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Product Focus: Lab Washers

A lab washer provides convenience, saves water and energy, and provides many more options for cleaning. In fact, the options just keep growing.

Mike May, PhD

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

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Selecting the Right Options, or Being Able to Add them, Makes all the Difference

A lab washer provides convenience, saves water and energy, and provides many more options for cleaning. In fact, the options just keep growing.

Although it might seem like every laboratory-related industry would already use lab washers, not all do. But at least some industries are seeing increased adoption of this technology. As an example, Odette Nolan, product manager at Labconco in Kansas City, Missouri, points out compounding pharmacies. “We’re seeing more compounding pharmacies purchasing glassware washers than in the past, especially with the concern of cross-contamination,” she says. Beyond adding more customers to the market, compounding pharmacies also require a slightly different washer. “They have different pieces of labware to wash, like more mortars and pestles,” Nolan says.

Even more compounding pharmacies should come aboard. Of the several contacted for this article, none used a lab washer. One pharmacist at a compounding pharmacy, who spoke on condition of anonymity, asked, “Does it really matter how you wash it?” Well, yes, it does. Some lab washers even need to be validated to ensure that they work just right. “This can include validating the installation and operation, such as making sure that every feature works properly,” says Tammy Warden, regional sales manager at Lancer Sales USA in Lake Mary, Florida. “Some pharmaceutical companies require this in large, freestanding washers, and now they are looking for validation in under-counter washers too.”

Computing clean

Some lab washers look similar to the ones found in homes, but there’s much more behind the door. When asked about the key changes in the technology behind today’s washers, Nolan says that they have “better brain power—the ability to password-protect and edit cycles to make it very customizable.” For instance, she says, “Now you have the ability to change everything in small increments.” This computer-driven power, however, marks only the beginning. “The brain power of lab washers will grow by leaps and bounds from here,” Nolan says. She thinks that the future could include touchscreens and remote access.

Even in the age of smartphones and touchscreens, some scientists just want a simple lab washer. “Lots of users like it to be simple—just push a button,” says Warden. “That’s especially true on the academic side where there are multiple users and students washing glassware.”

Just because some users want simple controls doesn’t mean they don’t want some advanced features. For example, Warden says, “Deionized-water and acid rinsing are important.” An acid rinse is used to remove residual detergent on glassware before the final deionized rinse.

In general, to get clean results, a lab washer needs to be kept clean. “Users should do daily maintenance,” says Warden, “and that includes cleaning out filters.” She adds, “If labels from the glassware or broken glass get in the system, the pump can break down.”

Gaskets also need service over time. “Make sure the gasketing around the door is not cracked,” Nolan says. “As soon as it is cracked, it’s probably not the only one, so take care of them and replace them.” In fact, a washer can even stop working with a damaged gasket. That can allow water to leak, which can trigger the automatic shutoff on Labconco’s washers. To help users keep a washer going, Warden says, “We offer preventive maintenance plans as well as a preventive maintenance schedule that the user can reference for suggested daily, biannual, and annual preventive maintenance, such as replacing seals once a year.” She adds, “Many lab managers realize that purchasing a preventive maintenance agreement is helpful in ensuring that their washer has a long life.”

Smart shopping

As mentioned above, compounding pharmacies put different pieces in a lab washer. Fortunately, the inside of almost any lab washer can be completely customized. “We offer so many options,” Nolan says. As examples, she points out direct-inject spindles that “inject into glassware for washing, rinsing, and even forced-air drying.” For specifics, Nolan mentions pipette washers and a directinject test-tube washer.

The science going on in a lab, however, changes over time, and the needs for glassware washing can change too. That’s why Labconco helps customers upgrade or modify a washer over time. “You can always upgrade,” Nolan says. “We designed our units so you don’t need a whole new system or even a new rack. Our upgrades fit in the preexisting rack.” She adds, “They just fit in a standard rack and a couple of screws attach them.”

When the time comes to replace a lab washer or outfit a new lab, a few simple tips can make the difference between buying the right or the wrong machine. “The first thing that I always point out is how many pumps a washer has,” Nolan says. A residential washer, for example, uses just one pump for clean and dirty water. “That’s a huge risk of contamination,” Nolan says. It’s also why a residential washer has no place in a laboratory environment, unless it’s in the lunchroom. Instead, a lab washer needs two pumps—one for inlet water and one for drain water.

In any shopping experience, everyone looks at price. In lab washers, remember to look at the bottom line. “Some manufacturers sell lab washers with racks, and some sell without racks,” Nolan explains. “Make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples.”

Depending on the application, the heat generated by a lab washer can matter too. So be sure that any washer being considered meets the needs for the planned uses.

Warden adds, “Getting a lab washer with a few different programs—designed for different glassware or applications—is important.” She adds that a washer should “let the user set up programs specific to their applications or glassware.” That’s the key: every lab needs a washer that can be customized as needed.

For additional resources on Lab Washers, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit