7 Best Autoclave Sterilizers for Manicure & Salon Tools

autoclave manicure

123RF.com (Oksana Kukuruza)

Any time your tools make contact with a client, there’s a chance for bacterial, viral, or fungal transmission. That’s why it is so important to autoclave manicure tools, from your manicure set to nail drill machine bits.

We’ve all heard the horror stories in the news of people who’ve had fingers or toes amputated from infections at the nail salon. Most of these articles end the same way: if you’re going to a salon, make sure they use an autoclave sterilizer. See the end of the article to understand what to look for in an autoclave and how they work.

What Are the Best Autoclave Sterilizers for Manicure & Salon Tools?

Heavy duty steal sterilizer Amazon Customer Reviews
  • CDC's ideal method
  • Has normal and rapid cycles
  • Lots of safety measures
Price: $2,159.92 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Autoclave machine with LCD screen Amazon Customer Reviews
  • CDC's ideal method
  • Has pre-vacuum and LCD screen
  • Can print sterilization record
Price: $2,059.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Square blue and white autoclave Amazon Customer Reviews
  • CDC's ideal method
  • Easy controls
  • Nice professional size
Price: $1,610.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Aries Outlets autoclave sterilizing machine Amazon Customer Reviews
  • CDC's ideal method
  • Two temperature options
  • Drying cycle
Price: $1,180.00 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
White sterilizer box with steel handles Amazon Customer Reviews
  • More affordable
  • Smaller to store
  • Doesn't need water
Price: $59.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Mini autoclave with accessories Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Portable
  • Uses steam and pressure
  • Easy to store
Price: $826.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
White sterilizer cup with salon tools Amazon Customer Reviews
  • Cheap
  • Takes up almost no space
  • Fast
Price: $29.99 Shop at Amazon Shop now Read our review
Our Unbiased Reviews
  1. 1. Tuttnauer 1730 Valueklave

    Pros:
    • Ideal sterilization method according to CDC
    • Dries tools after steaming
    • Has a rapid cycle
    • Room for three trays of tools
    • Adjustable temperature and timer
    • Safety door won’t unlock when pressurized
    • Safety shut off
    • Warranty
    Cons:
    • Takes more space than some
    • Larger investment upfront
    • More than home businesses need

    If you want to reliably sterilize your non-porous equipment, the Tuttnauer 1730 Valueklave is the autoclave you want. The Valueklave delivers the proper steam heat and pressure to satisfy the CDC’s standards and even has a drying cycle that will remove excess moisture following the steaming step.

    This machine allows you to use autoclave pouches to maintain sterile supplies which is a huge and vital improvement from simple high heat sterilizers.

    It has a simple three-dial operation with settings for a timer, temperature settings (with your goal temperatures clearly marked off), and a dial to switch between active or maintenance device modes like Sterilize and Fill Water.

    I like that the Valueklave is fast. From a cold start, you can fully sanitize and dry unbagged tools in 16 minutes. If the machine has already run a cycle (a hot start) it will only take 11 minutes. It heats quickly and efficiently and a dual safety mechanism protects against overheating so it can be run basically all day.

    A double lock prevents the door from being opened when pressurized ensuring the safety of yourself and your employees. There is space for three trays of tools in this one so you can fit a few sets of manicure tools but not dozens. It’s not too big at around 18 by 17 inches and is simple to operate and maintain.

    The water reservoir is filled on top but there’s a drain at the front making it much easier to empty.

    If you want to sterilize porous items like towels, you’ll need a vacuum sterilizer, which this isn’t.

  2. 2. Aphrodite Vacuum Steam Autoclave (12L to 23L)

    Pros:
    • Ideal sterilization method according to CDC
    • Pre-vacuum and post-vacuum for drying
    • For solid and porous items like towels
    • Can print sterilization record
    • Three sizes to choose from
    • Clear LCD screen
    • Two temperature settings
    • Dual water tank
    Cons:
    • Pricier than others
    • Bigger than some may need
    • Vacuum sterilizers take longer

    If you are looking to sterilize more than just non-porous tools, you need a vacuum sterilizer like this Aphrodite Pre-Vacuum Medical Autoclave. 

    These machines work by creating a vacuum in the chamber before the steam is released, that way there is no air left in the chamber to get in the way of the steam coming into direct contact with your tools and inside porous items, like towels, which wouldn’t otherwise be properly sterilized. The Aphrodite uses a pre-vacuum to remove air and then pressurizes the chamber with steam-heated to either 121 or 134 degrees Celsius. It then has a post-vacuum cycle that removes air from the chamber a second time which also acts to dry your items. 

    For how high tech it is, the system is user-friendly and has a large LCD screen to help you run it properly. There’s a built-in Bowie & Dick self-testing system to make sure you’re machine is performing how it should be.

    I love that it has the ability to connect to a mini-printer and print off a sterilization record so you can keep track and have proof of your sterilization practices. There are two water tanks so you don’t have to refill the machine as often.

    The Aphrodite comes in three sizes: 12-liter, 18-liter, and 23-liter chambers. They’re all around the same price so you can really choose the size the works for you. The largest 23-liter machine is about 26 inches long, 17.4 inches deep, and 15 inches tall. The 18-liter machine is about 21 inches across, 17.4 inches deep, and 15 inches tall. The length isn’t given for the 12-liter but I’m guessing the other stats also remained the same.

  3. 3. Sun Series Dental Autoclave

    Pros:
    • Ideal sterilization method according to CDC
    • Simple to operate
    • Works with autoclave pouches
    • Adjustable temperature
    • Multiple shelves
    • Clear, digital read out
    • Good for larger salons
    Cons:
    • Too big for some
    • Fewer exact temperature options
    • More than a home business needs

    Designed to be used in dental offices, you can trust that this Sun Series Autoclave will get your tools as clean as possible. It uses hot steam and pressure to sterilize and works well with both bagged and unbagged tools.

    I like that the interface is so easy to use and understand. There are buttons representing different types of equipment with corresponding illustrations and labels like “Unwrapped” for tools not using autoclave bags. You click the button for what you’re sterilizing and the autoclave does the rest, adjusting the temperature and timer accordingly.

    It’s larger than the others at 25.5 inches by 22 inches by 19.6 inches. You will have to dedicate some space to it but that also means you have more space to sterilize more tools at a time on its two wide removable trays.

  4. 4. Aries Outlets Automatic Lab Autoclave

    Pros:
    • Ideal sterilization method according to CDC
    • Three trays
    • Two temperature settings
    • User-friendly control panel
    • Drying cycle
    Cons:
    • Will need steam vent pipe
    • Not best for porous items
    • Too big for some

    If you need something slightly bigger that won’t break the bank, consider Aries Outlets’ Automatic Lab Autoclave. As a pressurized steam sterilizer, it’s using the method of sterilization suggested by the CDC and is best for non-porous items like stainless steel manicure tools. The 18-liter tank has three removable trays for placing your tools and accommodates sterilization pouches.

    The control panel is very user-friendly and allows for easy selection of either 25 minutes at 122 degrees Celsius or six minutes at 134 degrees Celsius, followed by a 40-minute drying cycle and a cool-down time to allow the pressure to reduce. It’s filled with distilled water on the top of the machine and will alert you when the water tank is getting low. 

    It’s a decent size machine at 23.6 inches across, 15.3 inches deep, and 14.1 inches tall.

  5. 5. Mini Heat Sterilizer

    Pros:
    • Affordable
    • Doesn’t take up much space
    • Simple to operate
    • Adjustable temperature up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit
    Cons:
    • Not for use with autoclave pouches
    • Dry heat with no pressure is not the CDC ideal
    • Too small for some

    This Mini Heat Sterilizer is a good choice if you have a small or at-home operation with a very small budget and low risk of transmission. These types of machines use extremely high temperatures alone to kill microbes but don’t pressurize the same way a true autoclave would.

    The minimum target to hit is 250 degrees Fahrenheit and you can adjust this sterilizer all the way up to 392 degrees. You wouldn’t want to use autoclave pouches in this because the rocket-hot temperatures used to make up for the lack of increased pressure would likely melt them.

    This mini sterilizer is easy to operate with two simple dials: one for temperature and another for a timer that runs up to two hours.

    At 12 inches by 7 inches, it’s a good size to store and sterilize one manicure or salon tool set at a time. It’s not large enough to handle the needs of most commercial operations and because there’s no pressure element, you wouldn’t want to crowd the tray with as many tools as you could possibly fit.

  6. 6. Sun3 Mini Autoclave Sterilizer

    Pros:
    • Ideal sterilization method according to CDC
    • Small and light
    • Has a rapid cycle
    • Portable
    Cons:
    • Too small for many
    • Can’t use autoclave pouches
    • Probably won't last as long as others

    The Sun3 looks more like a cooler you could bring to a picnic rather than a traditional autoclave but despite its shape and size, it still delivers the steam and pressure to properly sterilize equipment.

    It’s about 15 inches tall, 13 inches wide, and 8.6 inches deep. At only around 17 pounds, it’s actually portable so if you travel or work on location, this could be a good way to ensure sterilized tools every time.

    Instead of a tray, the Carejoy Mini has a vertical barrel that you drop your tools into so this one isn’t compatible with autoclave pouches the way the Valueklave is. It does heat up quickly with an 11-minute sterilization cycle.

    This isn’t a good choice for large operations that need lots of turnaround and many sets of tools done at once but is perfect for small salons that have limited space.

  7. 7. Makartt Hot Cup

    Pros:
    • Cheap
    • Small
    • Quick heating
    Cons:
    • Not nearly as effective as an autoclave
    • Can’t fit tall tools
    • Spill hazard
    • Only heats up tips of tools

    Not an autoclave, the Makartt Hot Cup is an option for those with no budget, basically no space, and very little risk of transmission like a home nail artist.

    The Makartt Hot Cup is a small vessel that you fill most of the way up with included glass beads. You stick your tools into the beads, replace the cover if possible, and the cup heats up rapidly. The glass beads conduct that heat all around your tools, bringing them up to germ-killing temperatures.

    Will they be autoclave levels of sterile? No, but this will act as a small high heat sterilizer. The Hot Cup reaches temperatures of 284 degrees Fahrenheit which safely exceeds the minimum.

    Your tools heat up in minutes so you want to be very careful when you are removing them as the handles will be very hot.

    It does have drawbacks so it’s not for everyone. Besides not having the same sterilization as a true autoclave, you can’t fit a lot of tools in at once, the outside of the cup can be pretty warm, and there’s a danger of knocking over the cup and spilling rocket-hot beads over everything.

    That said, it’s small, affordable, and extremely portable so it may be the right choice for you if an autoclave is clearly overkill.

Why Choose Autoclave Sterilization?

Autoclave sterilization using steam, high heat, and pressure is considered by the CDC to be the most dependable method to destroy bacteria, fungi, viruses, and microbial spores.

This is the method used by dentists and tattoo artists, and since manicures have the potential for drawing blood, it's a logical step for salons.

A minimum temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius) has to be reached and maintained for a period of time to ensure your tools are sterile.

Quality autoclaves also increase the air pressure inside of them, similar to a pressure cooker, ensuring that the heated steam covers and penetrates all areas and crevices of your tools. Since it's pressurized, no one can open the autoclave before its cycle is complete, eliminating the possibility someone could cut corners and use unsterilized tools by pulling them early.

One autoclave tip: only use distilled water in your autoclave. Tap water can gunk up your machine with scaling and minerals.

What's the Different Between Gravity and Pre-Vacuum Salon Autoclaves?

There are two types of steam autoclaves and which one you need depends on what you're using it for. 

According to the CDC, the air sitting in your chamber once you've loaded in your tools obviously isn't sterile and if you just pumped steam into it, there would be sections of your tools that wouldn't get sterilized because the initial air creates a kind of barrier between the steam and your tools. 

Gravity autoclaves pump in steam from the top of the machine and vent out the bottom so the air (which is heavier than steam) is replaced with steam. They're called gravity autoclaves because it relies on gravity to cause the air to sink below the steam. These work great for stainless steel and non-porous tools but aren't as great for porous items like towels which are full of air. 

Pre-vacuum autoclaves run a vacuum cycle before the steam enters which pulls all the air out of the chamber so when the sterilizing steam is released, there's nothing to get in the way. These are ideal for porous items like towels but will work for non-porous tools as well. 

What About After Tools Have Been Sterilized?

Autoclaves also allow you to keep tools sterile. When you have clean autoclave manicure tools, but no client to use them on just yet, you can't just stick them in a drawer waiting until they're needed or risk contaminating them.

That's why they autoclave pouches which are self-sealing bags that keep your tools sterile until you need them. You slide your tools in the pouch which has one transparent plastic side and one paper side.

The paper is porous enough to allow the pressurized steam to penetrated the bag and sterilize the tools inside. A temperature-sensitive ink "S" will appear on the bag when it has reached the minimum sterilization temperature so every time you grab a pouch of tools, you can quickly visually check if they're sterile.

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