According to the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society, sterile is the absence of and continued protection against all microorganisms, while aseptic refers to protections against pathogenic microorganisms. These two techniques, while similar in purpose, differ in severity and diligence. Sterile is the more thorough of the two types.
In a sterile environment or procedure, antiseptically washed hands and treated surfaces are used to eliminate as many microorganisms as possible and subsequently prevent their transfer from surfaces, interpersonal contact and the air while a patient undergoes an invasive procedure or procedure where the skin barrier is broken. In an aseptic environment or procedure, the concern is somewhat less critical, focusing more on cleanliness to eliminate the transfer or collection of disease-causing bacterium, viruses or other microorganisms. Hands are still washed and new clean gloves used in aseptic procedures, but the steps taken to ensure the elimination of microorganisms are not as stringent, notes the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society.
An article in the Journal of Wound, Ostomy & Continence Nursing published in 2012 includes more in-depth information on the differences, requirements, techniques and situations for when each type might be necessary or used. It also includes further research and references relating to sterile, clean and aseptic standards based on the findings and publications of other medical professionals.