is to use a pressure cooker or canner as a improvised autoclave.
First a few words of warning there is no way that we can be sure that a pressure cooker will be as efficient as a real properly designed autoclave. However, it may be the best thing we have. It will be better than using boiling water.
Warning: Before you use your pressure cooker always read and follow the provided safety instructions. Improper usage of a pressure cooker may result in dangerous situations!
How to use your improvised autoclave.
The way that you sterilize items in a pressure cooker is to use a combination of time and steam. A normal autoclave will reach temperatures of 250° F. A good All American pressure canner set for 15 lbs can achieve the same temperature.
To use the pressure cooker or canner as an autoclave you need to put a wire rack in the unit that will hold the items to be sterilized above the water. One way to do this is to take a perforated or wire mesh, stainless steel deep frying basket upside down in the cooker to act as a shelf and keep the items to be sterilized above the water.
Steam is the main agent that does the sterilizing. When you are sterilizing anything in a pressure cooker, it is important to ensure that those items are placed above the water that is boiling. The goal is to expose them to pure steam. If any or all of the items are immersed in the water then complete sterilization may not occur.
The items need to be exposed to the steam for a full 30 minutes. This means you don’t start timing until the steam begins to vent from the pressure cooker. When you fill the cooker, be sure not to over fill it and block the vent.
Instruments can be set directly on the racks. If you are sterilizing homemade dressings in your improvised autoclave, you will need to dry them when they come out. Maintain sterility as much as possible. If possible I would probably use a solar over to dry them