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Product Focus: Laboratory Washers

Choosing the right lab washer depends entirely on what needs to be cleaned and why. Both the labware and the washer features come into play, and these change with advances in technology.

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New labware and techniques drive the need for new cleaning regimens

“Today, more of the labware being used is difficult to wash,” says Odette Nolan, product manager at Labconco (Kansas City, MO). “Many scientists are also moving toward reusable supplies, which are greener and cost less.” Doing that, though, might require more throughput in a lab washer. Likewise, the labware’s composition changes. For instance, Paul Miller, national sales manager for Miele Professional (Princeton, NJ), says, “With the increasing use of plastics, we adjusted our wash cycle to accommodate that. You can’t use as high a heat to clean it, so you add a better detergent.”

To make a lab washer work well over time requires features that provide flexibility. For example, Nolan says, “Our washers come with seven preset factory cycles and a couple that are open for a user to set.” Some labware, for instance, might have dried-on residue that needs a longer steam cycle to get clean; other labware might need more heat. A scientist can create custom cycles for such situations. A washer manufacturer can also help a scientist develop the right washing procedure. Miller says, “We work with clients who send in something to wash, and we design custom cycles for it.” This includes wash cycles, detergents, and accessories.

A staff member at the biological nanostructures lab in the California NanoSystems Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wants a glassware washer that is “user friendly and easy to run and operate” and that lets you “select preprogrammed wash cycles or program customized wash cycles to facilitate your individual requirement.”

Personal touches

Beyond different cycles, a washer also needs various racks. “There’s not a universal rack that fits everything,” Nolan explains. “For example, we have a rack that provides direct inject washing and drying for up to 150 test tubes.” Some new racks and accessories might not work with older lab washers.

The turnaround time should also be considered. Maybe a task requires washing and drying. In other situations, washing and using a drip rack might make sense. The volume also impacts turnaround. Some situations call for a large, central washing facility with very high throughput, but many scientists prefer washing their own labware, and that calls for a point-of-use washer.

Getting labware clean depends on the washer and the detergent. As Miller says, “We have nine different detergents that are matched to what they are trying to clean.” The detergent is also matched with a neutralizer to ensure that the rinse water legally can go into the water supply.

How a lab washer gets used also matters. For example, it should be run only with water-saving devices and when full, according to the sustainability program at the University of California, San Francisco.

All of the parts—from the washer and racks to the cycles and detergents—determine how clean your labware comes out.

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