Lab Baths – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Lab baths

Let’s start with the ugly – oil baths. 

Oil baths are used for reactions that require heating/reflux temperatures up to 200°C. Oil baths are made of an aluminum or stainless-steel pan, a heavy porcelain dish or thick-walled glass to withstand breakage and accidental spillage. They do provide uniform heating; however, they expose users to physical hazards including hot temperatures and fire, severe skin burns, serious splattering from accidental addition of water/condensation, obnoxious smells, and potentially dangerous handling with slippery oil-covered flasks. And cleaning those slippery flasks can be an endeavor that shatters to pieces. 

On to the bad – water baths. 

Water baths are a much safer option than oil baths, yet they’re still not the best option. Water baths are used for reactions that need temperatures up to 80°C and are one of the most common pieces of equipment found in laboratories. They maintain and store biological samples until they are ready to use. The cannabis industry has adopted water baths to keep highly viscous liquids at a warm temperature so they are easier to work with throughout downstream product refinement. 

The downside of water baths is they are the number one source of contamination in a laboratory and the water often cannot securely hold vessels without tipping or bobbing. Warm water exposed to ambient atmosphere can harbor and incubate unwanted microbial growth (think untreated hot tub).  Given warm water has a high propensity to become contaminated and evaporates quickly, using a water bath wastes time and energy with the continual replacement and reheating of water, not to mention the constant monitoring to ensure all vessels do not tip and lose material.  

The good, better, best  bead baths. 

Thermal bead baths are the perfect option for heating vessels in a constant, stable environment with a  broad temperature range between -80°C to +180°C. Utilizing thermal beads in place of oil or water reduces the dangers of fire, contamination, and lack of temperature control. Thermal bead baths, like the 20L Cascade Sciences Bead Bath with 15L Lab Armor Beads, are antimicrobial, non-evaporating and provide a great option for replacing oil or water baths for temperatures up to 80°C.  Laboratories can even utilize their current baths by swapping the oil or water with highly polished, aluminum thermal beads to create a safe, clean, efficient bath solution. Through vigorous testing, Cascade Sciences’ has found that aluminum thermal beads have the same (if not better) thermal performance as oil and water. Bead baths don’t evaporate which improves temperature performance and saves energy. Further, the thermal beads enable versatility for using differently sized flasks and will also prevent flasks from floating away or bobbing out of the water.  

“Cascade Sciences’ Bead Bath is hands down the favorite piece of equipment in our lab. It’s ability to securely hold vessels of differing sizes and shapes with varying volumes at a stable temperature significantly decreases our downtime and increases our productivity. Our products are better for it.” stated Russell Lombard, CEO, Canna Redux, Inc. “Whether we are using the bead bath for extraction/remediation or for consumer product formulation and development, its low maintenance and simplified cleaning makes it one of the best pieces of equipment in our facility.” 

Additional advantages to using a bead bath include temperature uniformity, increased heat-up time, and, in the event of a power outage, the thermal beads will hold their warmth and keep the product safe because the aluminum beads retain heat better than water. The thermal beads can also be utilized to create a cold environment in place of dry ice, which reduces costs, as thermal beads do not need to be replaced. They can be purchased in 2L, 4L, or 8L quantities for use in existing baths, or as complete bead bath packages (heated bath + thermal beads).