The majority of all centrifuge accidents result from user error. To avoid injury, lab workers should follow the user's manual for the specific unit as well as the information on this page.

Centrifuges present two potentially serious hazards

  • Physical hazards: mechanical failure due to mechanical stress, metal fatigue, and corrosion of the rotor over time
  • Exposure hazards: aerosolization of biohazardous, chemical, or radioactive materials

Planning for Use

  1. Complete lab-specific training based on the user's manual for the centrifuge. The training should be documented in the Lab Safety Notebook.
  2. Don appropriate personal protective equipment. This includes safety glasses, gloves, a lab coat, and closed-toe shoes. Ensure gloves are appropriate for the hazard(s).
  3. Inspect the centrifuge.
  • Ensure tubes are rated for intended use (speed, temperature, and chemical resistance).
  • Always use tubes, buckets, and other equipment that are matched sets that fit your centrifuge
  • Ensure the rotor is compatible with the centrifuge and it's seated on drive correctly.
  • Check the rotor and safety cups/buckets to ensure they are free of cracks, deformities, or other damage.
  • Inspect that the centrifuge cover O-ring is not cracked, missing or worn. Replace if damaged, worn, or missing.
  • Ensure the safety cups/buckets are attached correctly and are able to move freely. When using swinging bucket rotors, ensure that all buckets are hooked correctly and move freely.
  1. Prepare centrifuge tubes for loading.
  • Inspect centrifuge tubes before use. Ensure they are the appropriate size.
  • Follow manufacturer's limits for tubes. DO NOT fill tubes more than 3/4 full.
  • When using biohazardous material, load and unload rotors inside the biosafety cabinet.
  • Gasketed safety cups and gasketed tubes should be used with any hazardous materials to prevent aerolization of the material and reduce risk of spills.
  • Always balance buckets, tubes, and rotors properly.

Operating the Centrifuge

  1. Ensure the centrifuge is balanced prior to operation. Ensure the lid is closed and secure.
  2. Before starting the centrifuge, do not set the run speed greater than that rotor's maximum run speed. You must reduce rotor speed if sample density calculations indicate maximum mass limits will be exceeded. Check your equipment. HELPFUL HINT: Store a copy of the user's manual in a folder attached to the centrifuge (for larger models) or secured to the wall above the centrifuge.
  3. Start run.
  • Do not leave centrifuge until full operating speed is reached and appears to be running without incident.
  • If you notice any unusual noises or shaking, STOP centrifuge immediately. Wait for centrifuge to stop and do NOT open for 10 minutes. Refer to the emergency response procedures below.

Sample Removal

  1. Stop run. Ensure the centrifuge has come to a complete stop before opening cover.
  • When centrifuging hazardous materials, wait at least 10 minutes after run has completed to allow aerosols to settle before opening centrifuge.
  1. Don appropriate protective equipment, including gloves and safety glasses. Open sealable tubes/safety cups/rotors inside the fume hood or biosafety cabinet, depending on hazard.
  2. Check for leaks or spills in the samples, rotors, safety cups/buckets, and centrifuge well.
  3. ALWAYS decontaminate the centrifuge after EACH use, whether you see visible contamination or not. If a bleach solution is used, clean with a 70% ethanol solution after.

Centrifuge Maintenance

Moisture, chemicals, strong cleaning agents, and other substances can promote corrosion of centrifuge parts and cause centrifuge failure. Improper use can cause damage to rotors and cups. The following are general maintenance recommendations:

  • READ YOUR USER'S MANUAL. Follow manufacturer's instructions for maintenance and cleaning.
  • Regularly clean the centrifuge interior to prevent damage and avoid costly repairs. When not in use, the centrifuge should be clean and dry.
    • Clean all spills immediately (wait 10 minutes to reduce the risk of aerosols).
    • Never clean rotors and associated parts with abrasive wire brushes.
    • Store the rotor upside down in a dry place with lids or plugs removed, to prevent condensation or moisture.
  • For all high speed centrifuges and ultracentrifuges, maintain a log for EACH, individual ROTOR. The log should include run dates, durations, speeds, total rotor revolutions, and notes on rotor conditions.
    • Retire rotors after manufacturer's recommended life span (per User's Manual).
    • Remove rotors from use that show any sign of defect, and report it to a manufacturer's representative for inspection.

Emergency Response

Mechanical Failure

Turn off centrifuge immediately and unplug power cord. DO NOT use centrifuge again until inspected by a qualified service technician.

Hazardous Material Spill

  • Turn off centrifuge immediately.
  • Keep centrifuge cover closed for at least 10 minutes to reduce aerosolization of hazardous material.
  • POST a spill sign on the centrifuge to ensure no one else will attempt to open the centrifuge lid.
  • Don appropriate personal protective equipment. This includes proper gloves, safety glasses or goggles, face shield, lab coat, and closed-toe shoes.
  • If possible, move bench top unit into the biosafety cabinet or chemical fume hood to clean up the spill. For larger centrifuges, move the rotors into the biosafety cabinet or chemical fume hood to clean up the spill.
  • Follow spill, exposure, and incident reporting instructions based on the hazard(s) of the material. For steps in proper clean-up of a hazardous material spill, please visit the Spill Clean-up.
  • Place all contaminated protective equipment, gloves, and clean-up materials in the appropriate hazardous waste stream.
  • Wash hands and any exposed skin surfaces with soap and water.
  • Report the incident to your lab supervisor.

Emergency Response Reminders

  • Use tongs or forceps to avoid contact with sharp-edged debris.
  • Avoid alkaline cleaners for aluminum centrifuge parts. Manufacturer's often discourage the use of bleach solutions due to risk of corrosion. If a bleach solution is used, follow with a 70% ethanol solution.
  • Avoid abrasive wire brushes for cleaning.

Quick Links

Older, bench-top centrifuge units without gasketed covers or that have holes in the covers should not be used with bio-hazardous agents! All centrifuge units used with risk group 2 or 3 bio-hazardous agents should have sealed and gasketed covers.


Need repairs or maintenance on your centrifuge? Contact UVM's Technical Services Partnership (TSP).