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Gleaming Glassware: How to Wash It Right in the Lab

The right detergent makes all the difference in cleaning glassware

Mike May, PhD

Mike May is a freelance writer and editor living in Texas.

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washing glassware in the laboratory

Years ago while helping a friend do the dishes by hand after dinner, my friend said, “There’s something odd about how you do dishes. You’re so careful.” She was right. I do wash them thoroughly—I rinse them until there is no soap left on them, and then I dry them completely. Before I could reply about my technique, she said, “You do dishes like it’s lab glassware!” She was right again. Despite washing plenty of dinner dishes, I’ve washed far more glassware in the lab, and that means following a key rule—for hand or machine washing: Do it carefully and completely.

Given all the automation in today’s science, everyone uses only a machine to wash lab glassware, right? Not necessarily. Some scientists still wash some glassware—maybe not tons of it, but some—by hand. When asked for his top tip for hand washing glassware, Michael Moussourakis, director of technical marketing and commercial development at Alconox (White Plains, NY), says, “When cleaning manually, you can take advantage of higher-foaming detergents and mechanical energy—elbow grease, ultrasonics, etc.—which all greatly assist in residue removal.”

Top tips

The right detergent makes all the difference in cleaning glassware. David Hayes, product manager for ColeParmer (Vernon Hills, IL), says, “Any nonabrasive glassware detergent can be used; however, we recommend ones designed for lab glassware as they are preferable to those used at home.” For machine washing, the detergent should be low-foaming.

Related eBook: Glassware Washer Resource Guide

How glassware is loaded into the machine matters as well. Moussourakis says that it should be arranged to “minimize trapping any water from cycle to cycle.” As he points out, “Often by appropriately tilting vials, glassware, and equipment, they can be oriented to drain completely and not trap dirty wash solution.”

Clean and green

Some labs, especially industrial ones, clean lots of glassware. In those cases, neglecting energy efficiency should be a crime. In fact, any lab that washes glassware—and that is almost every one of them—should keep efficiency in mind in any lab process. Despite the fact that some political leaders don’t believe in climate change, scientists should still behave in ways that reduce our effect on it. When buying a new glassware washer, get an efficient one. Price always matters, but spend as much as necessary to get a machine that is efficient.

Like other equipment in a lab, proper washing procedures improve efficiency. “Selecting the right detergent for the right residue makes repeated washing unnecessary,” says Moussourakis. “Further, use high-quality detergents that do not need high concentrations or harsh chemicals to be effective.”

So, better equipment ensures greener washing, and better practices and cleaning products can too. Let’s do our part to show that scientists walk the cleaner walk—in glassware and environmental matters.

Get to it

Beyond what is used—hands or machine—and which detergent, when the washing gets done matters too. “Wash as soon as possible after use,” Hayes says. “The longer glassware stands, the harder it may be to clean.”

Given that this article started by hand, it can end there. With manual cleaning, glassware pros often use a brush, but it should have soft bristles that don’t damage the surface of the glassware.

That’s it for now. I’m heading back to the sink.

For additional resources on glassware washers, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit