Can high pressure water stream be used for cleaning laboratory glassware?

The very thought never crossed my mind and I was taken by surprise when someone posed this question to me this morning. I replied back in the negative but then it set a chain of thoughts in my mind as to why it is not a recommended practice. We all are familiar with high-pressure air jets being used for cleaning and drying in automobiles and other industrial applications so why it is not recommended for laboratory glassware cleaning applications. Air jets are primarily used for cleaning components of volatile cleaning solvents or dirt and dust but the cleaning of laboratory glassware is a different requirement altogether.
The article discusses the pros and cons of using high-pressure water jets. Let us first discuss the possible advantages and then see how the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

Mechanized washing of glass vials

Presumed Advantages

Time-saving

A high-pressure water stream can presumably remove the sticking deposits without time being spent using soaps or cleaning agents.

Freedom from contamination of cleaning agents

Use of high-pressure water streams can clean the vessels and at the same time will not leave behind residues of soaps or other cleaning agents

Cost Saving

Cleaning with high-pressure streams alone appears to be effective and apparently saves the cost of cleaning agents especially when bulk washing of laboratory glassware is required.

Disadvantages

Splashing

The high-pressure water stream can result in splashing of contaminated water in all directions outside the wash basin- on the workbench, floors and worse still on your clothing or unprotected skin. This can lead to damage or injuries due to toxic chemicals or corrosive liquids. It can lead to wastage of time in cleaning the workbench and the floor.

Risk of breakages

A high-pressure water stream can lead to cracking or breakage of delicate glass surfaces. Further, there is a risk of items slipping out of your hands due to the high pressure of the stream.

Question mark on the extent of cleanliness

You can never be certain on the extent of cleanliness achieved. You can also not be sure that glassware looking apparently clean of any visible deposits or residues is fit for the required purpose.

The impracticality of cleaning of small items

Small items such as vials, cuvettes, syringe barrels, microtubes are practically difficult to be cleaned using high-pressure water streams.
In the end, it can be said that cleaning of laboratory glassware with high-pressure water streams should not be recommended. Instead, it is advisable to adopt requirement based cleaning of glassware making use of recommended cleaning agents. You should always bear in mind that the accuracy and precision of your analysis results will largely depend on the degree of cleanliness of glassware used for the analysis work.

About Dr. Deepak Bhanot

Dr Deepak Bhanot is a seasoned professional having nearly 30 years expertise beginning from sales and product support of analytical instruments. After completing his graduation and post graduation from Delhi University and IIT Delhi he went on to Loughborough University of Technology, UK for doctorate research in analytical chemistry. His mission is to develop training programs on analytical techniques and share his experiences with broad spectrum of users ranging from professionals engaged in analytical development and research as well as young enthusiasts fresh from academics who wish to embark upon a career in analytical industry.

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