What Is a Sterile Solution?

Hanging IV bag of sterile saline solution.
A sterile saline solution is often used to clean new piercings.
The autoclave is the most effective sterilization method.
Saline is used in nasal irrigation systems.
A sterile syringe and vial of medication.
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  • Written By: Mark Wollacott
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2014
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A sterile solution is a mixture of substances where all forms of life have been destroyed. Such solutions form an important part of medicine, surgery and scientific experimentation. It is also a key element of pharmaceutical research.

Solutions are homogenous mixtures of two or more substances. Each solution has one solvent and at least one solute. The solvent dissolves the solute into itself to form the new solution. Solvents can be gas, liquid or solid. Gases will only dissolve gaseous solutes, but solid and liquid solvents will dissolve any kind of solute.

Substances can be divided into the soluble, the solutes, and those that are insoluble. An insoluble substance will not dissolve into any solvent. Each solution has a specific concentration of solute put into the solvent. Examples of such solutions include sugar water and alcohol. The latter is a combination of the solvent water and the solute ethanol.

Sterilization removes all living forms from the solution or object being sterilized. It is different to disinfectant because a disinfectant only targets specific organisms and not all of them. The sterilization process targets fungi, bacteria, viruses and prions.


Low-level sterilization techniques include the boiling method. The object or a sealed solution container is boiled for a specific amount of time. Boiling removes many bacteria, fungi and viruses, but will not get rid of all and will leave many bacteria spores and prions. The dry heat and chemical sterilization methods are good for solid objects, but will destroy solutions.

The most effective sterilization method is the autoclave. The autoclave heats objects to between 250 to 273 Fahrenheit (121 and 134 Celsius) for 15 minutes. This removes all bacteria, viruses and fungi. If prions need removing, then the autoclave should be used for 60 minutes. Solutions can be used in the autoclave so long as its boiling point is not met. Sterile solutions need to be allowed to cool for some time before removal to avoid boiling.

A sterile solution is usually sterilized using sterile filtration. In this method, a filter with microscopic holes is used to capture tiny organisms, spores and prions. This is particularly good for protein solutions. The sterile solution system works best in sterile rooms.

One example of a sterile solution is saline. It is a sterile solution version of sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt. The solution is usually used intravenously for patients. The amount varies from 52 to 105 fluid ounces (1.5 to 3.0 liters) depending on the patient’s needs. Saline is also used to wash contact lenses, nasal irrigation and to clean new piercings.


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