Five HPLC Penny-Pinching Mistakes to Avoid

Every lab instrument comes with its own special set of instructions. While we recommend paying attention to the cautionary notes when first setting up mass specs and HPLCs, after a while, many labs might naturally begin to cut corners. This is especially true when budget season comes around and lab workers consider the cost of the various columns, filters and buffer bottles. These penny-pinching habits can cause much more expensive problems, however. That is why we thought it was time to remind everyone of five habits you should never develop, and should certainly break if you recognize yourself in this list.

1.    Never Use the Same HPLC Column for Multiple Methods

Let’s begin with the obvious: Don’t use the same column for different methods. Even if both methods call for the same column description, the possibility of carryover remains, even with the best of cleaning. We’ve heard that unimportant peaks from one method have ended up causing problems for a second method, even when the same product is used. Don’t risk the loss of an entire series of processes: use a different HPLC column for each method.

2.    Don’t Finalize a New Method with a Used Column

Yes, sometimes it’s useful to extend the life of a lightly used column by using it for screening columns during method development. However, once you’ve determined the right brand and model, move directly to working with new columns. Part of this is because of the chance for cross-contamination mentioned above. Another possibility is that prior methods can actually change the chemical composition of the used column. This can mean that a new column could prove incompatible with your process once the method of development has been completed.

3.    Never Mix Ion-Pairing and Non-Ion-Pairing Columns

Studies have shown that ion-pairing reagents can never successfully be completely removed from a column, even with regeneration procedures. Longer-chain sulfonates are particularly difficult to remove, even with 100% isopropanol or methanol. As with the caution above, chemical changes to the HPLC columns themselves are likely to take place.

4.    Don’t Top Off the Buffer Reservoir

Have you ever given any thought to how long it takes for microbes to start growing in acetate or phosphate? We hear that wise lab techs don’t use buffer from one bottle for more than one to two weeks. This means that, if you don’t replace the reservoir each time you add buffer, you’re inviting contamination, which is much more expensive than a new reservoir and buffer. Microbial contaminants are especially an issue with UHPLC because the columns use 0.2-μm porosity frits, which can often become clogged by bacteria.

5.    Don’t Throw Away Dollars by Pinching Pennies

Think about it this way: the time, effort, and materials expended in attempting to clean HPLC columns or buffer reservoirs for any reason will far outweigh the cost of new materials. After all, you can get 500 or more samples (some get even up to 1000) from each column before it begins to fail. In contrast, if a lab tech’s time costs the company $50 per hour (which is entirely possible, given the whole package of salary, benefits, training, and time off), the time spent cleaning filters or scrubbing columns is just not worth it—especially if cross-contamination cannot be ruled out.

Another way that too many labs pinch pennies and end up throwing away dollars is by failing to invest in dedicated lab furniture. If you don’t have dedicated lab furniture for your HPLC, this makes reservoir replacement and filling a much more dangerous process. With dedicated lab furniture such as our IonBench LC, you can raise and lower your HPLC with ease, optimizing configurations and preventing falls from stepstools or ladders.

To learn more about how IonBench LC can save you money and ensure lab safety in the long run, contact Tim Hawkins via email or at 1-888-669-1233.