It is important to be familiar with the safe operating procedures and potential risks associated with centrifuge use in order to minimize damage to equipment, loss of samples, and personal injury.


Any laboratory containing a centrifuge is required to do the following:

  1. All personnel working in the lab must undergo documented training in the proper use of the centrifuge. This may include the user’s manual, centrifuge SOP, or this document.
  2. Usage and maintenance records for the centrifuge must be kept on hand.
  3. Ultracentrifuges or centrifuges larger than bench scale must have a service contract and be professionally inspected/serviced regularly.

General operation

The guidelines in this section are only supplementary to the manufacturer’s instructions in the user manual. Meticulously follow both sets of instructions to maximize safety of operation and the longevity of your instrument.

Before centrifugation:

  1. Keep user’s manual and/or SOP near the centrifuge and consult during use.
  2. Ensure maintenance schedule is up to date.
  3. Consider potential hazards associated with the present centrifuge run (mechanical, chemical, biological, radiological, etc.)
  4. Make sure centrifuge components are clean and dry and inspect for cracks or deformities.
  5. Only use a matching set of centrifuge tubes compatible with the instrument (preferably from the same manufacturer as the instrument). The tubes must have secure lids.
  6. Do not fill tubes more than ¾ full and balance them in the centrifuge.
  7. Ensure components are properly seated and balanced within the centrifuge.
  8. Check user’s manual for necessary speed reductions due to dense solutions or age of centrifuge.
  9. Double check run speed prior to each use.
  10. Ensure lid is latched closed as applicable.
  11. Make sure centrifuge is running normally prior to leaving the area. Stop if unusual noise or vibrations occur.

After centrifugation:

  1. Do not open the centrifuge until rotor is completely stopped.
  2. Clean tubes, rotor, and other centrifuge components after use. Disinfect if applicable.
  3. Consult user’s manual for detailed instructions on cleaning instrument.
  4. Record run time and rotor speed.

Potential hazards

The contents of the centrifuge tubes and centrifuge itself can both pose risks to lab space and personnel.

Repetitive, high speed cycles can cause centrifuge components to fatigue and distort over time. Inadequate cleaning, poor maintenance, and incorrect operation can accelerate this process and lead to the failure of the instrument. The most dangerous type of failure is rotor failure. Expired rotors are easy to overlook, but proper maintenance and records of lifetime use can prevent these catastrophic failures.

AIHA centrifuge explosion incidents

MIT centrifuge incident

Aerosol’s can be generated whenever energy is applied to a liquid and therefore can be generated by many processes during centrifuge operation. If the aerosols are composed of hazardous chemicals or contain infectious or radioactive material, they create an increased risk of exposure to laboratory personnel. The greatest hazard is created when a centrifuge tube containing these substances breaks during centrifugation. Follow these additional steps when operating a centrifuge with a hazardous material:

  1. Fill and open tubes in a chemical fume hood or biological safety cabinet.
  2. Do not over fill tubes (¾ full).
  3. Wipe down sealed tubes (with disinfectant if applicable) and dry.
  4. After centrifuging infectious material, wait 10 min before opening tubes to avoid aerosol release or in accordance with unit manufacturer operating procedures and precautions.
  5. Open tube with the opening pointed away from you.
  6. Work in a chemical fume hood or biological safety cabinet when re-suspending sedimented pellets. Do not shake, but use a swirling motion. If shaking is necessary, wait 10 minutes for aerosols to settle before opening.

Accident response

The high velocities created in centrifuges can quickly spread debris and hazardous material throughout an entire laboratory if the instrument is compromised. If spills occur, follow the guidance found in the Spill Response section as appropriate. In addition, if infectious waste is involved, wait at least 30 minutes for droplets to settle before opening the centrifuge to clean up the spill.