Chemistry Glassware - Names and Uses

Identify Chemistry Glassware and Learn When To Use It

 What would a chemistry lab be without glassware? Common types of glassware include beakers, flasks, pipettes, and test tubes. Here's what these pieces of glassware look like and an explanation of when to use them.

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Beakers

A beaker is a key piece of chemistry glassware.
A beaker is a key piece of chemistry glassware. Science Photo Library / Getty Images

 Beakers are the workhorse glassware of any chemistry lab. They common in a variety of sizes and are used for measuring volumes of liquid. They aren't particularly precise. Some aren't even marked with volume measurements. A typical beaker is accurate within about 10%. In other words, a 250-ml beaker will hold 250-ml +/- 25 ml. A liter beaker will be accurate to within about 100 ml.

The flat bottom of this glassware makes it easy to put on flat surfaces, like a lab bench or hot plate. The spout makes it easy to pour liquids.The wide opening means it's easy to add materials to the beaker.

  • Beakers are flat-bottom cylinders with pour spouts.
  • Beakers are good for rough volume measurements.
  • This glassware is used for mixing and transferring liquids.

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Erlenmeyer Flasks

Blue Flask Glassware
Blue Flask Glassware. Jonathan Kitchen, Getty Images

There are multiple types of flasks. One of the most common flasks in a chemistry lab is an erlenmeyer flask. This type of flask has a narrow neck and a flat bottom. It's good for swirling around liquids, storing them, and heating them. For some situations, either a beaker or an erlenmeyer flask is a good choice, but if you need to seal the container, it's much easier to put a stopper in an erlenmeyer or cover it with parafilm than it is to cover a beaker.

The flasks come in multiple sizes. As with beakers, these flasks may have volume marked, or not, and are accurate to within about 10%.

  • An Erlenmeyer flask is a cone-shaped flask with a neck and a flat bottom.
  • Erlenmeyer flasks are about as accurate as beakers.
  • This glassware is used for mixing and storing liquids.

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Test Tubes

Test tubes in a test tube rack.
Test tubes in a test tube rack. TRBfoto, Getty Images

Test tubes are good for holding small samples. They aren't typically used for measuring precise volumes. Test tubes are relatively inexpensive, compared with other types of glassware. Those meant to be heated directly in a flame may be made from borosilicate glass, but others are made from less-sturdy glass or sometimes plastic.

Test tubes don't usually have volume markings. They are sold according to their size and may have either smooth openings or lips.

  • Test tubes are thin cylinders with rounded bottoms.
  • Test tubes are used for collecting and holding small samples.
  • Most test tubes don't measure volume.

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Pipettes

Pipets are used to measure and transfer small volumes.
Pipets (pipettes) are used to measure and transfer small volumes. There are many different types of pipets. Examples of pipet types include disposable, resuable, autoclavable, and manual. Andy Sotiriou/Getty Images

Pipettes are used to deliver small volumes of liquids, reliably and repeatedly. There are different types of pipettes. Unmarked pipettes deliver liquids dropwise and may not be marked for volume. Other pipettes are used to measure and deliver precise volumes. Micropipettes, for example, can deliver liquids with microliter accuracy.

Most pipettes are glass, while some are plastic. This type of glassware isn't intended to be exposed to a flame or temperature extremes. The pipette may be deformed by heat and its volume measurement may become inaccurate under extreme temperatures.

  • Pipettes are used for reliably dispensing small volumes.
  • Pipettes aren't meant to be exposed to a flame.

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Florence Flask or Boiling Flask

A Florence flask or boiling flask can withstand temperature changes.
A Florence flask or boiling flask is a round-bottom borosilicate glass container with thick walls, capable of withstanding temperature changes. Nick Koudis/Getty Images

A Florence flask or boiling flask is a thick-walled, rounded flask with a narrow neck. It's almost always made of borosilicate glass so that it can withstand heating in a direct flame. The neck of the glass allows a clamp, so the glassware can be held securely. This type of flask may measure a precise volume, but often no measurement is listed. 500-ml and liter sizes are common.

  • A Florence flask is a round flask with a neck.
  • These flasks are used for heating liquids.
  • Boiling flasks may not be marked to measure volume.

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Volumetric Flask

Volumetric flasks are used to accurately prepare solutions for chemistry.
Volumetric flasks are used to accurately prepare solutions for chemistry. TRBfoto/Getty Images

Volumetric flasks are used to prepare solutions. The flask features a narrow neck with a marking, usually for a single precise volume. Because temperature changes cause materials, including glass, to expand or shrink, volumetric flasks aren't meant for heating. These flasks can be stoppered or sealed so that evaporation won't change the concentration of the solution.

  • Volumetric flasks have a long, thin neck, to accurately mark a volume.
  • Volumetric flasks are used to prepare stock solutions.

Know Your Glass

Most lab glassware is made from borosilicate glass, a tough type of glass that can withstand temperature changes. Common brand names for this type of glass are Pyrex and Kimax. The disadvantage of this type of glass is that it tends to shatter into about ten zillion shards when it breaks. You can help protect the glass from breaking by cushioning it from thermal and mechanical shocks. Don't knock the glass against surfaces and set hot or cold glassware on a rack or insulating pad rather than directly onto a lab bench.