Chemistry Laboratory Safety Rules

Students with microscopes in science lab.

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Some rules are not made to be broken—especially in the chemistry lab. The following rules exist for your safety and should always be followed.

Always Follow the Instructions

​Your instructor and lab manuals are your best resources when setting up. Always listen and read carefully. Don't start a lab until you know all of the steps, from start to finish. If you have questions about any part of a procedure, get the answer before starting.

Do Not Pipette by Mouth - Ever​

You say, "But it's only water." Even if it is, how clean do you think that glassware really is? Using disposable pipettes? Lots of people only rinse them and put them back! Learn to use the pipette bulb or automated pipetter.

Don't pipette by mouth at home, either. Gasoline and kerosene should be obvious, but people get hospitalized or die every year. You might be tempted to use your mouth to start the suction on a waterbed to drain it. Do you know what they put in some waterbed additives? Carbon-14. Mmmm...radiation. The lesson is that even seemingly harmless substances may be dangerous!

Read the Chemical Safety Information

​​A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) should be available for every chemical you use in the lab. Read and follow the recommendations for safe use and disposal of every material.

Dress Appropriately (For Chemistry Lab, Not Fashion or the Weather)​

No sandals, no clothes you love more than life, no contact lenses, and, to keep your legs safe, long pants are preferable to shorts or short skirts. Tie long hair back. Wear safety goggles and a lab coat. Even if you aren't clumsy, someone else in the lab probably is. If you take even a few chemistry courses you will probably see people set themselves on fire, spill acid on themselves, others, or notes, splash themselves in the eye, etc. Don't be the bad example to others.

Identify the Safety Equipment

Learn your safety equipment and how to use it! Given that some people (possibly you) will need them, know the locations of the fire blanket, extinguishers, eyewash, and shower. Ask for equipment demonstrations! If the eyewash hasn't been used in a while, the discoloration of the water is usually sufficient to inspire the use of safety glasses.

Don't Taste or Sniff Chemicals

For many chemicals, if you can smell them, you are exposing yourself to a dose that can harm you! If the safety information says that a chemical should only be used inside a fume hood, then don't use it anywhere else. This isn't cooking class--don't taste your experiments!

Don't Casually Dispose of Chemicals

Some chemicals can be washed down the drain, while others require a different method of disposal. If a chemical can go in the sink, be sure to wash it away rather than risk an unexpected reaction between chemical leftovers later.

Don't Eat or Drink in Lab

It's tempting, but oh so dangerous. Just don't do it!

Don't Play Mad Scientist

Don't haphazardly mix chemicals! Pay attention to the order in which chemicals are to be added to each other and do not deviate from the instructions. Even chemicals that mix to produce seemingly safe products should be handled carefully. For example, hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide will give you salt water, but the reaction could break your glassware or splash the reactants onto you if you aren't careful!

Take Data During Lab

​​​Always record information during a lab and not after lab--on the assumption that it will be neater. Put data directly in your lab book rather than transcribing from another source (i.e.: notebook or ​lab partner). There are lots of reasons for this, but the practical one is that it is much harder for the data to get lost in your lab book. For some experiments, it may be helpful to take data before lab. We're not telling you to dry-lab or cheat, but being able to project likely data will help you catch bad lab procedure before you are three hours or so into a project. Know what to expect. You should always read the experiment in advance.