We’ve all heard the stories of crazy things lurking in the back of the lab that get uncovered during a deep lab cleanout. Scientists find lab items like unopened boxes stacked in the back corner of freezers dated back forty-plus years, piles of completely outdated anatomy posters, and even the odd reagent that looks like it was last used sometime during the beginning of the 20th century.
Maybe your next lab cleanout will reveal something that’s its own contained research experiment. At the end of the month, the quarter, and especially the year lab managers and lab techs alike do their own unique version of Spring cleaning. Ingredient and specimen expiration dates are double checked, consumable stocks are reorganized, and supply closets are scrubbed down to make way for incoming orders.
While the majority of lab cleanouts unearth nothing more interesting than the errant oddly shaped dust bunny, some of your fellow scientists have hit the jackpot when it comes to discovering oddities (or just oldies) when cleaning out their labs.
Here are some of the wildest and wackiest things that people have found during lab cleanouts, and the step-by-step process for thoroughly cleaning out your own lab.
The Craziest Things Found During a Lab CleanoutIf these discoveries don’t inspire you to start a thorough lab cleanout ASAP, I don’t know what will.
Reagents and Chemicals Old Enough to be Grandparents
Every few months a member of the /LabRats community on Reddit finds a decades-old substance during a lab cleanout and everyone digs up their oldest lab supply or reagent. And many PIs and lab managers have fun stories of labmates who remember using them or accepting the shipment thirty, forty, or fifty years prior. Some of these reagents and lab supplies are still usable or have an indefinite shelf life, so they may not be straight to the waste bin…
Source: r/labrats on Reddit
Tiny Lab Equipment
Some research needs to be conducted on a micro level (no really, we’re talking milliliters worth of data, here.) Check out these tiny pieces of lab equipment from a cleanout. These miniature magnetic stir bars are used for specific types of research but just look fun sized to most biotech scientists.
Source: u/Boogiepop55 on Reddit
Tips of Color
Another trend that we were sad to see go out of style was brightly colored tubes and other consumables. Luckily for this Reddit user who happened upon this stash not too long ago, the rainbow infused trend lives on.
Source: u/datura1010 on Reddit
A Volcanic Surprise
For most of us, finding a stash of year old agar plates would result in nothing more than tossing them in the trash. But sometimes, you come across a beautiful bacteria volcano (we’d recommend using gloves to handle unidentified tiny volcanos.)
Source: u/ratssss_16 on Reddit
How to Conduct a Total Lab Cleanout
Conducting a lab cleanout is standard practice for lab managers everywhere. It leads to improved overall health and safety in the lab and is best practice especially for those labs with high supply turnover rates. Lab cleanouts can help improve lab efficiency, provide an opportunity for a new organization system, and conserve equipment and supplies during times of supply chain disruption.
Here’s how to maximize each lab cleanout and make the best use of lab storage space.
Step One: Schedule your cleaning time.
The top reason why scientists fail to properly clean out their labs is because they don’t plan them in advance. The comprehensive cleanout that your lab deserves can’t be done passively throughout the working day, but needs to be properly added to everyone’s schedules in order to ensure the necessary amount of time, space, and resources are allocated.
To make sure cleaning doesn’t keep getting moved to the back burner of everyone’s schedules, conduct regularly scheduled lab cleaning sessions every month or quarter. This practice will lower your chances of happening upon a hidden relic, but the daily space optimization of your lab will improve.
Remember that lab cleanouts might require limiting access to certain supplies or areas, so work closely with your PI, lab manager, cleaning crew, and others to guarantee an uninterrupted time period.
Step Two: Use the correct cleaning supplies and tools:
Conducting a complete lab cleanout goes above and beyond wiping down surfaces with multipurpose wipes and washing out beakers with soap and water. To get the job done right you’ll need to invest in the proper supplies and tools to ensure you are giving your lab and equipment the TLC it needs.
Specialized lab cleaning supplies include:
- Detergent and water solution for labware
- Ethanol and acetone to remove chemical deposits
- Bleach to eliminate bacteria from surfaces
- Alconox for radioactive substances
- Steam autoclaving for batch sterilization of consumables and glassware
- Ethylene oxide gas for medical equipment
- Gamma irradiation for medical devices
- Ultrasonic cleaners to remove particles
Step Three: Ditch the outdated stuff
During cleanout many lab managers have the tendency to hang on to supplies like reagents and samples for longer than they need to, only for those supplies to spend the next few years collecting dust on the back shelf of some supply closet.
Properly dispose of expired products, or anything you won’t use to both free up valuable storage space and maintain safety.
Step Four: Audit equipment function and maintenance schedules
A lab cleanout is a good opportunity to evaluate the performance of machines and equipment, QA any products like tests, agar plates, or solutions, and review maintenance schedules and vendor contracts.
As a rule, consult your upcoming lab project schedule before making any final decisions. If a sample or reagent isn’t going to be used before the end of its storage lifecycle, dispose of them sooner rather than later.
Conducting lab cleanouts is only one factor of managing a successful biotech lab. For more ways to improve lab efficiency, review the guide to running a lean lab.