What Is a Sterile Solution?

Mark Wollacott

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.

Hanging IV bag of sterile saline solution.
Hanging IV bag of sterile saline solution.

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.

A sterile syringe and vial of medication.
A sterile syringe and vial of medication.

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.

The autoclave is the most effective sterilization method.
The autoclave is the most effective sterilization method.

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.

A sterile saline solution is often used to clean new piercings.
A sterile saline solution is often used to clean new piercings.

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.

Saline is used in nasal irrigation systems.
Saline is used in nasal irrigation systems.

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Discussion Comments


Saline solution serum is a lifesaver!

I had food poisoning last week. I vomited all night because of something I ate at a cheap restaurant. I was so tired and dizzy that my roommate took me to the hospital first thing in the morning. I was still nauseated and wanting to vomit. They took me at the ER and gave me a saline solution serum and added a medication to it. By the time the serum was finished, I felt so much better. The nausea was gone and I was less tired.

The nurse said that I must have been very dehydrated because I never had to go to the bathroom after the IV. All I know is that I would have been very, very ill without the sterile saline solution.


@bear78-- Actually, the article mentioned this already. Boiling kills most pathogens like bacteria but some may remain behind. But I myself have used the boiling method to make water sterile before. I think that most of the time, it works fine. There is a very low chance of someone getting ill from water that has boiled. Moreover, the homemade saline solution contains salt which also kills pathogens and reduces risk of infection.

If your sister is still worried, the pharmacy sells sterile saline solution that is guaranteed to be sterile. Some piercers also sell sterile cleaning solution to their customers. She can use one of those.


Some people make their own saline solution to clean their piercings. It's apparently made by boiling water and then adding sea salt to it. Is this solution really saline?

My sister is going to get a nose piercing soon. I don't want her to get an infection by using the wrong type of solution.

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