We have had our wash water tested and the silica level is low, yet we still have a snake skin pattern on our instruments after sterilization. Is the wash water the only source of silicates or can they be coming from somewhere else?
There are other sources of silicate deposits which I neglected to mention in my last post on them
One source is the steam in your autoclave. If water to the boiler is improperly treated, minerals that are dissolved in the water can be carried in the steam and deposit on instruments and the chamber of your autoclave. Silica is also added to some steam boiler systems to protect the boiler and piping from corrosion, if used in excessive amounts this treatment can be deposited on instruments by the steam containing it.
Another source of silicates is in the detergents you may be using. Sodium Silicate (meta-silicate) is sometimes used in cleaning chemistry as a complexing/chelating, buffering and emulsifying agent. As a complexing agent Sodium Silicate has a great affinity for metals and will bind with dissolved metals in water, thus acting as a water softener and preventing dissolved minerals from depositing on surfaces, it is also a great wetting agent and helps keep the components of detergents in emulsion. Many laundry detergents use Sodium Silicate in their formula for this reason and because it has an affinity for metals, tends not to bind to the fibers of clothing.
Another name for dissolved sodium silicate is Water Glass or Liquid Glass and this brings us to its other use. Sodium silicate can be added to the coolant system of a car to repair gaps in the head gaskets. When sodium silicate in solution reaches a temperature of 100°-105°C (212°-221°F) it adheres to the gaps in the head gasket in the form of glass, thus sealing these gaps. The glass that is formed here can only be re-melted at 810°C (1490°F). In the U.S. governments Car Allowance Rebate System “Cash for Clunkers” program, engines of cars traded in had to be disabled so they could not be reused or resold for parts. This was done by draining the oil from the car, replacing it with 2 liters of sodium silicate solution and then running the engine. When the engine got hot enough the sodium silicate would turn glass like and abraded the engine internals causing it to seize.
Given its affinity for metal and the fact that it turns to glass at the boiling point of water, you would wonder why it would be used in any cleaning chemistry for sterile processing, yet it is, because it is a relatively inexpensive substance. It is more common to find this in cart washer chemistry than those for instruments, but here the sodium silicate takes its toll on the washer more than the carts. After repeated uses the cart washer chamber begins to exhibit a coating that one would assume is calcium, but unlike calcium deposits it is not easily remove, even wire brushes have little effect on it. Also this coating begins to build up freezing the washer arm mechanism and plugging the spray nozzles. With continued use the cart washer will become inoperable.