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Carbolic Acid Spray

RCPSG, Illustrations in The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow by Tom Gibson

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Carbolic Acid Spray

A carbolic acid spray, donated to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary Museum by Dr Burn-Murdoch in 1931.

Joseph Lister pioneered the use of carbolic acid to disinfect wounds during the 1860s, while working as a surgeon in Glasgow Royal Infirmary. He left Glasgow in 1869 when he was appointed to the chair of Clinical Surgery at the University of Edinburgh. He introduced the antiseptic spray to the operating theatre at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary two years later, to disinfect not only the area surrounding the patient's wound but the atmosphere around the operating table. It worked by heating water to boiling point in the upper chamber of the instrument, so that steam was forced out of the tube on the right. The carbolic acid in the glass container was drawn up and mixed with the steam before being emitted into the air.

The hand spray was superseded by one operated by a foot pump and then by a steam pump. However, Lister had abandoned the use of the spray by 1890 when it had become clear that air-borne pathogenic organisms were not a major source of wound infection in the operating theatre.

Reference: RCPSG, Illustrations used in The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow by Tom Gibson

Reproduced with the permission of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow

antiseptic sprays, antiseptic surgery, carbolic acid sprays, medical instruments, operating theatres, surgery, wound infections

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