A medical autoclave is a device that uses steam to sterilize equipment and other objects. This means that all bacteria, viruses, fungi, and spores are inactivated. However, prions, such as those associated with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, and some toxins released by certain bacteria, such as Cereulide, may not be destroyed by autoclaving at the typical 134 °C for three minutes or 121 °C for 15 minutes.Although a wide range species of archaea, including Geogemma barosii, can survive at temperatures above 121 °C, no archaea are known to be infectious or pose a health risk to humans; in fact their biochemistry is so vastly different from our own and their multiplication rate is far too slow for microbiologists to worry about them.
Autoclaves are found in many medical settings, laboratories, and other places that need to ensure the sterility of an object. Many procedures today employ single-use items rather than sterilizable, reusable items. This first happened with hypodermic needles, but today many surgical instruments (such as forceps, needle holders, and scalpel handles) are commonly single-use rather than reusable items (see waste autoclave). Autoclaves are of particular importance in poorer countries due to the much greater amount of equipment that is re-used. Providing stove-top or solar autoclaves to rural medical centers has been the subject of several proposed medical aid missions.