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Volatile Liquid Handling

Volatile liquid handling pertains to the methods and apparatus used to manage and transfer liquids that readily evaporate at room temperature in laboratory environments. Unlike their non-volatile counterparts, these liquids have a high tendency to vaporize, behaving more like acetone than oil.

For laboratory professionals, this propensity to evaporate introduces a distinct set of challenges. The very properties that characterize these liquids—rapid evaporation and low boiling points—can lead to inaccuracies in measurements, inconsistencies in experimental outcomes, and potential hazards due to flammable vapors. Thus, mastering the nuances of handling volatile liquids is not only about precision; it’s about ensuring safety, reliability, and reproducibility in scientific research.

Common Volatile Liquids in Laboratory Workflows:


Solvents like acetone, ethanol, and methanol are frequently used in laboratories. Their high volatility requires careful handling to prevent rapid evaporation, which can lead to inaccurate measurements and potential fire hazards.


Certain reagents used in chemical reactions are volatile. Their rapid evaporation can affect reaction outcomes, making it crucial to handle them swiftly and accurately.

Petroleum Distillates

These are fractions obtained from the distillation of petroleum and include gasoline, naphtha, and others. Their flammability and volatility necessitate special handling precautions.


While not liquids in the traditional sense, aerosols contain volatile components that can evaporate quickly when sprayed, requiring similar handling precautions.


Top Methods for Dispensing Volatile Liquids


Cool Handling

By storing volatile liquids at lower temperatures, their evaporation rates are significantly reduced. This method involves keeping these liquids in refrigerated conditions, typically between 2°C to 8°C. Before use, the liquid is allowed to equilibrate to a specific temperature in a controlled setting to avoid condensation. Using insulated containers during transfer helps maintain this temperature, ensuring accurate measurements and extending the shelf life of some reagents.

Use of Fume Hoods

Fume hoods are essential when working with volatile liquids. They capture and vent vapors, providing a safe environment and minimizing the concentration of volatile vapors in the lab. To maximize safety and efficiency, it’s crucial to ensure the fume hood is operational with adequate airflow. Users should work at least 6 inches inside the hood and always store volatile liquids in closed containers within the hood, reducing the risk of vapor accumulation and potential hazards.

Sealed Containers

Using tightly sealed containers is a straightforward method to maintain the integrity of volatile liquids. Containers with screw caps or other sealing mechanisms are ideal. For added security, wrapping the cap with parafilm or Teflon tape can further prevent vapor escape. Regular inspections of these containers ensure they remain defect-free, and using secondary containment trays can capture any accidental spills, ensuring the purity and volume of the liquid remain consistent.

Quick Transfer

Minimizing the exposure time of volatile liquids to open air is crucial to reduce evaporation losses. This involves planning the workflow in advance and using tools like pipettes or dispensers that offer rapid transfer capabilities. When pouring, funnels can expedite the process and reduce spill risks. After each transfer, containers should be closed immediately, ensuring that the liquid’s volume remains accurate and vapor release is minimized.


Using Specialized Tips for Volatile Liquid Handling


Low Retention Tips

Crafted to minimize the adhesion of liquids to their surface, low retention tips are invaluable when working with volatile liquids. Their design ensures that almost all of the aspirated volume is dispensed, particularly vital for small volumes where evaporation losses can be significant.

Filter Tips

Filter tips are designed with an integrated barrier or filter. This barrier prevents the aspiration of vapors or aerosols, safeguarding both the purity of the sample and the pipette itself. By blocking contaminants, these tips ensure consistent results and prolong the lifespan of pipetting instruments.

Positive Displacement Tips

Unique in their design, positive displacement tips come equipped with an integrated piston. This piston interacts directly with the liquid, eliminating the typical air cushion found in standard pipettes. For volatile liquids, which are prone to evaporation, these tips provide a reliable solution, ensuring precise and complete dispensing every time.

Volatile Liquid Handling has never been easier

The OT-2 is a bench-top liquid handler designed to be accessible and flexible enough to automate many common applications.

How to Automate the Volatile Liquid Handling Process


Automated liquid handling systems, like those used for viscous liquids, can be adapted for volatile liquids. These systems can adjust pipetting speeds, use specialized tips, and employ algorithms to ensure accurate and reproducible results while minimizing evaporation. The automation process typically involves:


Benefits of Automation over Manual Pipetting for Volatile Liquid Handling


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