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14 Pipetting Hacks to Become an Instant Expert

After a long day, you finally push back your chair, hang up your lab coat and take a well-deserved stretch. Time to go home! Your hand is aching, your thumb is quivering and your shoulder feels like it just ran a marathon. Another day in the lab, another day spent pipetting.

Some say it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert. We’d like to save you some of those hours, so here are 12 pipetting hacks to up your game.

Hack #1. No Lies, Not Even White Lies

Spinning the dial on your 1ml pipette to 753µl doesn’t mean you’re pipette is about to pick up 753µl of fluid. Pipettes have a measurement margin of error. This varies depending on the brand and you usually pay for increased accuracy. However, don’t take it for granted that your pipette has stayed true to its accuracy rating. Double-checking is a very good idea, especially if accuracy is paramount for your experiments. For a well-loved pipette, check its accuracy every 3 months. If you’re a less frequent pipette-r, annually is sufficient.

Hack #2. Keep Your Anger for the Gym

I’ve sat back helplessly as a colleague, perhaps frustrated at a conversation they just had or scared it would fall off, has rammed their pipette into tip after tip. SHOVE! JAB! STAB!

Ah! Poor pipette! They’re designed to fit the tip snugly but it should never be hard to get tips off. Tips should also never be hanging on for dear life. To put a tip on correctly, push the bottom of the pipette firmly into the tip. Try your best to use consistent force. Don’t tap or bang the pipette into the tip. Also, don’t pick up each tip individually and shove it on. Nobody has time for that! And you shouldn’t have to resort to it.

If your pipette has seen better days and faced far too much abuse from previous owners, the tips may fall off even though they seemed to be nicely fitted on. If this is the case, it’s time to go shopping (or at least hunting) for a replacement.

Hack #3. Don’t Harass Your Pipette

For some reason, folks seem convinced that the tiny, teeny, weeny bit of fluid remaining in the tip shouldn’t be there. Your pipette hasn’t forgotten to let it go. This is intentional. So never, ever, ever depress a pipette’s plunger a second time. Rookie move.

Hack #4. Finding the Right Angle

Repeat after me: aspirate at 90 degrees, dispense at 45 degrees, aspirate at 90 degrees, dispense at 45 degrees, aspirate at 90 degrees, dispense at 45 degrees. This pipette dance should become so second nature to you that anything else seems utterly bizarre and strange. When you pick up the liquid, hold the pipette at 90 degrees straight above the liquid. When you push it out, do so at a 45 degree angle and allow it to run down the side of the receptacle. Beautiful.

Hack #5. Don’t Rush Your Pipetting

Yes, it’s 8pm and you haven’t had lunch yet. Yes, your PI wanted the results yesterday. Yes, you need to vacate the tissue culture hood because you’re overtime and someone else has booked it. But no, you cannot rush your pipetting!

Aspirating at 100 miles per hour can cause fluid to fly into your pipette leading to contamination of your equipment, incorrect volumes pipetted, rusting of your pipette innards, and many other things that you don’t want. So take a breath or take a break. Your pipette will thank you for it!

Hack #6. No Sharesies

There is always someone in the lab who thinks it’s totally fine to go off with other people’s things. Your pipettes are only as clean and reliable as you can account for, so don’t share your pipettes. Or if you do, make the process so miserable no one will ask (photos, contracts, rules, time limits, whatever it takes). Worst case, have decoy pipettes that you care less about. I’m serious. Ain’t nobody got time for thieving labmates!

Hack #7. Don’t Get Airy Fairy

Be careful to aspirate liquid and not air. Simple, but key. Aspirating air can cause fluid to jump into the neck of your pipette, *coughs*.

Hack #8. No Deepsea Diving

There is no need to bury your tip way down into the fluid. Take the liquid from the surface being careful to follow hack #7. This minimizes the chances of your pipette touching the sides of your container. Back in class, we were told this help avoid contamination but exactly how is a very good question!

Hack #9. Sticky Situations

Sometimes when your volumes are super small, a drop can cling to the pipette tip. To discharge this tight-clinger, keep the plunger fully down, touch the drop onto the side of the container and if it still sticks, gently tap the side of the container until it drops. Don’t be tempted to go against hack #3.

Hack #10. Annual Holiday

We all need a break. Time to relax. Get ourselves back in order. Your pipette isn’t an exception. Send it off to be serviced at least once a year. Extra bonus points if you do so every 6 months.

If you drop it, send it off early or at least follow hack #1. Also, while you get yourself a coffee every day to stay on top form, your pipette prefers at least daily rubdowns with 70% ethanol. To each his own.

Hack #11. Take a Stand on Drawers

You like sleeping lying down. Well, your pipette likes sleeping standing up. Don’t store them in a drawer on their sides. Keep them in a pipette stand or make your own using binder clips. If anything has gotten in to the pipette, gravity will let it come out. Also pipette trees look cool but don’t spin them too fast, pipettes get dizzy.

Hack #12 The Right Tip for the Job

Make sure the tips you buy are compatible with the pipettes you have. Not all brands fit all. Also, make sure you’re using the correct sized tip for your pipette. There is no one size fits all tip either!

Hack #13. Pre-Wet Your Tip

Now here is one fact to know if you really want to show off at the office party!

Pre-wetting increases the humidity within the tip. This minimizes evaporation of the solution (unless you’re working in high ambient humidity).

Hack #14. Just Like Disapparition

Harry Potter taught us that to disappear and reappear somewhere else, you need only remember the three D’s of disapparition: Destination, Determination and Deliberation. Pipetting is the same.

Destination: know where your liquid is going to end up and have that destination ready to go with lids off etc.

Determination: don’t get fidgety halfway and hold the pipette in midair while you adjust things around.

Deliberation: don’t hang around in any container too long. Commit to what you started and, without rushing, move promptly. The longer containers are open, the more chance there is of them getting contaminated, spilt or anything else.

If you follow these three D’s, you’re basically a pipetting witch/wizard.

Follow these rules and you’ll be pipetting with the best of them and don’t forget to ice your hand.

1 Comment

  1. Morten Grøftehauge on May 2, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    #3 is dependent on whether your pipette is calibrated for forward pipetting or reverse pipetting:


    Forward is nice for dilution series but reverse is nice for everything else.

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