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Safer Alternatives

Safer chemicals & products for use in the lab

This page shows some examples of products or chemicals that can be substituted for recognized hazards in the lab. Some specific products are shown in the links below, but other manufacturers and distributors supply similar or equivalent products.

Chemical Substitution:

Note: Alternative chemicals may still be hazardous, but with less toxic consequences. Contact Environmental Programs (684-2794) for collection and disposal questions.
Contact Laboratory Safety (684-8822) for chemical safety-related information. Always refer to Safety Data Sheets and SOPs for best work practices.

Ethidium Bromide Substitutes

These products may be available through other vendors than those at the links below.

Sodium Azide – Preservative Substitute:

  • Purchase a dilute solution of sodium azide. Avoiding the powder reduces the risk of exposure. Note that even if a dilute solution is purchased it will still be considered P-list waste if sodium azide is the only active ingredient.
  • Consider using 1-2% 2-chloroacetamide as a preservative. Care still must be taken with 2-chloroacetamide as it is a GHS skin sensitizer category 1 and reproductive hazard category 2. It is has a low vapor pressure (0.05 mm Hg at 68F) so should be weighed only in a chemical fume hood or exhausted biosafety cabinet. Note that most BSCs on campus are NOT exhausted. Follow the Toxic Powder Guidelines.
  • Please note that the commercial alternatives Proclin and Kathon are no longer available to research labs.

PMSF/DFP Substitute: Pefabloc SC Protease Inhibitor

  • PMSF (phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride) and DFP (diisopropyl phosphorofluoridate) are widely used for protease inhibition during protein isolation. PMSF is a high risk chemical due to reactivity with water and acids. DFP is particularly hazardous due to its acute toxicity. Consider using Pefabloc® SC as an alternative. In addition to being safer to handle, it is readily soluble in water and therefore more stable in aqueous buffers, providing more reliable protection for your protein.

Eliminate Isopropyl Alcohol in Controlled Rate Cell Freezing

  • Use CoolCell or other alcohol-free container designed for the purpose. (Isopropyl alcohol is flammable, a peroxide former, and could cause frostbite if spilled at -80°C.)

Xylene Substitute

Toluene for Benzene

Paraformaldehyde Flakes and Granules in Lieu of Powder

Formaldehyde/Formalin Substitutes

Purchase prefilled specimen containers or consider these alternatives:

Pre-cast Gels in Lieu of Handling SDS and Acrylamide Powders:

2,2’-thiodiethanol (aka thiodiglycol) - Substitutes for Tissue Clarification:

Cyanogen Bromide - Substitute for cleaving proteins:

  • Consider Endoproteinase Glu-C instead. (Note: This is a skin & respiratory sensitizer. Handle as described here.)

Preventing Sharps Injuries:

Cell Culture Media Aspiration

  • Polystyrene aspirating pipets should be used in lieu of glass Pasteur Pipets. These sterile, non-plugged, nongraduated pipets can be used for all vacuum-aspirating procedures. Individually wrapped pipets feature thermoformed paper/plastic wrap to ensure against contamination. Nonpyrogenic.

Cell Spreader Alternatives

Glass cell spreaders, especially spreaders homemade from Pasteur pipets, present several potential hazards. Thin glass can very easily break and present potential puncture, cut, and/or biological exposure hazards. It is also very difficult to tell if glass is hot or cold so it could cause burns or a fire. Several alternatives are listed below:

  • Metal or disposable plastic spreaders are less likely to break or cause potential punctures or cuts.
  • Glass platting beads are another way to spread cells and can also allow for batch spreading of plates.
  • Paperclip spreaders - Straighten a large size paperclip to make an "L" shape. Wrap in foil and sterilize in an autoclave or an oven; or dip into a container of alcohol, or heat in a flame before use.
  • Toothpicks, coffee stirrers, and wooden craft sticks - These don't work quite as well as other spreader tools because their rough edges tend to scratch agar plates. But they are fairly effective for spreading larger volumes of liquid. Place in envelopes, foil, or glass test tubes and sterilize in an autoclave or an oven before use.

Cutting Agarose Gel

Retractable Safety Scalpels

Opening Boxes and Packages

Box cutters should be used instead of unprotected razor blades. There are many options available, such as these options from Amazon or these options from Grainger. Some have ceramic blades that will not cut skin, some have retractable blades, and others protect the user by placing the blade where it can cut a sheet of cardboard but not your fingers.

Disposable Hemocytometers

Preventing Fires Due to Open Flames and Alcohol

Materials Handling Alternatives

Bungee Cord Eye Injury Risk - Safer Straps Recommended

Vacuum Line Protection