Glass is commonly used for laboratory equipment all over the world. This is because its lifespan is often longer than its plastic counterparts and its physical properties make it perfect for containing chemicals, including acids. To help you decide what type of equipment you should purchase for a laboratory, we have outlined everything there is to know about laboratory glassware.
The Uses of Laboratory Glassware
Glassware is a common item in most laboratories because of its durability, customisability and cost-effective nature. These desirable properties help manufacturers create various laboratory apparatus from glass, including volumetric flasks, test tubes, beakers, pipettes, stirring rods and lab funnels, amongst other items.
The Properties of Glass
The beneficial properties of glass include its transparency, which can be advantageous during experiments where physical changes need to be observed, its ability to be cleaned effectively and its suitability for reagent storage.
Most importantly, the majority of experiments conducted in a laboratory can be held within glass apparatus. This is because the physical components of glass allow it to successfully hold dangerous chemicals – such as alkalis, solvents, saline solutions and acids – that most plastics cannot withstand.
Although very few substances can destroy laboratory glassware, strong alkalis, hydrofluoric acid, phosphoric acid, and high temperatures can damage this equipment.
Types of Laboratory Glassware
There are different types of laboratory glassware to choose from, each with specific properties and suitability for certain experiments. For example, borosilicate glass has ample mechanical stability and thermal shock capabilities and can withstand numerous chemicals and temperatures.
Soda-lime glass, on the other hand, is suitable for short exposure to heat stress and chemicals. Therefore, soda-lime glass products usually include pipettes and culture tubes. Pyrex glass is popular due to its high heat resistance, whereas quartz glass is known for its purity and, therefore, high levels of visibility.
Working with Laboratory Glassware
When using laboratory glassware, precautions need to be taken to ensure it is not damaged or broken.
Placing glass under extreme heat can cause it to melt. Exposing glass to extreme coldness can result in the equipment becoming brittle and smashing, similar to if it was placed under intense pressure.
Consequently, it is imperative to purchase tempered laboratory glass as this type of glassware can withstand these conditions much better. In addition, staff and students should be aware of the properties of laboratory glass to understand what it can endure and what it cannot; having this knowledge can reduce the risk of glassware damage and injuries.
It is essential to keep laboratory glassware clean to avoid cross-contamination during experiments. A common misconception about laboratory glassware is that it should be cleaned using boiling water; however, it is more effective to wash the glass in cold water to remove protein residue.
Disinfectant solutions can be a successful method to remove any chemicals or biological residue on the glassware, whilst a bristle brush can remove any remaining particles. After following this process, you should use an ultrasonic bath or soak the glassware again, then rinse the equipment in deionised water three times to eliminate any remaining detergent. Finally, drain on a rack and dry in a sterile environment or hot air oven.
Broken glass can pose a risk if it is thoughtlessly placed in a normal rubbish bin. To minimise injury, discard of broken glassware by sweeping up the remnants, placing them in a puncture-proof cardboard box or glassware disposal container and securely sealing with tape. Label the container with a ‘caution’ note and state its contents.
When purchasing laboratory equipment, considerations towards the material’s properties, its resistance and its limitations are paramount. Laboratory glassware is more resistant to chemicals than most plastics but can struggle under extreme temperatures and pressure. Therefore, evaluate how the laboratory apparatus will be used before investing in equipment to ensure it is suitable for upcoming experiments.