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What to Look for in Cell Culture Vessels

Researchers may not pay much attention to the plates and flasks they use for their cell culture, but these products can differ substantially in their quality.

by Lab Manager
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Picking the right cultureware is a crucial first step to preventing any issues from arising in a cell culture experiment. When assessing different products, some factors to consider are the materials from which the items are constructed, the absence of potential contaminants, compliance with relevant standards, and how well the items facilitate traceability.

The right material

Glass was the material of choice in the early days of cell culture, but researchers quickly realized that glass vessels accumulated protein deposits, required a lengthy washing regimen, and their surfaces were susceptible to scratching. Eventually, disposable plasticware replaced glassware and revolutionized cell culture.

Polystyrene—a long carbon chain polymer with benzene rings attached to every other carbon—is one of the most widely used plastics in labs. Cell culture plates and flasks made from virgin polystyrene offer certain advantages over alternative materials. Polystyrene has excellent optical clarity, it is biologically inert, hard and tough enough to withstand use in incubators, it’s non-pyrogenic, and it offers a high level of sterility assurance. The hydrophobic polystyrene surface is often treated to increase surface hydrophility, which enhances attachment of adherent cell lines.

Free of contaminants

It is crucial that cell culture plates and flasks be free of contaminants. That means they must not harbor any materials that could have deleterious effects on cell cultures, nor can they carry any risk of being contaminated with any transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), including bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Control of contaminants begins with the location in which the vessels are manufactured. A cleanroom of class 100,000—in which there are less than 100,000 particles in the air per cubic foot—ensures that the plasticware is exposed to minimal contaminants during the manufacturing process. On top of that, these products should be sterilized using gamma radiation, which does not leave any chemical residuals on plastics.

Conforms to standards

To ensure the highest quality, cell culture plasticware must comply with the relevant standards. Adherence to these standards may involve passing a series of tests for potential cytotoxicity and biological reactivity of the material and extractables.


In general, laboratory consumables should always display visible lot numbers, or batch identification numbers, and plastic cell culture plates and flasks are no exception. The lot number provides information on the date an item was produced and other parameters that support traceability and quality control. Black lot numbers should appear on case labels, inner packaging, and each of the individual pieces of a given product.

Additional Features to Look For

Cell culture flasks:

  • Graduated with an angled neck
  • Contain an area for writing
  • Stackable design
  • Resealable, self-standing packaging

Cell culture plates:

  • Vented lids with condensation rings
  • Notched plates and lids for easy orientation
  • lphanumerically labeled wells
  • Individually packaged with paper or plastic blister packaging