Lab Balance 101: The Ultimate Guide

A lab balance being used in a lab setting

Scales are a diverse type of equipment that serve multiple functions. From floor scales, conveyor scales, and truck scales to railroad scales, there’s a scale for every need. Lab research often requires that you use sensitive equipment to get accurate readings. This is especially important when measuring chemicals and other substances in small quantities. A lab balance or scale can be a useful tool to get these readings and is an important piece of equipment in any research setting.

Lab scales are used in a variety of settings, including laboratories and industrial plants. They are accurate and precise and can be used to measure weights ranging from a few grams to several tons. 

 Depending on the model, a lab scale can measure in increments as small as 0.1 mg. This makes them ideal for measuring small quantities of substances like chemicals that must be precise. 

To help you understand what lab scale is best for your needs, here’s everything you need to know about using one.

What Is a Lab Balance?

A lab balance is a precision weighing instrument used in scientific laboratories to measure minute amounts of mass. The first thing anyone would want to know about a lab balance is probably its readability or sensitivity. This shows how accurately the balance can weigh a substance and is typically expressed in decimal places. The second specification of note is the balance’s capacity, which tells you the maximum amount of mass (in grams) the balance can measure.

Most lab balances have readability of 0.1 mg or better, which means they can weigh samples to the nearest 10 micrograms (µg). There are some models with 0.01 mg readability and a few that go as low as 0.001 mg. The capacity of lab balances — how much they’re able to weigh — ranges from 50 to 500 g, with 150–200 g being the most common size.

Why Is a Lab Balance Important?

Scientists can use lab balances in scientific research to accurately measure chemicals and other substances. Imprecise measurements can affect the results of experiments, so using an accurate and precise instrument is crucial.

Aside from being used in experiment settings, lab balances are also employed in industrial and commercial settings for quality control. For instance, when companies need to ensure that their products contain the correct amount of a certain ingredient, they will often use a lab balance.

How to Use a Lab Balance

Ensuring maximum accuracy and precision is key when using a lab scale. Here’s how you can get the most accurate readings possible:

1. Go Through the Manual

The first step to using your lab scale properly is to go through the user manual. This will help you understand how the scale works and how to get the most accurate readings. Each model is different, so you have to familiarize yourself with each specific lab scale.

2. Check the Environment

When preparing to take a reading, it’s essential to check the surrounding environment. For example, the slightest temperature or humidity change can affect your readings’ accuracy. If possible, keep the area around the scale stable and free from drafts. For example, environmental interferences, such as drafts from an open door or window, can cause your readings to be inaccurate.

3. Ensure Accuracy

To ensure your readings are as accurate as possible, it’s important to calibrate your lab scale regularly. This process helps to adjust for any environmental changes or errors that may have occurred. Most lab scales come with a calibration weight that can calibrate the scale. If you’re unsure how to calibrate your lab scale, consult the user manual or ask a supervisor for help.

4. Make Sure the Balance Is Stable

When taking a reading, it’s important to make sure the balance is stable. This means there should be no movement or vibrations since even the slightest movement can affect your readings. To help keep the balance stable, place it on a sturdy surface away from potential interferences.

5. Take the Reading

Once the balance is stable, you can take your reading. Doing this often requires the use of a microscope to ensure accuracy. Place the substance you’re measuring on the balance and note the reading. Record all readings in a notebook or log for future reference.

Common Types of Lab Scales and Balances

There are several lab scales available, each with its unique features and benefits. The type of lab scale you need will depend on the specific needs of your research.

Semi Micro, Micro, and Ultra Micro Balances

With the ability to measure between 3 and 10 g and with readability down to 0.1 µg or 0.00001 g, micro and ultra-micro balances measure small samples. They offer high precision and accuracy, making them ideal for scientific research.

Explorer-Semi-Micro-Balance-USP1 OHaus

Analytical Balance

Considered the most common type of lab scale, analytical balances measure small quantities of substances with high precision. These scales measure quantities between 1 g and a few kilograms.

Analytical Balance A&D Weighing

Portable Balance

A portable balance offers the convenience of mobility and in a small size. It consists of a platform or tray on which the object to be weighed is placed, and a mechanism for measuring the weight of the object. Portable balances typically have a digital display that shows the weight of the object, with some having built in features that allow then to calculate the density of an object or to convert between different units of measurement.

Ohaus Portable Balance

Precision Balance

At first glance, precision balances may appear to be similar to analytical balances. However, these scales measure larger quantities with less precision. Precision balances a capacity between 150 g and 10 kg and can measure within 0.1 g. In addition, they often have digital weight indicators, making them fast and easy to use.

A&D Weighing Precision Balance

How Are Lab Balances and Scales Different?

Balances and scales are both devices used to measure the weight of an object, but there are some key differences between the two. A lab balance is more accurate than a scale, as it can measure milligrams or microgram levels. Lab scales typically only measure in whole grams.

A lab balance may also typically have a larger weighing capacity than a lab scale. This means that they can weigh heavier objects, such as beakers or gallons of liquid. Conversely, scales typically have a smaller capacity, making them more suitable for measuring smaller quantities.

Finally, lab balances typically have more features than scales. For example, many lab balances come with software that allows you to record and store data and perform more complex calculations. Scales typically only have a simple display showing the weight of the measured object.

Tips for Lab Balance Buyers

A person in a white lab coat and a face mask is leaning over a microscope.

Buyers may need to consider different factors when choosing a lab scale. The following tips can help you choose the best lab scale for your needs:

  • Be clear about what you’re measuring: The first step is to be clear about the substances you need to measure. This includes both the quantity and type of substance. Once you know this information, you can narrow down your choices to a few specific types of lab scales.
  • Calibrate regularly: It’s important to calibrate your lab scale regularly to ensure accuracy. Most lab scales come with a calibration weight that can be used to calibrate the scale.
  • Choose a reputable brand: When choosing a lab scale, it’s important to choose a reputable brand. A well-known brand is more likely to offer high-quality products backed by a guarantee.

Choose the Right Lab Balance for Your Needs

With so many different lab balances available, choosing the right one for your specific needs is important. American Scale offers a wide range of lab balances, from compact and portable units to highly precise models with readabilities as low as 0.1 mg. 

Not sure which lab balance is right for you? Our experts can help you select the perfect balance for your application. Give us a call today or contact us online to get started.