Cleaning Lab Glassware

This article provides an overview of cleaning techniques for general laboratory use. So, if you’re working with anything that glows, Marie Curie, it’s probably best to seek backup.

For the rest of us, there are several best practices that should be followed when cleaning lab glassware. Stick to them and your chances of landing on the list of famous chemists—or, at least not failing Organic 101—slightly improve.

Cleaning Best Practices

Start by separating. Any rubber stoppers or attachments should be removed and glassware should be divided into two groups: pieces used for quantitative work and everything else. Quantitative items might require some extract attention to ensure their accuracy next time.

Clean your equipment immediately after use. The longer that it sits and stews, the longer (and more difficult) it will be to do the dishes later. It is a good habit to never leave the lab without cleaning on your way out.

Instead of soap, which is suitable for some situations, try special lab detergents that are made with you in mind. Liquinox and Alconox are two of the most popular. But be certain to read the directions because require special treatment, like dilution or specific temperatures.

When working with ether or acetone, which are occasionally are used to cut through some stubborn chemicals, wear recommended safety products, including lab gloves and respiratory protection.

Towels and blown air can contaminate glassware. It is best to let everything air dry. If time is an issue, acetone (mentioned above) can accelerate the process. 

But before drying, many laboratories prefer that glassware be washed with deionized (or distilled) water. Here is an overview of when and how many times to wash containers that have been exposed to different chemicals.

Cleaning with Deionized Water

Strong acids: Apply lots of tap water under fume hood then rinse 3-4 times with deionized water.

Weak acids: Rinse 3-4 times with deionized water.

Strong bases: Use a fume hood while applying tap water. Rinse 3-4 times with deionized water.

Weak bases: Rinse with tap water and apply 3-4 baths of deionized water.

Water soluble solutions: Rinse with deionized water 3-4 times.

Water insoluble solutions: Rinse with ethanol or acetone 2-3 times then use deionized water.

Glassware is a great lab tool, but it needs to be handled with care before, during and after cleaning. Refer to this article on laboratory glassware safety for additional information about handling the brittle material. Treat it right, and it will return the favor over its long lifespan.


Jennifer Elliott
Development Analyst
Qorpak Laboratory Glassware