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The complete removal of air can be challenging for loads with porous quality such as linen and hollow items like cannulated instruments, re-usable aspirator tips, and dental handpieces. And if air is not completely removed, then these items cannot be considered ‘sterile’.

Hence, certain tests like Bowie Dick and Helix Test have to be performed to ensure the sterilizer is capable of removing air from the chamber and load, including parts within hollow and porous items where steam has to penetrate.

But what’s the difference between a Bowie Dick and Helix Test? Read more as we’ll talk about this topic in today’s blog post.

Test Descriptions

The Bowie Dick and Helix Test are mandatory tests that are performed periodically to autoclaves to ensure its optimal operating condition in sterilizing different loads.

To be specific, the Bowie Dick is designed for determining the steam penetration efficiency on large porous items while the Helix tester is intended for testing steam penetration and air removal effectiveness of hollow instruments.

The Bowie Dick test is essential to ensure the complete removal of air so that porous loads inside the autoclave chamber like linens, gowns, and bandanas are completely penetrated with steam. And through this test, the sterilization capabilities of the autoclave are evaluated, particularly:

  • The initial vacuum phase’s effectiveness and how well steam can penetrate cavities.
  • The pressure of the steam and if the sterilizer is able to reach the right temperature of sterilization, as indicated by autoclave tapes.

If the Bowie Dick test fails, it must be because there is poor quality of steam emitted, the machine is unable to produce vacuum, or there is a leak during the initial vacuum phase, and therefore, the test has to be carried out again. And if it fails the second time around, the steam sterilizer should not be used and have to be inspected for operational issues. However if it passes the second test, a third test will be performed as a confirmatory test. The Bowie Dick must be performed after repair or maintenance and if the machine has been used for long periods of time.

On the other hand, the Helix Test is a necessary test, especially in dental practices where the instruments used have long cavities that can harbor viruses and bacteria if not properly sterilized which can infect operators and patients. With this test, the sterilization capabilities of the autoclave are evaluated similarly as the Bowie Test, but only done to class-B autoclave machines that operate through fractioned vacuum process and allows steam to penetrate hollow loads even if these items are bagged.

And just like the Bowie Dick test, any resulting failure with the Helix test will result in repeating the test again and undergoing a third confirmatory test if the second test passed.

Final Words

All in all, the Bowie Dick and Helix Test are 2 essential tests to determine the efficiency of the autoclave before operation. And through these tests are designed to evaluate different loads, their main goal is to sterilize various items and instruments for safe use.

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