How to Clean Laboratory Equipment Properly

Cleanliness is vital in a laboratory environment. Using dirty equipment means exposing samples to contamination that can ruin an experiment, and risking an adverse reaction that could cause an accident in extreme cases. Improper cleaning can also do damage or leave contaminants on the tools, so it is also vital to do the cleaning properly. While each piece of equipment will have its own cleaning procedures, there are a few items that are common to almost every lab and have fairly consistent standards of care.

Glassware

Laboratory flasks are among the most common tools in modern labs. Since they see the most exposure to samples, they are also the most likely to need regular cleaning. Flasks should usually be cleaned immediately after use, since some substances can get harder to clean with time.

Most substances will not need a detergent. In the rare cases that a detergent is necessary, it is best to use one that is formulated for laboratory use. The vast majority of flasks will instead need to be rinsed with a solvent that corresponds to the chemical in the flask, then rinsed with distilled water once or twice. Finally deionized water should be used for a final rinse.

Water soluble solutions will not need a special solvent. Most non-water soluble solutions will need ethanol or acetone as a solvent instead. Acids and bases should be treated with tap water to neutralize them before cleaning the glassware as usual, and that should be done under a fume hood for safety reasons.

After washing, the glassware should be left to dry in the air. Drying with forced air or a towel can introduce contaminants into the glassware, so it is best avoided.

Centrifuges

Centrifuges are prone to spills when handled by inexperienced workers and need regular cleaning. The device should be turned off and unplugged, and remain that way until it is completely clean and dry.

Manufacturers will provide cleaning instructions, often with a list of safe cleaning solutions. Follow those instructions to the letter to avoid damaging the machine. In general, the centrifuge should be disassembled and wiped clean with a sponge. Avoid getting water on sensitive components or flooding the machine. This is a great time to inspect the centrifuge for wear and tear, so it’s best to have someone with mechanical experience handle it.

General Tips

Cleaning laboratory equipment can be hazardous, so it is vital to wear gloves and other protection while cleaning. Similarly, the cleaner should know what the equipment was last used for so they can avoid exposing it to any cleaning chemicals that could cause a reaction. Finally, the cleaner should take the time to read the manual for all complex equipment in case there are special cleaning instructions. When in doubt, it’s best to look things up first and clean later to avoid problems.

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