How to pipette viscous liquids

pipette viscous liquids

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Pipetting is an essential technique in laboratory work, critical for transferring precise volumes of liquids. This seemingly simple process requires practice and knowledge to ensure accuracy and reproducibility, which are pivotal in scientific experiments. However, certain types of liquids can present additional challenges in pipetting like pipette viscous liquids.

Among these, viscous liquids stand out due to their resistance to flow, making them harder to draw into and dispense from a pipette. As the thickness or resistance to flow in a liquid escalates, it proportionally intensifies the intricacy of pipetting, establishing a substantial hurdle for many researchers. Despite these challenges, achieving precision while pipetting viscous liquids remains crucial for obtaining reliable and accurate results in the lab. 

pipette viscous liquids

Understanding Viscosity

What is Viscosity?

Let’s start with a simple question: What is viscosity? In the simplest terms, viscosity is how thick or thin a liquid is. Consider having a cup of water and a pot of honey. If both were to be tilted, which one would spill out quicker? The water, correct? Water has a lower viscosity, meaning it’s less thick than honey.

Low vs High Viscosity

Now that we know viscosity let’s discuss the difference between low and high-viscosity liquids. As I mentioned earlier, water is a low-viscosity liquid because it flows easily. Honey demonstrates a significant density level, moving with a slow and substantial flow. It’s like comparing a fast speedboat (water) to a gently gliding swan (honey)—the speedboat races across the water quickly. In contrast, the swan moves much more leisurely.

Pipetting Viscous Samples

If you’ve ever been in a science lab, you may have used a pipette tool. This petite device aids us in collecting a precise volume of liquid and relocating it as needed. However, dealing with a thick material like honey can be tricky. With its thick consistency, honey resists being drawn into the slim pipette tube. As such, when handling these types of samples, we, as scientists, must modify our method to ensure we’re achieving exact measurements.

pipette viscous liquids step 1

Choosing the Right Pipette for Viscous Liquids

Challenges with Pipetting High Viscosity Samples

Highly viscous liquids, such as glycerol, honey, or serum, can be challenging to pipette viscous liquids accurately. Their slow flow rate and tendency to stick to the inside of pipette tips can lead to inaccurate dispensing volumes. Additionally, the physical effort required to aspirate and dispense these samples can cause hand fatigue and repetitive strain injuries.

Features of Pipettes for Viscous Liquids

  • Tip Resistance: The pipette should have a high resistance tip that can withstand the pressure to aspirate viscous liquids.
  • Volume Accuracy: Look for a pipette with high volume accuracy and precision, especially for small volumes.
  • Ease of Handling: Ergonomic design is essential to reduce hand fatigue and prevent repetitive strain injuries.

Pipetting Options for High Viscosity Samples

  • Serological Pipettes: Ideal for large volumes but can be less accurate for small volumes. They are easy to use but can be tiring for prolonged use due to their size and weight.
  • Positive Displacement Pipettes: These pipettes work like a syringe, pulling the liquid into a disposable tip and pushing it out. They offer high accuracy and precision, even for small volumes, making them ideal for highly viscous fluids.
  • Piston-Driven Pipettes: Commonly found in laboratories, these pipettes are renowned for their versatility and user-friendly nature, delivering high accuracy and precision. Nevertheless, dealing with highly viscous substances may pose a challenge due to the stress it places on the piston.

Choosing the Right Pipette

When choosing a pipette for viscous liquids, consider the sample type, viscosity, and volume. For large volumes of moderately viscous liquids, serological pipettes may be suitable. For small volumes or highly viscous liquids, positive displacement pipettes are recommended. Piston-driven pipettes can be used for a wide range of volumes and viscosities. Still, they may require more effort for highly viscous liquids.

pipette viscous liquids step 2

Preparation Steps Before Pipetting

Pre-Wetting the Pipette Tip with the Viscous Liquid

To enhance the accuracy of your measurements, it’s recommended to pre-wet the pipette tip with the liquid you’ll be pipetting. This entails drawing up and expelling the liquid several times before taking the final measurement. This method fills the pipette tip’s interior with the fluid, lessening its tendency to cling to the tip’s walls, producing more dependable and precise outcomes.

Acknowledging the Impact of Temperature on Viscosity and Employing Potential Warming Techniques

The viscosity of a given liquid can vary significantly depending on the temperature. For example, a liquid will generally have lower viscosity at higher temperatures. Consequently, it’s crucial to comprehend and consider how temperature influences your samples. If the material you’re dealing with significantly decreases viscosity at higher temperatures, using heat application methods could aid pipetting. Nonetheless, it’s essential to consider any potential changes in your sample’s properties or reactions due to temperature variations.

Recognizing the Importance of Using Clean and Compatible Pipette Tips

Using clean and appropriate pipette tips is crucial when pipetting viscous liquids. Contaminated or incompatible tips can lead to inaccurate results and potentially cause harm to your pipette. Ensure the tips are consistently clean and compatible with your pipette and the liquid being dispensed. Consider using specially made suggestions for thick liquids, like those with a broader opening, to simplify the drawing up and releasing process.

reverse pipetting

pipette viscous liquids

Materials and Equipment Needed

  • Pipettes: Adjustable volume pipettes are recommended.
  • Pipette Tips: Use specially designed tips with wider bores for high-viscosity liquids.
  • High Viscosity Liquid: The liquid you’ll be pipetting.

Standard Pipetting Technique


  • Attach a clean, appropriate tip to your pipette.
  • Depress the plunger to the first stop.
  • Gently lower the tip into the liquid about 1-2 mm deep, then gradually let go of the plunger, allowing the liquid to be drawn up.
  • Wait for a few seconds to ensure complete aspiration.
  • Remove the tip from the liquid and dispense into your desired location by pressing the plunger to its second stop.

Benefits: This technique is simple and suitable for most pipetting tasks.

Risks: For high-viscosity liquids, the liquid may adhere to the sides of the tip, leading to inaccuracies.

Best Practices: Pre-wet the tip with the liquid to reduce its adhesion to the sides of the tip.

Reverse Pipetting Technique


  • Attach a clean, wide-bore tip to your pipette.
  • Depress the plunger to the second stop.
  • Slowly immerse the tip into the liquid (1-2mm), and gently release the plunger to the first stop to draw up the liquid.
  • Wait for a few seconds to ensure complete aspiration.
  • Remove the tip from the liquid and dispense into your desired location by pressing the plunger to its first stop, leaving a small amount of fluid in the tip.

Benefits: By leveraging this technique, the influence of the liquid’s viscosity is minimized, thereby enhancing the precision and reproducibility of the results.

Risks: Over-aspiration can occur if the plunger is released too quickly.

Best Practices: Practice the timing of plunger release to ensure consistent results. Discard the tip after each use to prevent contamination.

Tips for Effective Pipetting

Best Practices for Pipetting

Pre-wetting the Pipette: Before you begin, aspirate and expel the liquid a few times. This helps to achieve temperature equilibrium between the pipette, the liquid, and the tip, which aids in accurate pipetting.

Immersion Depth: A pipette tip’s immersion depth is crucial. Typically, 1-2 mm should be sufficient. Being too deep can lead to excess liquid being drawn up, while too shallow might result in air aspiration.

Pipetting Angle: Maintain a vertical (90-degree) angle when aspirating liquid into the pipette. This ensures that the volume of fluid drawn up is consistent.

Controlled Plunger Speed: Slow and steady wins the race when drawing up and dispensing liquid. Quick movements can cause splashing or formation of bubbles, affecting accuracy.

Use Appropriate Pipette and Volume: Always use the pipette that best matches your required volume. For instance, if you need to measure 50µl, use a pipette with a range that includes this volume for the most accurate results.

Avoid Contamination: Never touch the pipette tip, and always use a fresh tip for each new sample to prevent cross-contamination.

Tips and Tricks

  • Tip A: Always check your pipette for any damage or debris before use.
  • Tip B: Calibrate your pipette regularly to ensure accuracy.
  • Tip C: Practice makes perfect. Regular practice will help you develop a consistent pipetting technique.


Q1: Why is my pipetting inconsistent?

A: Several elements could contribute to this issue, such as the method of pipetting, the pipette’s state, or the nature of the liquid being pipetted. It’s crucial to keep a steady pace and angle during pipetting and ensure your pipette is well-maintained and accurately calibrated.

Q2: How do I avoid cross-contamination?

A: Always use a new, sterile pipette tip for each sample and avoid touching the tip with your hands or any non-sterile surfaces.

Q3: What if I need to pipette a volume that’s not within the range of my pipette?

A: It’s best to use a different pipette that includes your required volume in its range for accuracy. If this isn’t possible, you may need to pipette the volume in multiple increments.

The Role of Pipette Calibration

Importance of Regular Pipette Calibration

Regular pipette calibration is crucial to ensure accurate measurements, which are vital for reliable research outcomes. Over time, pipettes can experience wear and tear, leading to measurement errors. Regular calibration allows you to detect and rectify any inaccuracies early, ensuring your pipette delivers the correct volume of liquid. Without regular calibration, there is a risk of faulty readings, which could compromise the integrity of your experiments and research.

Calibration Procedures for Pipettes Handling Viscous Liquids

Calibrating pipettes that handle viscous liquids require particular attention due to the unique properties of these substances. Viscous liquids tend to stick to the walls of the pipette tip, which can lead to under-dispensing.

Preparation: Ensure the pipette, tips, and testing liquid are at the same temperature. Use a high-quality, brand-specific tip for optimal results.

Weighing Procedure:

  1. Use an analytical balance to weigh the dispensed liquid.
  2. Repeat the process multiple times to get an average weight.
  3. Zero the balance before each measurement.

Calculation: Convert the weight of the dispensed liquid to volume. Your pipette may need adjustment or repair if the measured volume deviates significantly from the expected volume.

Ensuring Accuracy and Precision Through Routine Maintenance

Routine maintenance, including cleaning, part replacement, and calibration, ensures your pipette functions accurately and precisely. Regular checks can catch potential issues, such as leaks or blockages, early before they affect your results. Moreover, maintenance can extend the lifespan of your pipette, making it a cost-effective practice in the long run.

Ensuring Accuracy and Precision Through Routine Maintenance

Routine maintenance, including cleaning, part replacement, and calibration, ensures your pipette functions accurately and precisely. Regular checks can catch potential issues, such as leaks or blockages, early before they affect your results. Moreover, maintenance can extend the lifespan of your pipette, making it a cost-effective practice in the long run.

pipette viscous liquids

Rinsing and Cleaning Procedures

Importance of Proper Pipette Tip Rinsing After Every Use

Rinsing pipette tips after each use is crucial for maintaining accuracy in your measurements and preventing cross-contamination between samples. The residual liquid left in the pipette tip can interfere with future measurements and contaminate other samples. To uphold measurement accuracy and circumvent potential cross-contamination, it’s essential to quickly clean your pipette tips with distilled water or a relevant solvent immediately after their use.

Recommended Procedures for Cleaning Pipettes

  • Disassemble the Pipette: Carefully disassemble the pipette as per the manufacturer’s instructions. This usually includes removing the tip holder and ejector.
  • Soak and Scrub: Soak the pipette components in a suitable cleaning solution for a few minutes. To remove stubborn residues, use a gentle brush.
  • Rinse Thoroughly: Discard all traces of cleaning solution by rinsing the components under distilled water.
  • Dry Completely: Allow the components to air dry before reassembling to prevent moisture-related issues.
  • Sterilization: If necessary, sterilize the components using an appropriate method like autoclaving (if the pipette material allows it).

Suitable Solvents and Disinfectants for Cleaning Pipettes

  • Distilled Water: Ideal for general cleaning and rinsing.
  • 70% Ethanol or Isopropanol: Useful for disinfecting pipettes and removing biological contaminants.
  • Mild Detergent: Effective for removing oils and grease.
  • 10% Bleach Solution: Used for decontaminating pipettes in contact with hazardous materials.

Safety Precautions

  • When cleaning, always wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and lab coats.
  • Avoid direct contact with cleaning solutions and solvents, as they can cause skin irritation or injury.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation while using volatile solvents.
  • Dispose of used cleaning solutions and contaminated pipette tips appropriately, following your laboratory’s waste disposal guidelines.
multi channel pipette

Last words

Mastering the pipetting of viscous liquids is pivotal in lab work, demanding precision and cleanliness to prevent inaccuracies and cross-contamination. Key points include using suitable tips, calibrating pipettes, and diligently cleaning equipment post-use. 

The significance of precision cannot be overstated, as even minute errors can drastically impact results. Lastly, continuous learning and skill refinement are integral to becoming proficient in pipetting. Keep practicing and improving – mastery awaits.

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