Need to Surplus Old Lab Equipment? Trust the Process! (And EHS)

Jun. 26, 2018

A few years ago, an old centrifuge came into a repair shop with no information about its history.

The only clue the machinist had was some sticker residue that indicated it might have been from a lab that used radioactive materials. 

“I surveyed it and it turned out not to have been used for radioactive materials—but it could have been,” Steve Elwood, Associate Director of Laboratory and Radiation Safety, recalls. “That’s when we decided we needed a clear process for clearance of surplus equipment.”

Dealing with old equipment is one of the biggest challenges when shutting down or upgrading a laboratory. What can be surplused, and what needs to be discarded or recycled? How should equipment be cleaned for re-use? What is the lab equipment surplus process?

Surplusing Safely

EHS works with laboratories around campus to ensure that all used lab equipment is free of hazardous materials. Once the “all clear” has been given by EHS, university surplus (recently renamed Resource Recovery) can accept equipment for storage and reuse by other departments. 

EHS must verify that equipment has been cleared of all chemical or biological residue prior to releasing to Resource Recovery. This is done through labeling; all equipment must be labeled with a signed EHS posting before it can be accepted as surplus. 

With the exception of computer monitors and hard drives, which fall under a separate protocol for electronics, equipment used in the laboratory must be properly cleaned by lab personnel and verified by EHS. It is the responsibility of departmental surplus coordinators to ensure this takes place. Resource Recovery will not accept lab equipment without labels. 

What Can be Surplused?

Just about any lab equipment can be taken by Resource Recovery: centrifuges, cooling units, microwaves, cryogenic storage tanks (dewars), biosafety cabinets. An important exception is glass and metal containers, which are not surplused. Used chemical containers are treated as waste and subject to our Empty Chemical Container Management Protocol.

If you have questions about whether a piece of lab equipment can be surplused, contact EHS at or 609-258-5294.  

Cleanup Procedures

Clean-up procedures for equipment differ based on the nature of the item and the type of contamination.

Chemical Residue

Lab equipment with chemical residue must be wiped down to remove any potential contamination. Any equipment that has liquid in it (including motor oil) must be emptied. 

Dewars, cylinders and other pressurized containers destined for recycling must be cut in half to clearly demonstrate the item(s) is not under pressure. EHS can assist labs with cutting and proper disposal of all pressurized containers. 

Biohazardous Residue

Any lab equipment that has come in contact with potentially infectious microorganisms or viruses must be cleaned and disinfected prior to being offered to Resource Recovery. 

Clean the equipment using detergent and hot water and then disinfect it using a fresh solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. If the equipment cannot be disinfected, attach a biohazard label and notify Environmental Health and Safety (

Biosafety cabinets that have been used for research with human-sourced materials and/or any potentially infectious organisms or viruses must be decontaminated by the University’s biosafety cabinet maintenance and service contractor. Your department safety manager or EHS can assist you with setting up the decontamination service. Attach a copy of the decontamination certification to the cabinet.

Radioactive Residue

Equipment used with radioactive materials must be surveyed for contamination. If labs can demonstrate the item is free of contamination (e.g., wipe test and liquid scintillation counter results), items will be approved by EHS. Otherwise, EHS will conduct the survey and wipe test. 

For questions about equipment used or suspected to have been used with radioactive materials, contact Laboratory & Radiation Safety Director Steve Elwood at 609-258-6271.

Capital Equipment and Princeton PRIME

Large equipment of significant value (more than $5000) is tracked by Finance & Treasury through Princeton Prime. Capital equipment must be surplused through PRIME, and EHS is automatically notified through this system. 

All Other Workflows

For all other items, it is the responsibility of departmental surplus coordinators to notify EHS of any equipment intended for surplus, and to request clearance. EHS asks that labs contact our office upon completion of cleaning and before notifying Resource Recovery. For larger projects (lab closings, renovations, major upgrades), please notify EHS at the beginning of the project so we may consult on what can be surplused and all proper procedures for cleaning and verification. 

“Our role is not to necessarily decontaminate things,” Elwood stresses. “We are looking to make sure labs have done what is required and streamline acceptance by Resource Recovery so that the entire process can go smoothly.”