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How to Care for Stainless Steel in Cleanrooms & Pharmaceutical Labs

Cleanrooms and pharmaceutical labs typically handle the testing or manufacturing of materials that are sensitive to environmental contamination. In cleanrooms, researchers and technicians may be handling any number of vulnerable materials, since cleanrooms are used for the manufacturer of everything from semiconductors to OLED displays. 

Similarly, pharmaceutical labs may handle any number of chemicals, substances, and pharmaceutical drugs in any given period, and must operate within a carefully controlled environment in order to ensure safety, result accuracy, and product quality. 

Because cleanrooms and pharmaceutical labs have such extensive cleanliness and sanitation requirements, designers and lab managers must pay careful attention to the surface materials they select for their lab furniture. Not all materials are equally good for all jobs, and it is important to select a material that fits the needs and pace of your facility. 

In the case of cleanrooms and pharma labs, stainless steel has become one of the most popular surface material options. Stainless steel was made to be clean, and in fact, it actually performs best when it is freshly cleaned. 

Cleanroom and Pharmacy Sanitation Standards

For pharmaceutical labs and facilities handling the manufacturing of similar products, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a series of standards and requirements. These standards were created to protect consumers from unsafe drugs and to protect lab personnel from unsafe working conditions. 

The FDA is known to have begun to enact legislation regarding the sanitary standards of a variety of manufacturers as early as the beginning of the 20th century, and have slowly taken on more responsibility and authority for maintaining and overseeing the proper development of food and pharmaceutical products. 

Following Good Manufacturing Practices 

The GMP, or Good Manufacturing Practices, is a system of practices developed by the FDA to help manufacturers ensure their standards and quality remain consistent. Notably, the GMP protocols include specific instructions for appropriate surface materials, and for cleanrooms and pharmaceutical labs, the best choice is almost always stainless steel.

Key Qualities of Stainless Steel

As mentioned, stainless steel was basically made to be clean, but that’s not the only thing that makes it the ideal surface material for cleanroom equipment and furniture. Stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion, meaning that the material can withstand prolonged exposure to both moisture and corrosive chemicals/solvents. 

Stainless steel’s resistance to corrosion comes with the added benefit of a non-porous, easy to clean surface that doesn’t collect particulate, dirt, or grime, severely reducing the risk of cross-contamination as long as proper cleaning procedures are performed. 

Stainless steel also has immense tensile strength, is long-lasting, and remains relatively attractive over time. With proper care, stainless steel can remain usable for decades without losing its resistance to corrosion or stress. 

Additionally, stainless steel is extremely tolerant of high heat, and won’t warp, bend, or pit when exposed to temperatures up to nearly 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit

Cleaning Stainless Steel in a Cleanroom

In a cleanroom or pharmaceutical setting, avoiding cross-contamination is of the utmost importance, and there is no better way to tackle possible contaminants than by cleaning. Staff working in cleanrooms and pharma labs spend a huge amount of time maintaining the cleanliness of their facility, which requires knowledge regarding the proper cleaning methods for all surface materials and pieces of equipment. 

Stainless steel has its own particular cleaning requirements but is relatively easy to keep clean, helping to streamline laboratory operations.

Why Clean Stainless Steel?

It bears repeating that stainless steel was made to be clean since most high-quality FDA approved stainless steel will become better the more you clean it. Cleaning triggers stainless steel to become more resistant to corrosion and damage, and unlike other materials, won’t wear down or become dull from too much vigor and scrubbing. 

Along with supporting the strength and durability of stainless steel surfaces by keeping them clean, carefully cleaning all furniture and equipment can also help to reduce cross-contamination, prevent unsightly messes, and keep your surfaces looking beautiful for as long as possible.

Cleaning Stainless Steel with Water

Stainless steel is thusly named because it simply stains less than other materials. Because of stainless steel’s resistance to bacterial buildup, corrosion, cracking pitting, etc., this surface material is relatively easy to clean and requires only minimal special consideration. 

For most normal spills and small stains, warm water and a soft cloth or non-abrasive sponge should do the trick. Water will remove most dirt, liquids, stains, crumbs, and so on. 

Though plain water is perfectly fine to use on stainless steel, a final pass should be made with a clean cloth over all surfaces to prevent water spots from appearing. If necessary, you can also use a mild detergent or soap to clean your stainless surfaces. 

Cleaning Stainless Steel with Solvents

For tougher messes like caked-on stains, grease, oil, and fingerprints, stainless steel can be cleaned using solvents. Non-sterile or sterile 70% isopropyl alcohol is an excellent disinfectant for use on stainless steel and can help you to get your surfaces looking shiny and new even after years of use. 

Once you have cleaned with a solvent, rinse your surfaces with warm water and clean with a lint-free drying cloth. A final rinse will help to prevent corrosive materials from wearing away at the protective film layer on the surface of your stainless steel, preserving its integrity and appearance. 

Preventing Damage to Stainless Steel

Although stainless steel is commonly selected for its extreme resistance to heat, corrosion, and general damage as well as its easy to clean surface, this super-versatile material isn’t completely impervious to damage. Like all other materials, stainless steel has its limits, and knowing exactly how you can prevent problems from arising is important if you want to keep your furniture and equipment in good condition for a long time. 

Chemicals, Products, and Techniques to Avoid

Keeping stainless steel clean is a relatively easy process and one that you shouldn’t overthink. Sticking to water, gentle detergents and basic solvents is your best bet when it comes to cleaning stainless steel surfaces, but there are a few specific items you should avoid at all costs: 

  • Chlorine and bleach: chlorine and bleach products will eventually ruin the protective surface layer of your stainless steel, and can create pitting and surface disturbances that degrade its resistance to bacterial buildup, grime, moisture, etc.
  • Abrasive cleaners: although stainless steel has extreme tensile strength, the material is relatively easy to scratch. To avoid leaving marks or divots on the surface of your stainless steel, always avoid abrasive cleaners and cleaning products like steel wool, fine powder cleaners, etc.
  • Letting dirt settle: the daily buildup of dirt and grime won’t impact the quality of your stainless steel, but if you let messes sit for too long, they could begin to wear away at the material’s protective layer. If you do leave a mess sitting for too long, passivation can help to reverse the effects.

Staying Corrosion-Resistant

When a freshly made piece of stainless steel meets with the oxygen in the air it forms a protective oxide layer over its surface. This layer helps to make the stainless steel corrosion-resistant and spontaneously rebuilds over time.

Although stainless steel naturally produces its own protective layer, this function is lost once dirt or oils are present on the surface. Like we’ve said, stainless steel is meant to be clean, and this is the perfect example of why: Stainless steel only produces its own natural protective layer when it is cleaned, and any presence of dirt and oils immediately neutralizes its ability to produce the oxide layer. 

Passivation 

When a piece of stainless steel equipment or furniture loses its ability to spontaneously produce a protective passive film, the surface can be repaired through a process called ‘passivation.’ Passivation removes iron/iron compounds from the surface of the stainless steel by applying a chemical solvent like a nitric acid solution. 

The process enhances the material’s ability to spontaneously produce a protective film, making the steel more passive and corrosion-resistant. 

Passivation is commonly used when rust begins to form on the surface of stainless steel equipment and furniture. Though stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion and rusting, it doesn’t clean itself, and neglected stainless steel can rust just like any other metal. 

Treating stainless steel with a mild oxidant helps the material to reform its protective barrier, helping to reverse the corrosion and rusting.

Although passivation can be used to treat damage that has already occurred, many facilities regularly use passivation to treat their stainless steel furniture in order to maintain its quality. As much as passivation can be an amazing treatment option for damaged stainless steel, it is an equally good preventative measure that can keep you from ever having to perform damage control in the first place. 

Electropolishing

Where passivation is used to wipe and clean the surface of stainless steel, the process of electropolishing resurfaces it, removing the metal ion by ion to create a perfectly smooth and poreless surface. Electropolishing removes microscopic pits and spikes that might otherwise be missed by the naked eye, creating a mirror-like finish that helps to prevent the buildup of bacteria, dirt, oils, chemical residue, and so on. 

Selecting High-Quality Stainless Steel

When choosing stainless steel equipment or furniture, it is very important to items from companies that offer some kind of guarantee of quality. At OnePointe Solutions, we carry a huge range of NSF-tested stainless steel products made right here in the USA. 

Our stainless steel furniture is of the utmost quality, made to last and withstand exposure to regular contamination, moisture, heat, etc., that is common in a laboratory environment. 

Our specialty at OnePointe Solutions is custom designing lab furniture that fits the specific needs of your facility. If you are looking for high-quality, customizable, stainless steel furniture for use in your pharmaceutical or cleanroom lab, you have found the right place. 

We have been designing, building, and installing lab furniture for years, and have provided custom solutions for labs and manufacturing facilities in virtually every industry. 

Workbenches

As with all of our furniture, our workbenches are fully customizable and built to not only be long-lasting and durable, but ergonomic and comfortable for your lab personnel as well. Each of our custom-designed workbenches is built on a heavy-duty frame, and rated to withstand over 2,000 pounds. 

What makes our workbenches extra special is that they can come equipped with a variety of accessories like: 

  • Computer mounts
  • Drawers
  • Mounted casework
  • Installed plugs
  • Steel and particle board pegboards
  • Footrests
  • Casters
  • Keyboard trays
  • Suspended casework

Casework

Having ample casework and storage space is vital in a laboratory setting, and like other types of furniture, casework must also be made from appropriate materials. Stainless steel casework is non-porous and won’t collect dirt, grime, particulate, or other contaminants. 

Like steel countertops and workbenches, steel casework is easy to clean, helping to maintain the sanitation of the cleanroom or pharma environment. 

Like our workbenches, casework can be made fully custom to meet your facility’s exact needs. Here are some of the configurations we offer: 

  • Wall-mounted casework
  • Base casework
  • Suspended casework
  • Wall casework
  • Corner cabinets
  • Lab islands
  • Mobile casework (on casters)

Other Cleanroom Furniture

In addition to our many stainless steel lab furniture offerings, OnePointe Solutions also carries other important equipment like fume hoods and chairs. Our cleanroom chairs and stools are made to reduce the buildup of contaminants and feature easy to clean surfaces that won’t absorb floating particulate, fumes, or liquids. 

Our fume hoods and biosafety cabinets are designed to prevent the spread of harmful airborne pathogens and fumes, a measure that is especially necessary for biopharma and medical testing facilities. When you choose one of our fume hoods, we’ll help you to take full advantage of your facility’s existing HVAC system so your equipment can be installed with as little stress and mess as possible.

Need Stainless Steel for Your Laboratory?

Give us a call at (866) 222-7494 to speak to a representative today!

Questions? Concerns? Want to start today? Get in touch. 866.612.7312

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