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How does your reprocessing team dry the devices they prepare?

Risks Associated with Residual Moisture

While it sounds like an easy task, the drying of surgical instruments, lumens and channels is a time-consuming process that requires unique tools and resources outside the basic cleaning accessories. It is important for reprocessing departments to promote the drying of their devices, because the dryness of any reprocessed medical device directly relates to the sterilization or disinfection outcome. Removing moisture can help to inhibit microbial growth and prevent biofilm formation.

Moisture remaining on the surface of a lumen or endoscope could possibly inhibit the effectiveness of the high-level disinfecting agent being used or the sterilization process that follows cleaning and inspection. Moisture may dilute the disinfectant itself or potentially reduce the effectiveness of the selected chemical. For example, hydrogen peroxide vapor in a gas plasma sterilization cycle may abort in the presence of moisture, which in turn adds longer reprocessing times and increases the potential for delays. Ethylene oxide when combined with water forms ethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze, which can be very harmful and toxic. Not only do reprocessing professionals need the tools necessary to complete this drying task but they also need the time to complete this critical reprocessing step.

What is Instrument air?

Instrument air is compressed or powered air that goes through a filtration process so that the dust, dirt and other pollutants are removed, down to a 0.01 micron size. In a healthcare environment, instrument air is often used to power surgical devices such as a power drills or pneumatic saws. Sometimes instrument air is used to calibrate medical equipment. In the sterile processing department, we use instrument air to dry instruments after cleaning. To qualify as instrument air the air must be free of certain particulates, it must also be free from oils, water, hydrocarbons and other substances that could potentially cause an infection or be potentially hazardous to patients or hinder the sterilization process. These recommendations can be found in the Quality Standard for Instrument Air, ANSI/ISA 7-0-01-1996.

While manual drying may include the use of instrument air, manual drying may also include using a dedicated drying cloth. Many times a sterile, lint free wipe that is intended to aide in the drying process can be used. If you are utilizing a manual process, make sure the drying cloths are free from detergents if reusable. If you are using disposable drying wipes, make sure they are intended for use on your medical device and won’t damage the components. All of these steps are critical contributors to a complete drying step, critical to the effectiveness of the sterilization or disinfection process.

Drying Cabinet Variations in Healthcare

There are a variety of drying cabinets available in today’s healthcare environment. Drying cabinets for medical device use in the sterile processing department are designed for immediate use after cleaning to help remove excess moisture before the next step in reprocessing. While storage cabinets for flexible endoscopes are designed a bit differently, they help in the drying process of products that circulate continuous filtered air through each channel, lumen or crevice of the scope. The selection of the right product for your department is based on utilization, throughput, department design as well as the inventory you are looking to dry.


Here are a few recommendations;


  • Temperature settings in drying cabinets are typically adjustable, make sure the settings meet the requirements for your device inventory
  • A timer is accessible to alert the team when the amount of required dry time has been achieved
  • Cabinets are placed in proper locations that help to avoid cross contamination and ensure a uni-directional workflow
  • Ensuring the attachments and cabinets are cleaned or disinfected regularly to avoid the potential for bacterial growth
  • The cabinet does not allow moisture retention and filters are changed when necessary