Electrically heated ovens are commonly used in the laboratory to remove water or other solvents from chemical samples and to dry laboratory glassware. Never use laboratory ovens for human food preparation.
Laboratory ovens should be constructed such that their heating elements and their temperature controls are physically separated from their interior atmospheres. Small household ovens and similar heating devices usually do not meet these requirements and, consequently, should not be used in laboratories. With the exception of vacuum drying ovens, laboratory ovens rarely have a provision for preventing the discharge of the substances volatilized in them into the laboratory atmosphere. Thus, it should be assumed that these substances will escape into the laboratory atmosphere and may also be present in concentrations sufficient to form explosive mixtures with the air inside the oven (see Chapter 5, section 5.G). This hazard can be reduced by connecting the oven vent directly to an exhaust system.
Ovens should not be used to dry any chemical sample that has even moderate volatility and might pose a hazard because of acute or chronic toxicity unless special precautions have been taken to ensure continuous venting of the atmosphere inside the oven. Thus, most organic compounds should not be dried in a conventional unvented laboratory oven.
To avoid explosion, glassware that has been rinsed with an organic solvent should not be dried in an oven until it has been rinsed again with distilled water. Potentially explosive mixtures can be formed from volatile substances and the air inside an oven.
Bimetallic strip thermometers are preferred for monitoring oven temperatures. Mercury thermometers should not be mounted through holes in the tops of ovens so that the bulb hangs into the oven. Should a mercury thermometer be broken in an oven of any type, the oven should be closed and turned off immediately, and it should remain closed until cool. All mercury should be removed from the cold oven with the use of appropriate cleaning equipment and procedures (see Chapter 5, section 5.C.11.8) in order to avoid mercury exposure. After removal of all visible mercury, the heated oven should be monitored in a fume hood until the mercury vapor concentration drops below the threshold limit value (TLV).
Laboratory hot plates are normally used when solutions are to be heated to 100 °C or above and the inherently safer steam baths cannot be used as the source of heat. As previously noted, only hot plates that have completely enclosed heating elements should be used in laboratories. Although almost all laboratory hot plates now sold meet this criterion, many older ones pose an electrical spark hazard arising from either the on-off switch located on the hot plate, the bimetallic thermostat used to regulate the temperature, or both. Normally, these two spark sources are both located in the lower part of the hot plate in a region where any heavier-than-air and possibly flammable vapors evolved from a boiling liquid on the hot plate would tend to accumulate. In principle, these spark hazards can be alleviated by enclosing all mechanical contacts in a sealed container or by using solid-state circuitry for switching and temperature control. However, in practice, such modifications are difficult to incorporate into many of the hot plates now in use. Laboratory workers should be warned of the spark hazard associated with these hot plates. Any newly purchased hot plates should be set up in a way that avoids electrical sparks. In addition to the spark hazard, old and corroded bimetallic thermostats in these devices can eventually fuse shut and deliver full, continuous current to a hot plate. This risk can be avoided by wiring a fusible coupling into the line inside the hot plate. If the device does overheat, then the coupling will melt and interrupt the current (see Section 6.C.1).
On many brands of combined stirrer/hot plates, the controls for the stirrer and temperature control look alike. Care must be taken to distinguish their functions. A fire or explosion may occur if the temperature rather than the stirrer speed is increased inadvertently.
Heating mantles are commonly used for heating round-bottomed flasks, reaction kettles, and related reaction vessels. These mantles enclose a heating element in a series of layers of fiberglass cloth. As long as the fiberglass coating is not worn or broken, and as long as no water or other chemicals are spilled into the mantle (see section 6.C.1), heating mantles pose no shock hazard. They are normally fitted with a male plug that fits into a female receptacle on an output line from a variable autotransformer. This plug combination provides a mechanically and electrically secure connection.
Heating mantles should always be used with a variable autotransformer to control the input voltage. They must never be plugged directly into a 110-V line. Workers should be careful not to exceed the input voltage recommended by the mantle manufacturer. Higher voltages will cause it to overheat, melting the fiberglass insulation and exposing the bare heating element.