Cleaning Containers

If you don’t have an autoclave or a hot plate for boiling instruments and containers in your lab, you can use the machine most commonly employed for extracting microfossils from artifacts: your ultrasonic cleaner. Just as cavitation loosens and extracts microfossils from porous rocks and ceramics, it will clean your instruments and containers, even in cold water.

Rinse all visible debris from the materials to be cleaned, and place them in deionized water (or water from a known, clean, source) in your machine along with a little soap. I use Liquinox. Use a larger container to hold everything, keeping in mind that the outside of this larger vessel is in contact with the liquid in the machine and will not be reliably cleaned during the process. I have a dedicated “cleaning” vessel I use. If you place cylindrical vessels on their sides, they will rotate with the vibrations so all of the surfaces of the container will be cleaned during the cycle.

Rinse again, sonicate again in clean water, and rinse a third time. The ultrasonic cleaner at the FARM has a 15-minute cycle, and I use the entire length of time for the cleaning. You can place your containers upright in the machine with water in them, sonicate one last time, then settle and centrifuge the water to make sure that the vessels are microfossil-free. If you have been performing experiments with large quantities of starch, or with cooking, it may take another cycle or two to remove all the residues, and it is always best to take the time to check that they have been cleaned properly.


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