Deciding between Glass and Plastic laboratory ware

Deciding between Glass and Plastic laboratory ware
glass-pipettes
Glass Pipettes

Selecting laboratory ware can become a task in itself, especially when you are not aware of different available alternatives.

One of the major confusions people face while selecting labware products is whether to choose glass options or plastic wares. The article outlines the factors which help in deciding your choice of laboratory ware materials.

But before moving on to the glassware and plasticware comparison, benefits, and disadvantages, let’s first see the trend of labware products. With this, you will be able to understand what kinds of labware were used previously and why they got replaced with the new ones now.

Labware Products

Glassware items such as round bottom flasks, volumetric flasks, conical flasks, beakers, test tubes, vials, pipettes, burettes, measuring cylinders and petri-dishes are a common sight in any laboratory.

In earlier times all such items were made of glass. However, over the years plastic ware has made a significant presence and is becoming increasingly popular. The main reason for its noticeable presence is its unbreakable nature and compatibility with common laboratory chemicals.

However, it does not mean that the glassware is not efficient enough. This is the very reason why there is still significant confusion between glassware and plasticware. Anyone can simply get doubtful between the two due to each of their benefits and drawbacks. 

Let’s see their comparison, which will help you find the most suitable labware for your laboratory purposes. 

Glassware

Glassware has long preceded plastic ware in laboratories. It has been used in the laboratory industry for years now. So you should first understand its benefits and drawbacks to see whether it will fit into your use or not.

Benefits of Glassware

Glassware has long preceded plastic ware in laboratories. The main advantages offered by glassware are:

  • High clarity affords visibility of contents and accurate recording of volumes
  • Sealed glass containers are impermeable to atmospheric gases which prevents the contents from oxidative degradation
  • Glass is inert and does not contribute to leaching contamination except for some ionic species
  • Glassware is capable of reuse after prescribed cleaning
  • Glass items are easily sterilized in comparison to plastic items
  • It is possible to fabricate different glassware items in the laboratory taking the services of the glass blower. Plastic ware cannot be fabricated in laboratories.
  • Glass beakers and flasks can be heated using hot plates without risk of breakage

Drawbacks of Glassware

As we say, nothing is perfect. So even glassware show some disadvantages while using them for laboratory purposes. The significant drawbacks are:

  • The biggest drawback of glassware is breakage. Accidental breakage results in loss of valuable samples, harmful spillages, leakages of toxic chemicals, radioactivity, harmful bacteria or injuries to the laboratory chemist
  • Contamination of samples stored in glass containers due to leaching of inorganic ions into aqueous solutions or exposure to light in case of light-sensitive materials. In addition to contamination it can result in loss of stability of stored material
  • Glass containers cannot be used to handle hydrofluoric acid which readily attacks glass

The information here must have cleared out how and where you can use glassware in your laboratory. You should read the advantages and disadvantages carefully to ensure that you did not miss out on any factor.

Even a slight mistake here can cause a severe problem later. That is why it is better to understand the benefits and limitations of glassware so that you can see if it is better than plastic wares or not.

Plastic Materials

plastic-vial
Plastic  vial

Advances in polymeric material research have contributed to development of container materials which meet the requirements of handling of different laboratory chemicals. Plastic materials have contributed to convenience of large-scale automation and material handling capabilities of laboratory samples.

The coming of plastic laboratory ware has not made glassware obsolete but has further contributed to the options available to the laboratory chemist.

Advantages of Plastic Ware

Some of the major advantages of plastic wares in the laboratory include:

  • Non-breakable and shows some degree of flexibility
  • Plasticware is generally light in weight and therefore it is easier to handle items such as large desiccators or graduated cylinders, etc.
  • Non-leaching of inorganic species makes plastic containers a preferred choice in trace metal studies. However, plastic containers are not suitable for use with most organic solvents
  • Plastic items such as vials and micro pipette tips are usually considered disposable. However, whenever possible, these should be reused after proper cleaning as plastics are non-biodegradable and contribute to the environmental burden. If this is not possible dispose according to prescribe norms. Reuse can further save on recurring costs
  • Plastic items are commonly less expensive compared to glass items

Disadvantages of Plastic Laboratory Ware

Some of the drawbacks plastic wares observed by laboratory experts are:

  • They get affected by higher temperatures, so they can not be used for that purpose in laboratories.
  • The clarity may not be as good as the glassware here.
  • Sometimes it provides inaccurate results due to unclear graduation marks. 

Technology improvements have contributed to development of new plastics with wide ranging properties that contribute to special features such as autoclavibility, physical strength, handling of highly corrosive acids such as hydrofluoric acid, heat resistance and improved transparency.

Glassware and Plasticware: How to Decide?

The selection of appropriate lab ware should be made keeping in mind the analysis requirements. Plastic lab ware offers several advantages but there are other applications which require use of glass lab ware. Knowledge of properties of different available plastic materials for use in laboratory will prove to be helpful in deciding on your available options.

Usually, start-up and classroom laboratories opt for plastic laboratory ware. It helps in keeping the environment safe for naive workers. But even in these situations, there are certain benefits offered by the glassware. So you just need to examine your individual use case and see which one of the two fits better into them. This is the only method to find the most appropriate apparatus for your laboratory. 

Remember, Irrespective of whichever labware you choose from glassware and plasticware, you need to remember that it should be of high quality. Otherwise, the labware will not be of any use for you because it will not solve your purpose appropriately. For this reason, it is crucial to find good quality glassware or plastic wares.

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