Most metal casing conversations on the LabWrench forums focus on instruments with microprocessors, but it is still important to our day-to-day use of metal in the lab. This is an overview of metal as a lab material. It looks at the pros and cons and identifies a few usual suspects.

Advantages of Metal

Recyclable.  Labs of every variety are pressured to cut waste and increase reuse and recycling.  Metal products help people do this because they are highly recyclable. Upon the emptying and appropriate cleaning of metal packaging containers, these items may be sent to a recycling facility to be melted down and molded into something new, resulting in less waste and better energy conservation.

Weatherproof.  Metal storage is highly weather resistant despite long-term threats from rust.   Various coatings, like enamels, applied to such items as steel drums, provide a protective layer against water and other elements.

Easy to decorate.  Coatings may be applied for purposes other than protection.  Paint may easily be rolled on or sprayed for decorative purposes. Painting, lithography or silk-screening add artistic touches and brand logos to storage containers.

Choice of Linings.  Metal packaging and storage must be lined for safety reasons.  Liners provide a barrier between the metal (often steel) and the material stored inside (i.e. chemicals which could potentially react negatively with steel, etc.).  Such liners include varnish, lacquer or enamel which is put on the inside of a steel container.  Linings prevent rusting and protect container content.  Two types of liner resins include:    

  • Phenolic – synthetic polymer             
  • Epoxy phenolic –prepolymer and polymer, increased rust resistance

Disadvantages of Metal

Mature Market.  While metal packaging is definitely widely used, the metal storage marketing has not experienced any huge growth of use or major advancements as of late.  This makes it slightly harder for metal to compete with emerging storage solutions, given that people are attracted to new things.

Reduced manufacturing base.  For the amount of packaging that is needed in the world, fewer manufacturing warehouses exist to supply it.  This makes it harder to find what you need.

Competitive pressure.  Plastic is the new metal.  It is durable and lightweight, able to be made into anything from bottles to bins and is cheap.  All of these factors make plastic packaging and storage an attractive option, to the disadvantage of metal.

It is obviously necessary to gain a better understanding of some common types of metal packaging.  These include cans, pails and drums. Each should be discussed in turn to gain knowledge on the different types and their properties.


For smaller storage purposes, metal cans provide just enough room.  Common types of metal cans include:

Triple-tite Cans.  These are so-termed due to the extra lid security provided in the design.  Triple-tite cans have clips which serve to further secure the lid to protect the contents.  These are often used as paint cans or friction fit cans.

Oblong or “F-style” Cans.  F-Style Oblong Cans good for storing cooking oils, paint thinner, insecticides and more.  The compact design allows for easy container storage.  The lids of these cans usually screw on, making them ideal for storing liquids to later be poured out in smaller quantities.

Open Top Cans.  These are what we would usually call our food cans.  Rather than being sealed with a metal lid, open top cans may either be left open or often affixed with easily removable plastic lids.  A common example of the open top would be a coffee can.

Steel Pails and Drums

Pails are a moderate size storage option and are frequently used in industrial applications.  These containers come in a few different forms, including closed head and open head.

Closed Head Pails.  Pails with a closed top may be used for a variety of things.  A common use for such an item would be in the storage of gasoline or other risky substance.  Depending on the substance to be stored, lined or unlined pails may be necessary.

Open Head Pails.  These pails come without an attached lid, however lids may be applied to them.  If one is applying a large volume of caulk or spreading cement, an open head pail may serve to hold the material during the task.  The open head makes it easy to fill the container.

Drums, too, come in closed head and open head varieties.  The difference between steel drums is in the makeup of the steel in the container.  Many steel drums are made from stainless steel, which is first and foremost very rustproof; re-conditioned composite material which has a steel exterior with a polyethylene insert and cold-rolled steel, which is quite common in the manufacture of closed head drums and holds large amounts of chemicals and petroleum products.

For more related information, see Jennifer’s Why Use Metal? article.

Jennifer Elliott
Development Analyst
Qorpak Laboratory Glassware