Tips for Proper Lab Equipment Maintenance
Proper maintenance of equipment is of the utmost importance in any laboratory—contamination can stop a project in its tracks or invalidate lab results altogether. While maintenance is generally one of the most expensive operating costs in a laboratory’s budget, they are simply necessary for proper operation. This article will explore tips on properly maintaining lab equipment. First, let’s take a look at the role of lab technicians.
Lab Technicians: An Important Role
Laboratory technicians can be found in a variety of settings, from the pharmaceutical industry, to education, to the medical industry, to government-run organizations. The tasks a lab technician performs often depend on the specific needs of their industry and employer. Duties can include:
- Receiving, recording, and conducting tests on samples and specimens
- Cleaning and maintaining laboratory equipment
- Working with and ensuring proper handling and storage of chemicals
- Running reports and performing database updates
Many lab technicians also have the important responsibility of keeping the lab clean, organized, and well maintained. This can involve cataloging equipment, and sanitizing surfaces and equipment before and after use, as well as disposing of lab specimens, chemicals, and bio-hazardous waste in accordance with applicable laws.
Medical/Clinical Laboratory Technicians
Medical and clinical laboratory technicians play an important role in the healthcare process. Their work aids doctors in the prevention, early detection, and diagnosis of diseases like diabetes, infectious diseases, and cancer. Medical lab technicians typically work under the supervision of a physician, medical technologist, or lab manager, and perform various laboratory tests and other functions. Areas in which medical lab technicians may specialize include:
- Molecular biology
- Clinical chemistry
Medical lab technicians perform various functions, including preparing specimens and collecting and analyzing blood, urine, and tissue samples. Lab technicians may match blood compatibility for transfusions, set up and sanitize laboratories, log data from tests, and update patient medical records. They are often required to handle sophisticated lab equipment, including microscopes, centrifuges, hydrometers, automated analyzers, and cell counters.
Keeping the Lab Sterile and Organized
To avoid cross-contamination and ensure accurate results, organization and proper sanitation of lab supplies are critical. Let’s take a look at some best practices in the laboratory environment.
Protective Clothing and Gear
- The workplace should be sanitized and well lit
- Lab technicians should always wear a lab coat, mask, lab gloves, and goggles when handling specimens
- Heavy-duty protective gear should be worn when working with potentially hazardous chemicals or when cleaning equipment used to hold noxious chemicals that can damage the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes.
Cleaning Laboratory Glassware
Clean, sterile glassware is absolutely essential, especially in a medical laboratory setting. Contamination can result in erroneous test results. All glassware needs to be completely free of grease and other contaminants.
It’s especially important to make sure glassware is clean when it’s being used to measure the volume of liquids. Grease or other contaminants will prevent the glass from becoming uniformly wetted. This will prevent the liquid from adhering uniformly to the walls, which can result in incorrect volume measurements.
Here are some tips for cleaning glassware:
- Use a detergent designed for lab glassware, such as Alconox or Liquinox.
- Generally speaking, rinse glassware in the proper solvent, followed by several rinses with distilled water and, finally, rinses with deionized water.
- For common lab chemicals that are water soluble (e.g. sucrose solution), rinse glassware three to four times with deionized water followed by a final rinse with distilled water.
- For common lab chemicals that are water insoluble solutions (e.g. hexane), rinse two to three times with ethanol or acetone, followed by three to four rinses with deionized water.
- Glassware with stuck-on, water insoluble residues should be scrubbed thoroughly with a brush.
- For strong acids (e.g. hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid), carefully rinse the glassware under the fume hood with tap water, and then rinse several times with deionized water.
- For weak acids (e.g. acetic acid, nitrous acid, and dilutions of strong acids), rinse several times with deionized water.
- For strong bases (e.g. sodium hydroxide), carefully rinse the glassware under a fume hood with tap water, and then rinse several times with deionized water.
- For weak bases (e.g. ammonia), rinse with tap water, and then rise three to four times with deionized water
- Always start with gentle solvents before moving on to more aggressive methods.
Drying (or Not Drying) Glassware
Drying glassware with paper towels or using forced air is inadvisable, as these methods can introduce fibers and impurities that can cause contamination of a solution. Allow glassware to air dry on the shelf. Leaving glassware wet is fine if you plan to add water to it shortly thereafter—however, note that this could impact the concentration of the final solution.
If glassware needs to be used immediately, or soon after washing, but must be dry before use, rinse it two to three times with acetone, which will remove any water, and the acetone will dry quickly.
General Safety Rules in the Lab
- Ensure chemicals, specimens, and samples are well marked and organized.
- Never pipette with your mouth! Regardless of the substance—even if it’s only water—you should never pipette by mouth. Use an automated pipette or pipette bulb.
- Always dress appropriately—long pants are preferable to shorts or short skirts; no sandals; and no contact lenses. Always wear safety goggles and a lab coat.
- Learn how to use safety equipment, including eyewash, shower, fire blankets, fire extinguishers, etc.
- Never eat and drink in the lab, as tempting as it may be. Food and drinks can cause contamination or become contaminated.
- Dispose of chemicals properly. While some chemicals can legally be washed down the drain, others require special handling. Know which chemicals are safe to be washed down the drain.
- If you feel dizzy or sick while working in the lab, especially near the fume hood, leave the lab and report your symptoms to your supervisor immediately.
- If you spill mercury or break a thermometer, don’t clean it up unless you’ve received special training. Otherwise, call the appropriate clean-up crew.
Properly maintaining and cleaning lab equipment, and exercising safety rules in the lab, will help you avoid contamination and accidents and ensure safety and efficiency.