Difference between lab glassware and lab plasticware
Whether you are setting up a new laboratory, revamping your existing lab or just out shopping for labware, one of the key decisions to make is whether to go for glassware or plasticware. With the wide variety of flasks, beakers, test tubes, burettes, pipettes, vials, petri-dishes and measuring cylinders available for lab use, it is important to determine how the make and material of your labware will suit your process, accuracy, and costing requirements. We made a compilation of the types of glassware in lab and plasticware in lab, pros and cons of using either of these as labware, and when to use either, to help you make a better decision.
Here are the types of glassware used in labs
- Pyrex which consists of borosilicate
- Corex which consists of aluminosilicate
- Vycor also known as corning brand glass
- Low actinic glass which is amber colored
- Boron-free glass also known as soft glass
- Flint glass with a high index of refraction
Pros of Glassware:
- Heat resistance and capabilities, no breaking or melting – The inherent properties of glass makes it ideal to withstand higher temperatures without the fear of melting or breakage.
- Inert and minimum leaching contamination – Except for some ionic species, glass can be an ideal choice to avoid leaching contamination.
- Easier to clean and sterilize – when compared to the same labware made out of plastic.
- Frequent reuse possible – Glassware is meant to be used again and again.
- Better transparency, hence better accuracy – Improved transparency leads to much better visibility of graduation marks.
- Chemical resistance against acids and alkaline solutions.
Cons of Glassware:
- Fragile and prone to breaking.
- Cannot be used to handle hydrofluoric acid.
- Leaching of inorganic ions into aqueous solutions or exposure to light for light-sensitive materials.
- Maintenance required in terms of autoclaving or cleaning.
Here are the types of plastics used in making labware
- Polyethylene – LDPE and HDPE
- TPX PMP (Polymethylpentene)
- Fluorocarbon resin
Pros of Plasticware:
- Reusable – Offers some degree of reusability.
- Can be autoclaved – Autoclaving is comparatively easier.
- Lightweight, hence better ergonomics – Plasticware is easier to handle, move and store.
- Some degree of flexibility – Due to the inherent properties of plastics.
- Non-leaching of inorganic species.
- Cost-effective – Manufacturing costs and hence retail prices are much lower; mass manufacture is the norm.
- Better safety, since non-breakable and flexible.
Cons of Plasticware:
- Clarity and transparency is less, and may impact accuracy.
- Affected by high temperatures.
- Not suitable for use with organic solvents.
The decision of glassware vs plasticware is completely dependent on the purpose of use, the types of processes and analyses, and financial considerations. Usually, small laboratories and university labs prefer plasticware since it is financially viable, and ensures a safer working environment. Typically, industrial labs which have to deliver highly accurate results with improved resistance to chemicals, prefer using laboratory glassware.
Our advice is to add both glassware and plasticware, as a part of your labware. When the process requirement demands high accuracy or temperatures, glassware can be put to good use. And when performing demonstrations or being operated by new set of hands, plasticware should be the ideal choice.
A key factor to consider, irrespective of glassware or plasticware, is quality. Choosing high quality products will help you improve your desired results, so consider this an investment for the long run.
Also Read: What is a Burette? Types & Uses