Stainless steel’s many qualities ensure it is a vital part of maintaining the sanitary environment of operating theatres and hospitals

In the late 19th century, Joseph Lister was developing practical applications of the germ theory of disease in relation to ensuring sanitary medical settings. His pioneering aseptic surgery techniques – which involved combating infection by spraying surfaces, implements, and even patients, with corrosive carbolic acid – paved the way for modern medical practices.

It wouldn’t be until 1913, however, that a crucial invention would allow for patients to undergo medical treatment in reliably sanitary environments. The many properties of this invention – stainless steel – has led to it being used in a number applications across a variety of healthcare facilities.

This unique material, which is used in hospitals all across the world, is relied upon because it is easy to clean, non-porous and corrosion-resistant, even when it has been repeatedly sanitised with the powerful chemicals needed to combat bacteria.



The World Health Organization (WHO) cites infections acquired by patients while undergoing treatment as one of the most serious challenges facing modern healthcare delivery. Hundreds of millions of patients worldwide are affected every year, so the need to maintain sanitary conditions is paramount.

Another aspect is the growing antibiotic resistance that is reducing the effectiveness of certain vital medical treatments and making it ever more important that surfaces and objects in patient areas can be easily and reliably disinfected.

Stainless steel’s role in maintaining clinical safety cannot be underestimated. Non-toxic, chemically inert, and with non-absorbent properties, stainless steel can be safely sterilised without any corrosion or degradation.

Non-toxic, chemically inert, and with non-absorbent properties, stainless steel can be safely sterilised without any corrosion or degradation.


Rigorously tested

A new study by Manchester Metropolitan University and AgroParisTech has examined the enduring power of stainless steel to deliver a sanitary environment. Previously, most research on the effectiveness of disinfectants was conducted on new surfaces.

This study, however, aimed to test the effectiveness of both new and old surfaces, with a “cycle of fouling and cleaning” developed to simulate ageing. The study took the two grades of stainless steel most commonly found in hospitals and contaminated both new and aged samples with bacteria.

These bacteria, which cause the majority of healthcare acquired infections (HAIs), were Staphylococcus aureus, which is responsible for food poisoning and localised infections, and can even sometimes be fatal. The second, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, is highly prevalent, very resistant and difficult to treat.

Both sets of samples were cleaned, with the disinfectant shown to be 99.9% effective against Staphylococcus aureus and 97.6% effective against Pseudomonas aeruginosa. There was also no discernible difference in effectiveness between the new or aged stainless steel.

With the reliability of its unique properties, stainless steel is set to continue ensuring the safety and sanitation of patients across the world for the foreseeable future.

Read the full summary of the ‘Disinfection of stainless steel in hospitals’ report here.


Images: iStock