Everything You Need to Know about Sterile Vials
A laboratory’s findings are only as accurate and pristine as the purity of the ingredients used and samples created.  Contaminated equipment can often mean the difference between accurate results and an imperfect abomination of work inside the laboratory.  Using the highest quality of sterilized equipment doesn’t often come at an unreasonable cost.  Knowing what types of products you are buying before making the purchase is one of the first and most important steps when it comes to planning a project.  Your storage containers, like vials, need to be sterile to ensure safety when administering medications, provide a virtual guarantee of purity in exploratory research, and to remove the concern for unwanted bacteria growth. At MedLabGear, we understand the importance of using the highest quality of sterile products, as well as the level of care that needs to be administered when dealing with them.  This is a guide that will teach you about all the things you need to consider about the use of sterile vials to conduct your business.  

Sizes of Sterile Vials

Picking out the correct vial for the job is half the battle.  Empty vials are typically used to mix ingredients, solutions, medications, and other liquids.  Using a sterile vial will prevent unintentional contamination from occurring. – Especially if you are using the correct vial for the job.  For instance, wasted surface area increases the likelihood of unwanted contamination and shortens the guaranteed shelf life of most products.  If you plan on mixing and/or storing a total of 10ml of liquid in a vial, why would you grab yourself a 100ml vial?  The wasted surface area can get coated in your mixture, resulting in a decrease in shelf life, particularly if the humidity and temperature of your storage area are not ideal or is compromised.  Conversely, you run the risk of accidental overflow or abrupt deterioration of the containment lid/gasket if you try to cram too much substance into too small of a container. Using the correct sterile vial is crucial.  Let’s take a look at the different size options…
  • 10ml/20mm – Our smallest option is often used for powder storage mixes as well as liquid safekeeping. While the accepted metric volume measures to 10ml, the closure size is 20mm.  Small, sturdy, clean, and clear, you can purchase a single vial or a pack of 25.
  • 20ml/20mm – Arguably the most popular selection of the bunch, the 20/20 group of vials are frequently used for powders and liquids, or even a mix of the two. Boasting double the storage capacity by volume as the aforementioned option, the 20/20’s can be purchased in singles or 10 packs.
  • 30ml/20mm – Available as both a single vial purchase or in a box of 25, the 30ml/20mm vial is especially popular in serum storage use cases.
  • 50ml/20mm – The first of the two larger, long term storage friendly vials. The 50ml/20mm vial can only be purchased in single packs on our website.
  • 100ml/20mm – The largest sterile vial we provide on MedLabGear.com, the 100ml/20mm is almost exclusively used for storing leftover substances waiting to be used in experiments or in rare injection cases. Like the 50ml/20mm vial, it can only be purchased in single packs.

Techniques and Care for Sterile Vial Handling

Having the right vial for the job is only one-third of the entire process for completing good sterile vial practices.  Unintentional contamination is often the leading cause of wasted research in laboratories around the world.  Poor practice can lead to scrapping a single vial of solution or entire project works.  We’ve taken the time to compile a list of things you need to remember when you’re at work in any laboratory… Drawing solutions from a vial – If you’re working with some delicate product, you often cannot risk any sort of contamination.  There is a reason that you’re using a known sterile vial, after all.  Make sure that you’re using a sterile syringe and sterile needle to draw your solution from the vial, ensuring no accidental contamination from unclean utensils.  We suggest using one-time-use needles and syringes.  It’s best to toss them after use so that you don’t accidentally cause problems for yourself in the future. The atmosphere that you’re drawing solutions will also matter.  Make sure you’re in a clean room or adequately cleanly area.  Proper hygiene needs to be practiced as well.  We suggest thoroughly washing your hands and using latex gloves to prevent any accidental skin cell debris contamination.  In most scenarios, the cap or rubber septum should also be disinfected with an alcohol-based cleaning agent before and after use. Expelling solutions into a vial – Just as important as drawing solution, dispelling your product needs to be treated with caution and control.  Never, ever reuse a needle without first sterilizing entirely.  As previously mentioned, best practice would be to utilize one-time-use needles and syringes. When expelling the product, do so slowly and carefully.  Make sure you’re not splashing or spraying.  If you notice that you’re making air bubbles, there could be a chance that unwanted contaminated molecules in the air are now mixed into your solution.  The same good hygiene practices should be applied to expelling as in the drawing process. Once finished, take care to cap the sterile vial with an alcohol-cleaned cap or rubber septum. Sterile vial transport – Transport can be defined as from location A to location B at a distance of 2,000 miles or location N to location M, 10 feet away.  While the physical conduit for transport may be different, the same rules should apply… For a mixed solution, used vials, and already opened sterile vials, you’ll want to make sure they’re extra secure.  They should not be clanking or banging together, risking structural integrity of the containers themselves.  Full breaks aren’t as much of a concern as cracks, leaks, and lid dislodgements should be.  Padding is crucial, preferably uncontaminated foam or wrappings.  Be sure to consider the travel atmosphere.  You may not want your substances to get too hot or too cold during transport. For unused, unopened, and untapped sterile vials, you may be able to get away with a lax stance on the atmosphere during transport.  There isn’t much of a need to monitor temperature or humidity, but all the same damage prevention practices need to be put into place.  

Storage Rules to Remember

The final stage to consider when working with sterile vials is storage.  Long-term and short-term storage rules will differ, as well as whether or not your sterile vials are still unopened or if they contain some solution, ingredient, or sample.  MedLabGear understands our customers are going to have different storage methods and needs so we’ve taken the liberty of creating the list for each of you.
  • Long-term, unused vials – Stacking boxes of unused vials is ok, so long as you don’t go more than one stack high.  Applying pressure or excessive weight will compromise the structural integrity of your vials.  The holds true for all sterile and unsterilized vials.  Try to keep vials that you won’t be using right away stored in a dark cabinet, separate from items that could get stacked on top of them.
  • Short-term, unused vials – Storing vials outside of their boxes and packaging isn’t preferred but if you’re preparing to use them in the next few minutes to hours, it might be most convenient.  Keep the vials unstacked, in a clean area, and out of the way of other objects until you’re ready to use them.
  • Long-term used vials – Never, ever stack your vials.  It doesn’t matter how long you’re going to store them.  If you have something inside of the vials, the structural integrity is already somewhat compromised.  Adding a layer of weight on top of the vials is never going to be okay from the moment of use to discard.  Take care to control the environment in which your vials are stored.  Consider temperature, humidity, light, and “bump risk.”  Bump risk is a term used to described potential threats that could knock into your vials, both other equipment and people.
  • Short-term used vials – Climate control should be considered for short term vials as well.  The substance in the vial, as well as the work,  is completed, will dictate whether or not your vial should be stored in a refrigerator, freezer, cooler, incubator, or cabinet.  Do not set vials too close together because it will increase bump risk.  Be sure to keep everything away from the edges of countertops.


Safety should be the number one priority in all workspaces.  This holds especially true for laboratories that use any type of vial.  Since the vials are made of glass and sometimes contain chemicals or solutions that could carry a health risk, it’s best to properly dispose of them.  Be sure to have a laboratory grade, glass-waste container for used vials.  Do not overfill the container and be sure to have it professionally collected when it gets full.  Glass shards can be difficult to clean up, leading to physical cuts and scratches or contaminated work areas. Note: Always wear personal protective equipment when disposing of used vials.