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Lab Manager Magazine's Independent Guide to Purchasing a CO2 Incubator

Read Lab Manager's independent guide to purchasing a CO2 Incubator and find the latest instruments on LabWrench.

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Internal Volume

First, let’s take a look at the internal storage size of the incubator you require, measured in cubic feet. There are many different sizes available, but all can be grouped into one of three categories: Bench Top, Floor Standing and Reach In. You can find the latest incubators in these main categories at

Benchtop > 0.5 to 6.5 cft.

Ideal for individual use and excellent for completely isolating separate cultures.

Large Capacity < 6.5 - 11 cft.

Ideal for groups of multiple users and often large enough to isolate different cultures within the same unit for different viral studies, pathogenic studies or stem cell applications.

Reach In over 11 cft.

Ideal for large groups with substantial room to isolate cultures. Total volume could be comprised of multiple, stackable, reach-in units.

Temperature Control

There are three options available for the temperature control of your CO2 Incubator. While each will create a suitable environment, the corresponding summary below will explain the unique benefits of each

Water Jacketed

CO2 Incubator temperature control consists of a separate enclosure around 5 sides of the incubator-- everywhere but the door--that is filled with heated water. The heated water is circulated inside the enclosure, often by fans but also by natural heat convection, to maintain a consistent temperature inside the incubator. One of the benefits of choosing a water-jacketed model is that the water within the jacket not only provides heat, but also acts as an insulator. This means that during frequent door openings or power outages, samples inside the CO2 Incubator will remain protected at the set temperature. The water jacket also provides consistent temperate over the surface area of the inner walls.

Air Jacketed

CO2 Incubators are heated using a separate isolated air jacket on the 5 walls of the incubator. Some have a heated air chamber on the door as well, creating a full 6-sided heat source. The air inside the jacket is often circulated using a series of small fans. Such a design eliminates the need for fans inside the actual incubator chamber and prevents samples from drying out. One advantage of an air jacketed system is that if the temperature drops below the set point, the unit can ramp back up to its set temperature quickly. Air jacketed incubators do not require much in the way of maintenance, as there are no water reservoirs to fill. Operationally, they are almost “set it and forget it.” Air jacketed systems are also lighter in weight than other systems, making them easier to move around the lab if need be. Some manufacturers use a patented technology that is a combination of direct heat and air jacketed, they are also included in this section.

Direct Heat

Since there is no need for a jacket, direct heat incubators offer greater internal capacity in a smaller footprint than an air or water-jacketed system. Another advantage is that they are often priced at a lower price point than a jacketed system. Heating comes from all six sides of the incubator, including the door, which allows for convection circulation and temperature uniformity without the need for fans.