Plastics that stand up to repeated steam sterilization

Surgical instrument handles, sterilization trays, and fluid handling couplings are frequently sterilized via exposure to saturated steam in an autoclave. Autoclave temperatures typically range from 250 °F to
273 °F with cycle times from 3 to 30 minutes.

The number of steam autoclave cycles that a plastic component will be able to withstand before deteriorating depends on a number of factors including:

  • The hydrolysis resistance of the plastic material
  • Autoclave temperature and cycle time
  • Part geometry
  • The level of residual stress in the part

Relative Autoclave Resistance and Cost of High-Performance Plastics

PSU (polysulfone) is a lower cost option for medical devices that need to withstand a limited number of autoclave cycles. Ultem® is more expensive than PSU, however it is stronger and stiffer than PSU and it can withstand a higher number of autoclave cycles before crazing. 

PEEK and PPSU (Radel® R) are more expensive than PSU or Ultem® however these polymers can withstand a higher number of autoclave cycles before crazing. PEEK is stronger and stiffer than PPSU.  However, PPSU is tougher and more impact resistant.

Review the list of Curbell’s autoclavable plastics and compare properties to find the best material for your application.

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