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How Are Medical Swabs Sterilised?

Jan. 01, 1970

Sterilisation is an incredibly important part of any medical process - everyone knows that. But how to sterilise medical tools is less common. In this article, the medical swab experts at MUNKCARE outline what you should know about sterilising medical swabs.


Oral care swabs are disposable, single-use oral care sponges attached to a stick. They are used for oral care in the hospital and long-term care setting.Disposable oral care swabs may also be known by other various names, such as sponge swab,swabs for oral care,foam swab,mouth swab,oral swabstick  and the trademark name Toothette..


Toothette is intended to moisten and remove food debris from the mouth and the sticky saliva associated with xerostomia (dry mouth). Most importantly, the intended use of the oral care swab is as an adjunct to other oral care tools (toothbrushes and interdental cleaners) in hospital and long-term care settings. It is particularly useful in caring for the oral health of intubated and palliative care patients and is recommended for individuals undergoing radiotherapy, chemotherapy, bone marrow transplantation or immunosuppression. 

Oral Swab

Oral Swab

The American Dental Association, which approved the Toothette Plus Oral Swab with Sodium Bicarbonate and the Toothette Disposable Oral Care System in May 2002, states that "The Toothette Oral Care Disposable System/Toothette Plus Oral Swab is considered to be an effective oral cleaning tool for individuals who have difficulty performing normal oral hygiene".


Oral swabs and other foam swabs can be used to effectively stimulate tissue between oral care for patients who are unable to care for their own oral health. Oral swabs are particularly useful when patients suffer from severe mucositis that may be caused by chemotherapy. This is because the oral swab provides moisture to the mouth and thus soothes the tissues. In addition, oral care swabs are needed when brushing is contraindicated, especially when an individual's platelet count is below 40,000-50,000 and when access to the mouth is problematic. Oral care with oral swabs is also necessary when an individual has thrombocytopenia to reduce the risk of increased bleeding.


Medical swabs are single-use products, but that doesn't mean they don't need to go through a rigorous sterilisation process.

 Medical Swabs

How are medical swabs sterilised?

The most common methods of sterilising medical equipment are


1. Autoclaves

Autoclaves work, basically, like autoclaves. They blast medical equipment with hot steam to kill germs and microorganisms. The increased pressure inside the autoclave means that the water boils at a higher temperature, so the steam reaches temperatures of 121-140 degrees Celsius, enough to sterilise surgical instruments and other reusable medical equipment.


2. ETO (ethylene oxide gas)

Ethylene oxide sterilisation is used for more delicate instruments and equipment that does not tolerate heat or moisture. Medical equipment is treated with ethylene oxide gas, which destroys the DNA of any microorganisms living on it and stops the organisms from reproducing.


3. Gamma irradiation

Gamma rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation similar to X-rays, but with higher energy. These rays pass through plastic and kill bacteria by breaking the covalent bonds in their DNA. Gamma rays are so penetrating that they are commonly used to sterilise disposable medical devices such as syringes, needles and intravenous syringes.


While there are other methods of sterilisation - thermal, dry heat, chemical, UV and others - these are the methods most commonly used for medical devices.

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