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How to Properly Maintain Your Lab Centrifuge

By Aimee O'Driscoll, 24 October 2019

Once you’ve invested in a lab centrifuge, you want to make sure it keeps working efficiently for as long as possible. Proper maintenance of your unit can assist with that, as well as help to ensure you stay safe and your application runs smoothly.

In this post, we look at the steps to take to keep your lab centrifuge in tip-top condition, including:

  1. Checking parts for damage
  2. Getting it serviced regularly
  3. Cleaning and lubricating the unit

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

1. Check Parts for Damage

The unit should be periodically checked for any signs of damage. Damaged rotors, adapters, buckets, lids, tubes, or plates should not be used. Here are some examples of what you may observe:

  • Corrosion of parts such as the rotor and buckets due to long-term exposure to salts, moisture, and aggressive chemicals
  • Surface scratches, cracks, and small holes in the rotor or buckets 
  • Damage to the lid gasket, such as a tear
  • Discharge of substances

     

     Centrifuge examples.

    Even units with corrosion-resistant parts such as the Centrisart A-14 Micro-Centrifuges (left) and the FC5714 Multi-Pro Centrifuge (right) can be damaged by some chemicals.

    It’s also important to look out for anything awry while the centrifuge is in use. For example, if it’s shaking more than normal or making strange sounds, this could indicate an unbalanced load or something mechanically wrong with the machine.

    2. Get It Serviced Regularly

    Aside from regular user checks, centrifuges, and in particular rotors, should be checked regularly by a trained technician. First and foremost, this will help ensure your unit is in a safe condition for operation. It will also help with the functionality and durability of the centrifuge.

    A technician will be more likely to spot signs of damage early and carry out any preventative maintenance. For example, after repeated use, a rotor can undergo metal fatigue, signs of which wouldn’t be visible to an everyday user. Metal fatigue can cause the rotor to fail and cause a potentially catastrophic accident. This was the suspected cause in a case of a rotor splitting in two at MIT.

    To help avoid metal fatigue, you should be aware of how long your rotor is covered for (it will typically be covered for a certain number of hours of operation or for a number of years, whichever is completed sooner).

    You should aim to have your centrifuge serviced at least once per year or more often for heavily used machines. To ensure accurate results, it’s also important to have the unit calibrated every 12 months, or every six months if it’s used for six or more hours per day.

    3. Clean and Lubricate the Unit

    Keeping your centrifuge clean can keep it in good working order for longer and minimize the risk of contaminating samples. Below is a very generalized list of tasks to complete. You should refer to your manufacturer’s manual for cleaning products and protocols to use for specific parts. For example, your manual may include a “chemical resistance chart” or ‘chemical compatibility table.”

    • Depending on your application, decide whether you’ll clean the centrifuge weekly, daily, or more often. You’ll also have to clean it whenever spills occur.
    • Remove the rotor and accessories and clean them separately.
    • For disinfecting parts, use disinfectant spray (for example, 70% ethanol or 10% bleach) or autoclave (if the parts are compatible with autoclaving).
    • Clean the bowl and rinse it thoroughly. Be sure not to flood the inside of the centrifuge. Abrasive products such as steel wool and wire brushes can damage some materials, especially coatings, so a soft cloth or sponge (perhaps a plastic sponge in some cases) is usually is a better option.
    • Use warm water with a mild detergent to clean the outside of the unit and any non-removable parts, including the lid, seals, control panel, and case. 
    • Wipe out any accumulated moisture. This can freeze and restrict airflow around the rotor, putting stress on the system.
    • If applicable, clean tube cavities using a test tube brush with a non-metallic tip.
    • Empty and clean the water tray if there is one.
    • Apply anti-corrosion oil to metal rotors.
    • Lubricate moving parts of the centrifuge as per your manufacturer’s manual.

    If a centrifuge is used by multiple personnel, everyone should know what kinds of samples are being run in the lab and if any out-of-the-ordinary products or protocols are required for cleaning.

    It’s a good idea to keep a cleaning and maintenance log next to the centrifuge that shows when it was cleaned and by whom. This can be helpful even if there is only one user. Aside from helping you to keep track, a cleaning and maintenance log can be useful in warranty claims.