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Sterilization Tray: Stainless Steel or Plastic?

They prevent the contamination of surgical instruments by micro-organisms that are harmful to the patient undergoing surgery. Which one should you use?

Sterilization trays are also known as surgical trays. They are instruments used to enable the sterilization of all surgical equipment expected to be used in the operating room for any surgical procedure. Surgical trays vary in size and its composition, based on the preference of the surgeon conducting the surgical procedure.

Several surgical trays are set up in the operating room as contingency plans for an unforeseen negative outcome that may suffice during a surgical procedure. This is done to ensure that the operating room remains as sterile as possible throughout the surgical procedure.

The surgical tray is a vital component that is required in every operating room for any surgical procedure because it contains the instruments needed to carry out an effective operation on the patient.

The surgical tray is expected to be sterile before taking them into the operating room, as a measure to prevent them from harboring infectious organisms that will be harmful to the patient undergoing the operation.

Some components of the surgical tray are as follows; Surgical drapes, Towels, Surgical swabs, Surgical sponge, Surgical blades, Scalp vein needles, Disposable syringe, Dissecting Forceps, Tissue clamps, Surgical Probe, Handheld retractor, Self-retaining retractor, Scalpels, Sutures, Surgical scissors, Kidney dish, etc.

The surgical tray also enables easy identification and handling of equipment required by the surgeon during the surgical procedure.

Types of Surgical Trays

There are two different types of sterilization trays used to enable proper disinfection and handling of equipment. These trays include; Stainless steel surgical tray and a Plastic surgical tray.

Stainless Steel Surgical Tray

It is the most commonly used type of surgical tray. It is made from alloy metals, which results in its high tensile strength and its resistance to decomposition when exposed to air, water, or surgical processes.

Grades of Stainless Steel Surgical Tray

There are two grades of stainless steel required to effectively create a surgical tray that will be useful in the operation room.

Stainless steel grade 316

It is a type of stainless steel used when the surgical procedure involves the spillage of body fluids.

The stainless steel grade 316 is used because it is highly resistant to body fluids (blood and chlorides), and as such can not be affected by it. It is employed mostly when producing surgical trays.

Stainless steel grade 304

It is a type of stainless steel used due to its effective protection against corrosion. It is also used in the manufacturing of other surgical equipment (surgical blades), etc.

Parts of Stainless Steel Surgical Tray

The stainless steel surgical tray is made up of three parts. These parts include

The Tray Lid

This part of the surgical tray is used for covering the tray. It is of two forms; The perforated lid and lids with clamps. The perforated lid is employed to enable an effective air drying of surgical equipment after they have been sterilized. While the lids with clamps are used to prevent the contamination of surgical instruments by micro-organisms that are harmful to the patient undergoing surgery.

The Tray dividers

They are used to enable a well-compartmentalized tray, by ensuring every piece of equipment has the proper position it is occupying on the tray, and also to prevent unwanted friction between the instruments.

The Tray

It is used to convey the instruments safely to the operating room where they are used for the surgical procedure.

Advantages of Stainless Steel Surgical Trays

The stainless steel surgical trays are the most commonly used surgical tray due to their numerous advantages. They include;

Ease of Carriage

The stainless steel surgical trays aid in the convey of instruments needed by the surgeon for any surgical procedure from their sterile environment to the operating room.

Less Expensive

Traditionally, the stainless steel surgical tray is more expensive than the plastic surgical tray, however, one piece of stainless steel tray is equivalent to about 30-35 pieces of the plastic surgical tray. In this vein, more money is spent replacing a damaged plastic surgical tray than a stainless steel tray.


The stainless steel surgical trays are durable because of their high tensile strength, long-lasting qualities, and ability to withstand high temperatures during sterilization. It has a shelf life of about 8-10 years when managed effectively.

Minimal Corrosiveness

The stainless steel surgical tray has a minute tendency of corrosiveness, and as a result, has a long lifespan. It resists both physical and chemical particles that readily cause disintegration of other surgical equipment.

Proper Sterilization

It can withstand the temperature of an autoclave during sterilization due to its high resistance to heat. This eventually leads to the destruction of bacteria, viruses, and other forms of microorganisms.

Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Surgical Trays

It requires constant maintenance to remain effective and reliable for surgical procedures.

Plastic Sterilization Tray

The plastic sterilization tray is the type of surgical tray that ensures that there is an adequate supply of vapor during the disinfection of equipment, and also ensures that the equipment dries quicker.

The Plastic surgical tray is made of different parts;

The Tray Lid

It has a see-through opening that allows for proper visualization of the equipment contained in the tray.

The Tray Base

This is the part of the tray where the equipment is stored and arranged.

Disadvantages of Plastic Surgical Trays

• It has a low tolerance for high temperature: It requires extra coating with intertwined materials to enable it to be placed in the autoclave.

• It has a limited level of durability: It can be easily damaged by sharp instruments or other external factors.

• Collectively Expensive: Due to its limited level of durability, it results in a constant purchase of a new plastic surgical tray which in the long run will cost more than the stainless steel surgical tray.

In conclusion, the type of sterilization tray used for any surgical procedure is dependent on the preference of the surgical personnel. Generally, the stainless sterilization tray is the most common and suitable tray used for most surgical procedures. However, the plastic sterilization tray can also be used in certain conditions. Therefore, the best type of sterilization tray used should be the stainless steel sterilization tray because of its numerous advantages.


Jensen Instrument Technologies is a long-established company distributing precision surgical instrumentation across Australia and New Zealand. Our company specialises in the supply of maintenance of precision mechanical, optical and power surgical instruments for surgical theatres. Learn more about us here.


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