What is Medical Device Reprocessing?

When medical devices are used on patients, they become soiled and contaminated with microbes. The most crucial part of sterile processing technician training is knowing how to eliminate pathogens from these instruments completely. This process is called medical device reprocessing, where used tools undergo a detailed multistep sterilization process.

Defining Medical Device Reprocessing

According to central service technician online courses, medical device reprocessing refers to the disinfection, cleaning, remanufacturing, testing, packaging and labeling, and sterilization of used medical instruments so they can safely be put in service again.

A competent SPT online course includes hands-on practice in each step. Every SPT must pay careful notice of every procedure and perform them with the utmost diligence to prevent the risk of infection.

Devices Qualified for Reprocessing

Before diving deeper into medical device reprocessing, you must familiarize yourself with single-use and reusable devices.

Medical devices labeled "single-use only" cannot undergo reprocessing since they are intended to be disposed of after use. They must never be used again, even on the same patient. Some examples of single-use instruments include orthopedic implants, needles, and catheters.

The only medical devices qualified for reprocessing are those labeled "reusable." As the name implies, reusable tools and equipment can be reused multiple times on the same or various patients as long as they undergo thorough sterilization. Stethoscopes, forceps, and endoscopes are equipment classified as reusable.

Meanwhile, you may have heard of "single-patient use" devices. While they are similar to reusable devices in terms of qualification for reprocessing, these tools may only be reused on the same patient.

Level of Reprocessing

Now that you have an idea of the devices qualified for reprocessing, you must now understand the level each tool requires.

The level of reprocessing per device varies depending on the point of entry and intended use. To quickly determine the appropriate process, SPTs use the Spaulding Classification as a guide:

Non-Critical Risk

Non-critical risk devices make contact with the skin, not the mucus membranes or sterile body cavities.


  • Stethoscopes,

  • blood pressure cuffs,

  • and blood glucose meters.

Application: As necessary, a minimum of a low disinfection process with detergent and water.

Semi-Critical Risk Devices

Semi-critical risk devices come into contact with the mucus membranes and non-intact skin, not the sterile body cavities.

Examples: endoscopes, speculums, and laryngoscope blades

Application: Sterilization is preferred, but a high-level chemical disinfection process is required if not possible.

Critical Risk Devices

Critical risk devices come in contact with blood and sterile body cavities.

Examples: surgical equipment such as implants, forceps, and syringes

Application: Sterilization is required

Medical Device Reprocessing Procedures

All devices of varying levels undergo specific procedures to remove soil and contaminants on their surfaces. While most non-critical tools are sterilized at the disinfection stage, critical devices must undergo all the processes.

Below, you can read the procedures undertaken during medical device reprocessing:

Point of Use Treatment

The sterilization of medical equipment begins at the point of use.

Point of use refers to the physical location and interface where the medical equipment is utilized following its intended usage or a site close to where the device is used.

At the point of use, waste, single-use, and reusable items must be separated, and sharps must be placed in a puncture-resistant container. Prompt initial cleaning steps and measures must be performed to prevent soil and contaminants from drying.

Instrument transport spray foam or gel can keep the devices moist for 72 hours.


The next step in medical device reprocessing is cleaning.

All visible and non-visible soil, contaminants, and foreign materials are removed from the medical devices during cleaning. All items must undergo cleaning before disinfection and sterilization since leftover soil may render the chemicals weak or inefficient.


After cleaning, all items are carefully examined for possible residual waste and contaminants. Inspection verifies the device's cleanliness and detects defects and necessary repairs or replacements.


Upon confirmation of the devices' cleanliness, they are prepared and packaged for disinfection and sterilization. Before transfer to the sterile processing department, medical devices may be stored in pouches or trays.

Disinfection and Sterilization

Depending on the tool type and use, the medical devices may undergo disinfection and sterilization.

As mentioned, non-critical items are usually put through the disinfection process, while semi-critical and critical items need sterilization to eliminate foreign matter from their surfaces.

Disinfection refers to eliminating microbial matter from medical devices but not the spores. Disinfection uses liquid chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, chlorine compounds, peracetic acid, formaldehyde, or wet pasteurization.

Meanwhile, sterilization aims to destroy all microbial life, including spores. There are three main categories of sterilization:

  • Physical sterilization: uses autoclaves, machines that combine high heat and pressure to kill microorganisms.

  • Chemical sterilization: may include ethylene oxide, chlorine dioxide gas, and vaporized hydrogen peroxide. Chemical sterilization processes can be combined with physical procedures.

  • Radiation sterilization: uses radioactive procedures such as gamma ray and electron beam sterilization.

Sterility Assurance Monitoring

After all medical devices have undergone disinfection or sterilization procedures, the final step is to perform sterility assurance monitoring.

This last process ensures that the instrument was subjected to the proper cycle and has met the parameters validated by the sterility assurance product. Biological indicators, chemical indicators, Bowie-Dick tests, and reusable test packs are some examples of sterility assurance products.

The Importance of Medical Device Reprocessing

Medical device reprocessing ensures patient safety by eliminating pathogens from clinical instruments before recirculation. Reprocessing reusable devices also allows hospitals and healthcare facilities to save on costs from single-use items.

With thousands of medical devices used across patients daily, sterile processing technicians are responsible for keeping each piece free from potential infection. SPTs may work in the background, but their service to the healthcare industry has been proven valuable for all patients.

If you wish to start your training as a member of allied health, visit Martinson College to enroll in their accelerated adult and online courses for sterile processing technicians. Their programs are carefully designed for ease of use and immersive learning by combining text, audio, video, and high-resolution images.

Martinson College's goal is to ensure you acquire the necessary knowledge to help you successfully pass the international certification exam. Visit for more details.

Read More: Tips for Disinfecting your Workplace