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R&D Lab Instrument Cleaning and Sample Prep


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Cleaning Glass, Metal and Plastic Labware


Labware of glass, plastic and metal can represent substantial investments. Additionally, strict standards must be applied to insure these products are thoroughly cleaned after each use to avoid contaminating subsequent experiments. In many instances residue-free rising is critical.

Ultrasonic energy is proven far more effective and safe to ensure thorough cleaning that does not leave residue, stains, or spots. Manual cleaning methods are slow, cumbersome, may require specialized brushes and equipment, and risk breaking delicate items and injury to lab personnel.

How Ultrasonic Labware Cleaners Work

A fast, thorough and cost-effective labware cleaning operation is achieved by using an ultrasonic cleaner in combination with cleaning solution chemistries tailored to the specific cleaning task.

Cleaning is accomplished by the implosion of billions of microscopic vacuum bubbles against surfaces to loosen and carry away the most stubborn of contaminants. Bubbles are created by generator-powered ultrasonic transducers bonded to the bottom of the ultrasonic cleaner tank.

Transducers vibrate at ultrasonic frequencies causing the bottom of the cleaning tank to vibrate as a membrane. This vibration creates the bubbles that do the scrubbing. Bubbles are so small they reach all surfaces of glassware and instruments immersed in the ultrasonic cleaning solution. It is this ability that makes ultrasonic labware cleaning far more effective than manual scrubbing.

Selecting an Ultrasonic Cleaner for Labware

The first consideration is the size of the ultrasonic cleaner tank. You'll want one that will accommodate the largest item(s) to be cleaned when fully immersed in the cleaning solution. Keep in mind that cleaning is accomplished in baskets with length, width and depth dimensions slightly less than tank dimensions.

Ultrasonic cleaners are available with controls ranging from a simple on-off switch to those with sophisticated features that allow you to program a complete cleaning cycle. Examples include:

  • Timers that allow you to set the duration of the cleaning cycle, automatically shutting off at its completion. Some models show set and elapsed time.
  • Heaters that quickly bring the cleaning solution to the temperature recommended by its manufacturer. Some models show set and actual temperature.
  • A sweep mode that causes a slight ± variation in ultrasonic frequency to provide more uniform cleaning action.
  • A normal mode or fixed frequency. This is a useful feature in sample prep applications discussed below.
  • A pulse mode that applies a pulse of more intense cleaning action to remove stubborn contaminants.
  • A degas mode that quickly removes cavitation inhibiting trapped air from fresh cleaning solutions. This can also be accomplished by operating the cleaner for 10-15 minutes without a load.

Other, more enhanced features are available in some models. Examples include

  • Dual frequency capability. While a popular frequency is 37 kHz a dual frequency capability extends the use of the equipment. Lower frequencies are generally used to remove tough deposits of grease and oil; higher frequencies such as 80 kHz are for fine cleaning delicate or highly polished surfaces.
  • Variable power lets you more closely tailor the cleaning cycle to the task.

For more on this topic see our blog post on frequency and power.

Three Suggested Ultrasonic Cleaner Models for Labware

Here are three models of Elma ultrasonic cleaners that are ideal for labware, all manufactured in Germany by Elma Ultrasonic. They carry a 2-year warranty and are backed by local technical and repair service in the U.S. Click the links for more detailed information.

The Elmasonic E Plus Series

Elma's popular, easy-to-operate ultrasonic cleaner

  • 9 tank sizes from .25 to 7.5 gallons
  • timer and thermostat
  • User activated pulse mode for degassing and removing strongly adhering contaminants

The Elmasonic S Series

Powerful, versatile models for cleaning, degassing and sample prep

  • 14 tank sizes from .25 to 24 gallons
  • LED display shows set and actual time and temperature
  • User-activated degas mode to quickly degas fresh solutions
  • User-activated pulse mode to remove strongly adhering contaminants

The Elmasonic P Series

Offers total control over the ultrasonic process

  • Six tank sizes from 0.75 gal to 7.5 gal
  • Variable ultrasonic power
  • 4 Modes for cleaning, mixing, degassing
  • Dual frequency: 37 kHz and 80 kHz
  • Timer and heater up to 80° C

Ultrasonic Cleaners for Sample Prep

In addition to regular cleaning, the Elmasonic S and P ultrasonic cleaners listed above are excellent for sample preparation when consistent, reproducible results are essential.   All heater-equipped models can be set from 30 to 80°C. 

The Elmasonic P models are the most powerful bench top units available, able to disperse nanoparticles and dissolve difficult samples.  Adjustable ultrasonic power and dual frequency allow dispersion of sensitive samples such as liposomes. 

The AutoDegas and AutoStart features of S & P units combined with Elma’s state-of-the-art microprocessor controlled ultrasonic generator ensure you get reproducible results that meet your SOP guidelines.

If you use an isocratic HPLC system without a vacuum degasser, an ultrasonic bath is an excellent alternative for solvent degassing.  The Degas mode can remove entrained air from your HPLC solvent in only 10 minutes. 

Cleaning Solution Chemistries for Labware

In addition to its line of Elma ultrasonic cleaners for labware and sample prep, Tovatech supplies ultrasonic cleaning solution chemistries for medical and lab instruments of glass, porcelain, ceramics, metals and plastics.   These can be used in ultrasonic cleaners and labware washers. Examples include:

  • Surfactant-free Elma Lab Clean A20 SF for volumetric measuring analysis of glass, stainless steel, ceramics and plastics.   Dilutes to 1% with water.
  • Neutral Elma Lab Clean N10 for sensitive materials dilutes to 2% with water
  • Mildly acidic Elma Lab Clean S10 for labware and instruments dilutes to 1% with water.

Please contact our scientists for details on these and other formulations for your cleaning tasks.

We can address your specific laboratory needs drawing from our vast experience.  For effective cleaning the ultrasonic cleaner must use the right cleaning chemistry, operate at the right temperature, and use the correct frequency.   The material being cleaned, its tolerance for ultrasonic vibrations, and the type and degree of soil, determine this.  Call us and we will quickly help you identify the right combination and even suggest accessories that will enhance your cleaning process.

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