What is the Difference Between Lab Incubators and Lab Ovens?

Photo of inside of lab incubator

While laboratory incubators and ovens may appear similar at first glance, they serve distinct purposes and offer unique features:

Laboratory Incubators:

Laboratory incubators are designed to maintain specific environmental conditions for the growth and cultivation of biological cultures, for example microorganisms, cells, and tissues. Key characteristics of a laboratory incubator include:

  1. Temperature Control: Incubators are used for maintaining a stable and controlled temperature. They can be set at specific temperatures ranging from ambient to elevated levels, typically up to 50-70°C.
  2. Humidity Control: Some incubators offer humidity control to create a moist environment, ideal for certain cell and tissue cultures.
  3. CO2 Incubators: Specialised CO2 incubators are equipped to control carbon dioxide levels, as well as temperature and humidity. These are crucial for cell culture work, as CO2 helps maintain pH and promote cell growth. (Read more about why incubators typically have 5% CO2 here)
  4. Cooled Incubators: Cooled incubators have the ability to maintain temperatures below ambient levels. Therefore they are useful for applications like preserving samples or conducting experiments at lower temperatures.

Laboratory incubators are primarily used in life sciences, microbiology, and cell biology research.

Laboratory Ovens:

A laboratory oven, on the other hand, is designed to provide a controlled dry heat environment, typically at higher temperatures. The key characteristics of a laboratory oven include:

  1. Temperature Range: Laboratory ovens are capable of reaching higher temperatures compared to incubators, often exceeding 100°C or even up to 300°C or more.
  2. Dry Heat: Ovens do not provide humidity control. They are used for drying, sterilising, heat treating, and other applications where a dry heat environment is required.
  3. Uniform Heating: Ovens are designed for uniform temperature distribution throughout the chamber, ensuring consistent results across all samples.

In summary, the difference between laboratory incubators and laboratory ovens lies in their intended use and the environmental conditions they provide. Incubators are used for cell growth, offering precise control over temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels. In contrast, laboratory ovens are geared towards applications that require high-temperature, dry heat environments such as sterilisation and material testing.

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