How to Buy and Sell Used Lab Equipment

Whether purchasing or selling pre-owned equipment, resolving key questions will ensure smart decision-making

Exploring the available options for either buying or selling used lab equipment offers a variety of benefits for many labs. For those selling, the lab is able to offload an instrument that is no longer being used and make some money to potentially use toward a more useful piece of equipment, while those looking to purchase used lab equipment can save money compared to purchasing brand new. 

At some point in any lab manager’s career, they will likely pursue one or both options. However, as with any big investment, knowledge is power. There are a few key considerations lab managers need to evaluate prior to the purchase or sale of used lab equipment. 

Steps to selling used lab equipment

Laboratories often find themselves needing to shed some of their equipment for a variety of reasons. For labs looking to sell their used equipment, it is important to plan early, says Roger Gallo, CEO and president of EquipNet. Labs should begin by establishing what they have, how often they use it, and what they need. If time allows, Gallo recommends having a laboratory equipment specialist conduct a professional inventory, which leaves the lab with an itemized record of which items are owned and leased, which items are clearly needed in the building, which can be redeployed to another location, what can be sold, and what the assets are worth to potential buyers.

Labs should also consider how they showcase their equipment. “Whether you’re selling real estate, clothing, or lab equipment, merchandising is essential,” Gallo says. “Equipment stacked up in a warehouse is not going to look as attractive as items that are currently being used, doing the job they are meant to do. It’s also important to be able to demonstrate that the instruments are in working order.”

After taking stock of what your lab can part with, the next step is determining how exactly you will sell it. According to Reid Hjalmarson, vice president of operations at BioSurplus, there are three main routes that their clients use when reselling lab equipment. First is direct purchase, in which a reseller will purchase the used item. Second is putting the item on consignment; in this case, both parties—the used equipment vendor and the lab—share the proceeds from the sale. The third route is putting the item up for auction. 

Which option to choose depends on the lab’s particular needs. The right path is often determined by timing.  When a lab is looking to monetize assets quickly, they would benefit from selling equipment outright to resellers. But if time is less of an issue, consignment, or selling to another user, can yield a higher return. For labs that are selling large sets of assets—for example, if a facility is closing down—they may forego consignment because they are on a timeline, but want a better return than they could get from selling the items outright. In these cases, some companies run auction events.

What do used equipment buyers look for?

Purchasing pre-owned equipment is a great option, both financially and from a sustainability standpoint. However, it requires a lab manager to be thoughtful and diligent when shopping the marketplace.

A conversation with the reseller can help determine their reputability. Some time spent on research prior to a purchase can ensure any initial savings aren’t lost due to extra maintenance or repair. Auctions and used equipment reselling companies will often be the first resources buyers go to when searching for what they need. Purchasing through a reputable reseller ensures quality and confidence for the purchaser. Buyers can confirm policy details with a reseller, and ask about options for service contracts or warranties, as well as calibration or service records to get further insight on the condition and quality of the item. Buyers can also ask if the equipment is tested and confirmed to be fully functional, according to Hjalmarson. “We also recommend that customers give us some background on how they plan to use the equipment. Sometimes, their science requires a creative implementation of an instrument,” he says. 

The more information you can obtain on a piece of equipment prior to purchase, the better. Don’t hesitate to request any additional records or documentation associated with the item. Reputable resellers will want you to be satisfied with your purchase in the hopes that you will refer colleagues to them, and return to them in the future as a repeat customer. Therefore, they will take the time to accommodate requests, answer questions, and ensure your needs are met.

Additionally, it is important to consider whether the purchased equipment will easily integrate into the existing laboratory setup. “If the lab equipment will be used in conjunction with existing lab equipment, confirm with the vendor and possibly the original manufacturer regarding compatibility,” says Ceylan Bilgin, marketing director at International Trading Equipment Ltd. 

Tips for buyers and sellers

For both buyers and sellers, the main factor of their decision-making process is value. Buyers are looking for a fully functional, cosmetically appealing instrument that isn’t too far into its life cycle. Sellers will get more value out of their sale if their instrument has high demand in the marketplace. If it is lower in demand, buyers may have more room for negotiations. 

The life of an instrument will also contribute to its overall value. Lifecycles can vary depending on the instrument. It is also smart to consider the most important and most expensive components in the instrument. Hjalmarson offers some guidance on the subject for buyers: “When purchasing cold storage, for instance, look for units that are no more than seven to eight years old. The compressors only last for around this long, and replacement can be costly, particularly if important samples are being stored.” In addition to age, “for analytical systems, we take usage hours into consideration as well. Many chromatography systems last for decades when maintained properly.”

When buyers are considering whether to purchase new equipment or opt for used, they may be swayed to purchase new instruments directly from the original equipment manufacturer to ensure they get all the relevant accessories and support items that accompany the instrument. To entice buyers, sellers should include all accessories, software, and manuals to maximize the value of their pre-owned instrument.

Regardless of whether you are buying or selling used lab equipment, a good understanding of the options and vendors available, the demand for certain instruments, and your lab’s plans for the future will help ensure you are making a wise financial decision for your lab. 

Lauren Everett

Lauren Everett, managing editor for Lab Manager, can be reached at or 973-721-4070.

Michelle Dotzert, PhD

Michelle obtained her PhD in Kinesiology from the University of Western Ontario. Her research examined the effects of exercise training on skeletal muscle lipid metabolism and insulin resistance in the context of Type 1 Diabetes.

Erica Tennenhouse, PhD

Erica Tennenhouse, PhD, is the managing editor of Clinical Lab Manager.