Dry-Heat Sterilization: Principle, Advantages, Disadvantages

Dry heat sterilization requires a longer exposure time (1.5 to 3 hours) and higher temperatures than moist heat sterilization. Various methods of dry heat sterilization are hot air oven, incinerationflaming (wire loop), etc.

Dry heat sterilization is employed for items that are damaged by moisture and for materials that maintain their structural integrity when subjected to elevated temperatures, without undergoing melting, combustion, or alteration. Powders, petroleum products, sharp instruments are routinely sterilized using dry heats.

Principle of Dry heat sterilization using HOT AIR OVEN

Closed view of Hot Air Oven
Closed view of Hot Air Oven

Sterilization is defined as killing or removal of all microorganisms, including bacterial spores. Sterilizing by dry heat is accomplished by conduction. The heat is absorbed by the outside surface of the item, then passes towards the center of the item, layer by layer. The entire item will eventually reach the temperature required for sterilization to take place.

Dry heat does most of the damage by oxidizing molecules.  The essential cell constituents are destroyed and the organism dies. The temperature is maintained for almost an hour to kill the most difficult of the resistant spores.

 The most common time-temperature relationships for sterilization with hot air sterilizers are

  1. 170°C (340°F) for 30 minutes,
  2. 160°C (320°F) for 60 minutes, and
  3. 150°C (300°F) for 150 minutes or longer depending on the volume.

Bacillus atrophaeus spores should be used to monitor the sterilization process for dry heat because they are more resistant to dry heat than the spores of Geobacillus stearothermophilus. The primary lethal process is considered to be the oxidation of cell constituents.

Types of Dry-Heat Sterilizers

There are two types of dry-heat sterilizers

  1. the static-air type and
  2. the forced-air type.

The static-air type is referred to as the oven-type sterilizer as heating coils in the bottom of the unit cause the hot air to rise inside the chamber via gravity convection. This type of dry-heat sterilizer is much slower in heating, requires a longer time to reach sterilizing temperature, and is less uniform in temperature control throughout the chamber than is the forced-air type.

The forced-air or mechanical convection sterilizer is equipped with a motor-driven blower that circulates heated air throughout the chamber at a high velocity, permitting a more rapid transfer of energy from the air to the instruments.

Advantages of dry heat sterilization

  1. A dry heat cabinet is easy to install and has relatively low operating costs;
  2. It penetrates materials
  3. It is nontoxic and does not harm the environment;
  4. It is noncorrosive for metal and sharp instruments.

Disadvantages for dry heat sterilization

  1. Time-consuming method because of a slow rate of heat penetration and microbial killing.
  2. High temperatures are not suitable for most materials e.g. plastic and rubber items cannot be dry-heat sterilized because temperatures used (160–170°C) are too high for these materials.
  3. The time and temperature required will vary for different substances and overexposure may ruin some substances.


  1. Bruch C. W. (1964). Some biological and physical factors in dry heat sterilization: a general review. Life sciences and space research, 2, 357–371. 
  2. DARMADY, E. M., HUGHES, K. E., JONES, J. D., PRINCE, D., & TUKE, W. (1961). Sterilization by dry heat. Journal of clinical pathology, 14(1), 38–44. https://doi.org/10.1136/jcp.14.1.38

Acharya Tankeshwar

Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. As an asst. professor, I am teaching microbiology and immunology to medical and nursing students at PAHS, Nepal. I have been working as a microbiologist at Patan hospital for more than 10 years.

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