Common Centrifuge Issues and How to Fix Them

When your centrifuge isn't working correctly, it's essential to know how to troubleshoot it so you can identify the issue and understand the best path forward to fix it. While you can deal with some centrifuge problems yourself, some issues may be more complex to resolve. As a result, you can end up dealing with a delay in your research processes or different hazards that put operators and samples at risk. That's why understanding common centrifuge issues and their potential fixes is key.

Why Proper Centrifuge Use Matters

Typically, users employ centrifuges to separate solids, liquids or gases based on density and to concentrate or purify substances. For example, research scientists use centrifuges to isolate specific molecules or particles for analysis and purification, and medical professionals can rely on them to separate blood specimens into different components like red blood cells, white blood cells and plasma.

While centrifuges are efficient and reliable, they can occasionally encounter issues like any piece of equipment — and how users work with them matters. These devices can present physical and exposure hazards when they're used or maintained improperly — machine corrosion, stress and cracks, along with sample spills and leaks, are all possibilities. Additionally, proper centrifuge operations ensure accurate results and lower unexpected downtime that leads to lost specimens, productivity and revenue.

Common Centrifuge Operational Errors and Solutions

When you're using a centrifuge and notice unusual noises, vibrations or error messages, you'll need to know what to do next to limit downtime and hazards. Below are some of the most common centrifuge errors and how to troubleshoot them.

1. Unbalanced Centrifuge Loads

A vibrating centrifuge is often the sign of an unbalanced load. Vibrations can cause damage to the centrifuge and affect the centrifugation process. Take these troubleshooting actions when encountering balancing issues during operation:

  • Balance the load by using tubes and containers of similar weight.
  • Position and align the rotor properly.
  • Check for any damage on the rotor and centrifuge.

2. Balancing Issues

Before you start the centrifuge, you must load it correctly to operate it safely without damaging the equipment. Follow these tips for balancing a centrifuge properly:

  • Fill all sample tubes evenly so they're the same mass.
  • Place tubes of equal weight directly opposite each other.

Repeat the process depending on the number of tubes. If you have an uneven number of sample tubes, create a balance tube of the same mass to even the spacing.

3. Lid Locking Malfunctions

If you find it difficult to close or lock the lid, try these tricks:

  • Look for any obstructions that may prevent the centrifuge from closing properly.
  • Check the safety interlocks to ensure they're functioning properly.
  • Clean and lubricate the locking mechanism according to the manual.

Lid-locking malfunctions can lead to poor insulation, causing fluctuations in the centrifuge's temperature. If you see a tear or other damage to the lid gasket, do not use the centrifuge.

Advanced Centrifuge Issues and Troubleshooting Techniques

The centrifuge is a complex piece of lab equipment. Occasionally, you'll need to use advanced troubleshooting techniques to resolve errors.

Overheating may be a common issue in high-speed centrifugation, but you can generally avoid is by not running the centrifuge for long periods without breaks. However, when a centrifuge does overheat, it's important to follow safety protocols to prevent any damage to the machine or tube contents.

1. Overheating

  1. Turn the machine off to avoid further heat buildup.
  2. Do not open the lid immediately — the interior components could be hot, plus the rotor will still be spinning for some time.
  3. Check the cooling system and clean and remove any obstructions from vents or fans.
  4.  Ensure the centrifuge power supply is adequate and not overloaded.
  5. Allow the centrifuge to cool down properly before using it again.

2. Speed Fluctuations

Speed fluctuations can affect or even prevent the proper separation of tube contents. The tubes can also break when the centrifuge runs too fast, especially when they're overfilled. Here are some troubleshooting tips for managing consistent operation speeds:

  • Ensure the speed and timer settings are correct.
  • Fix or replace the tachometer if it's not working.
  • Check if the motor is receiving power.
  • Test the speed control to ensure there are no problems with the wiring or power supply.

3. Error Messages

If your centrifuge displays an error message, refer to the manual or guidelines specific to your centrifuge model. Follow the instructions carefully for each error message for the best outcome.

4. Rotor Seizure or Jamming

Motors spin rotors at high speeds, and they must be balanced and fastened securely to the centrifuge. If you hear vibrations or noise coming from the centrifuge, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the centrifuge to prevent further potential damage.
  2. Wait for the centrifuge to cool down before opening it.
  3. Examine the rotor area for any visible obstructions, such as debris, broken parts or tubes.
  4. Apply a small amount of lubricant near the rotor axis to help loosen it.
  5. Position and align the rotor properly.

Maintenance Tips to Prevent Centrifuge Issues

After troubleshooting and fixing the applicable parts, run tests to ensure everything is working the way it should without vibration, noise or overheating. Then, continue to follow a long-term care and maintenance plan, including these techniques:

  • Regularly clean, lubricate, inspect and calibrate the centrifuge according to the model's specifications.
  • Keep accurate records of observed issues and maintenance procedures to adapt the maintenance plan when needed.
  • Only use authorized replacement parts for the centrifuge.

In some instances, opting for professional servicing or centrifuge replacement may be the better option, such as when your centrifuge is due for routine servicing or requires complex repairs. Additionally, if your centrifuge exhibits vibrations or electrical problems that put your safety at risk, or your centrifuge is outdated, is past its recommended life span and has frequent breakdowns, you should have an expert take a look.

Partner With New Life Scientific for Your Centrifuge Needs

If you are in the market for a centrifuge or require a replacement model for your lab, New Life Scientific has an array of high-quality, used centrifuges with dedicated support services at a fraction of the cost. We are committed to aiding scientists, researchers and technicians through expertly sourced lab equipment, replacement parts such as rotors and troubleshooting support.

Browse all our used centrifuges or get in touch with our team today!