Centrifuge Safety

Ninety Percent of all centrifuge accidents are the result of user error. Before using any centrifuge, the manufacturer's operations manual should be consulted and followed. In addition, inherent characteristics (toxicity, radioactivity, and infectious potential) of the material must be considered before centrifuging. When any of these characteristics are present, aerosol containment tubes should be used and the rotor should be opened in a fume hood or biosafety cabinet (whichever is appropriate).

Suggestions for the safe operation of centrifuges include, but are not limited to:

  1. Ensure the centrifuge bowl and tubes are dry.
  2. Ensure the spindle is clean.
  3. Know the appropriate tube size. (Correct fit of the tube is essential.
  4. Use capped tubes to contain samples and prevent aerosols.
  5. Inspect containers for possible cracks or flaws before using.
  6. Avoid overfilling tubes- remember in fixed angle rotors, centrifugal force drives the solution up the outside tube wall.
  7. Insure rotor is properly seated on drive.
  8. Make sure tubes are properly balanced in rotor.
  9. Check o-rings on rotor and containers for degradation and apply vacuum grease weekly.
  10. Do not exceed rotor's maximum run speed.
  11. Always close the centrifuge lid during operation.
  12. Make sure the run is proceeding normally before leaving the area.

At the end of a run, do not open until the rotating head has come to rest. When working with infectious materials, wait 10 minutes before opening the centrifuge lid. Be aware of decontamination and cleanup procedures which apply to the hazards of the materials being centrifuged.

Due to components revolving at high speeds, centrifuges can suffer from rotor failure and other mechanical hazards. Rotors can be compromised by corrosion or fatigue. Maintain rotor logs and document inspections; this is especially important in using ultracentrifuges which reach speeds between 40,000-80,000 rpm. Keep rotors clean and dry. Check the rotor for rough spots, corrosion and pitting. Acids, alkaline solutions, and low concentrations of salts can corrode aluminum rotors and break down the oxide film covering the rotor. Contact the centrifuge manufacturer and the centrifuge log for the derating schedule of the rotor.