Introduction: Set Up Your Home Chemistry Lab

About: Carbon-based bipedal life form who thinks digital watches are a neat idea.

A concise introduction to home chemistry and methods/utensils for an improvised chem lab setup - for those interested in setting up their very own home chemistry laboratory.  

Tired of watching a nurdrage video and not having the means to try it at home? Make a lab.  We will be using various methods shown in The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, online videos, other instructables,  and some methods I've conceived on my own. We will try to minimize cost wherever possible and thus use the most readily available materials. However, I will present a more costly albeit better quality option for some of these. Read with an open and resourceful mind and be able to expand on these ideas. 

Note: No experiments are involved.
Link to source of inspiration:

This site has basically anything you'd need in a home lab:

Step 1: About the Home Chemistry Lab

On Chemistry: Chemistry is a fascinating and beautiful subject. It is also very complex and the source of many headaches. The fact that you are reading this demonstrates you harbor a certain curiosity for it already. Or maybe you've randomly stumbled into this instructable by fate... In any case, the first step to starting your lab at home is planting the seed of curiosity for the subject. Get to know the subject at the level you want by visiting your library or through online research. Curiosity is like a fire- it will die if not sustained. In order to keep that desire for knowledge kindled, you must constantly ask yourself questions, such as "what is an acid?" or "what happens when bread rises?".  More rigorous questions in the area of chemistry are of the form : "Can I make X compound from household items? Will X react with Y to form Z? Can I purify this compound? Can I find if this household product contains X compound?" and so on. 

If you want a great foundation for the science, there are a variety of resources out there. Did you know you can take a course at MIT for free? Check out MIT OCW for a more studious introduction to chemistry! 

Setting Your Goals:I hope that people of all backgrounds will read this instructable. With people from all levels of knowledge on the subject, it is up to you to decide where you want to take this.Some examples of great goals are as follows:

- I want to teach myself chemistry and I will take up home chemistry as a supplemental learning tool.
 - I will create a semblance of a lab in the summer so that I can take up chemistry as a hobby. 
- I will create a lab environment for homeschooling. 
- I will create a temporary lab for the upcoming science fair in order to work comfortably in a home environment. 
- I want to augment my own home lab by extracting some ideas from this instructable. 

Once you come up with your own goal, it's time to start on a scientific journey. 

Step 2: Materials and Tools

The first step in any procedure should be to collect the materials needed. To set up a lab, a good way to start is to scavenge your garage, kitchen, etc. for useful items. Also, you must start a collection of sorts, i.e. keeping in mind not to throw away that liquor bottle you just finished. Of course, you will end up needing to shop for some of these - A great deal of these items are  readily available at the dollar store. 

Look for these easily accessible items: 
-glass jars
-glass bottles 
-glass vase
-metal or plastic tubes (i.e. from pens,)
-wire hangers : you can shape these into a number of useful contraptions with pliers
-ash tray : for dealing with molten glass or igniting a substance. 
-aluminum cans: top can be cut off with a can opener and used as a container. 
-spice vials 
-plastic containers and organizers
-latex, neoprene, or nitrile  gloves
-boxes (for storing)
-rags or old clothing for cleaning/polilshing
-cloth pins 
-glass or steel rod
-scrap wood 
-school supply boxes 
-super glue
-corks (@Michaels)
-toothbrush -as cleaning utensil
-spray bottle
-funnel and coffee filters for filtering solutions 
-plastic pail for waste
-liquid soap dispenser
-permanent marker 
-measuring cup
-paper towels

Might Have to Buy:

-glass medicine droppers (@ Walmart): you can also use these as shaping glass - see how in step 7.
-Brasso Metal Polish (optional - some applications for aesthetics as well as improvised apparatuses)
- goo gone ( or any functional label remover, such as rubbing alcohol)
- flasks (@Michaels)
-rubber chair tips (@ Walmart)
-test tubes (@ Hobby Lobby)
-aquarium tubing (@Walmart) or vinyl tubing (@Home Depot)
-red and blue litmus paper
-6v battery
-sand paper
-white sticker labels (@ Office Depot, Walmart)
-epoxy putty (@ Walmart, Home Depot)


-Glue gun
-Bernzomatic micro-torch [very much recommended and not that expensive]  (@ Home Depot)
-Test Tube Holder 


-Homemade alcohol stove Or Camping lamp modified as an alcohol burner @ walmart.
-Distilling Apparatus (I will make a separate instructable for this one). 
-Wire Stands
-Wire Test Tube Holder
-A scale of reasonable accuracy, such as in food scales. 

Of course, this is not a complete list of things you will end up needing, only some essential ones. 

Step 3: Organization and Safety

Organization is crucial in a laboratory. A good way to store utensils is to separate them into materials, i.e. rubber, scrap metal, scrap glass, chemicals, etc. The more meticulous one is, the easier it will become to locate needed materials for a procedure.  

Safety First!: There are certain safety rules you must follow, and these should be present within a given procedure. As a general rule,  ALWAYS Use chemical gloves, an old coat, and safety goggles. Do not drink or eat during a procedure. Use closed toe shoes (no sandals). Also, experiments producing gas should be done outside or under a ventilation directing device. Remember that a safety shower and wash station is readily available in the home in the form of a shower, sink, or hose.  Please watch this video, as it is very comprehensive on home chemistry safety:  Home Science Safety Video

Acids/Bases: An acid contributes hydrogen cations (protons) to a solution, whereas a base donates an electron pair (this is a simplified definition). When diluting an acid, pour the acid into water (or base).  
A video introduction on acids and bases (30 min). 

Waste: The lab must be meticulously clean while not in use. There must be two separate waste receptacles: one plastic pail for hazardous waste (i.e., broken glass, flammable substances ) and another for regular waste. For hazardous chemicals, methods of disposing are usually on the labels of bottles. If in doubt, do some research on local recycling and collecting centers. 

Labeling: Make sure to always label chemicals stored in vials correctly. A rigorous approach would require that molar concentrations and safety information also be labeled.  Also label storage compartments with their contents (see picture). These compartments would vary depending on the scope of each lab, though a good rule is to store tools and spare parts separately.  

Environment: It is always a good idea to build your lab near a window or well ventilated area. Make sure that you save space by using organizers as depicted in my mini lab setup. Good lighting is important when carrying out experiments. It's also a good idea to have a designated area outside of your house for experiments which may require it. Always know what you are doing in an experiment, as it may not be stated explicitly that gas products may form. 

Lab Aesthetics: A poorly conceived lab will just look like clutter. It is important to make it stand out - it will add a very nice vibe to your house. You should store large containers out of sight and only have a few chemicals on display. Also an eye-catcher is clean and shiny equipment. Have your favorite flask out.  Take Pride in your work. How many people have the opportunity to have a  lab in their house? 

Step 4: Glassware

Glass Containers/Reaction Vessels: Glass is certainly a very important material for carrying out experiments. Quality depends on its makeup- borosilicate glass being the most widely used in labs. Only certain types of glass should be used for heating. If you bought lab-grade glass, then you should have no problem heating it. However, it is often difficult to determine the makeup of standard glass used in bottles and jars. Normally, the bottles you've recycled should be safe to carry out most reactions. One instance where glass may not be the best option is when sodium hydroxide is involved. This slowly reacts with glass, so be wary of the instructions in such cases. In cases where glass is reactive, teflon or other plastic containers are used. 

Recycled: I use spice vials, jars, and some bottles to store different chemicals and sometimes use them as reaction flasks. 

New: I found flasks with corks at the Michael's arts and crafts store for 99 cents. I've boiled substances in these over my alcohol burner and heated sulfuric acid in them  - with no breakage. You will have to buy test tubes, beakers, and graduated cylinders from a lab retailer if you need them. They are also sold as kits at Hobby Lobby. Check your local hobby stores for similar items. 

Step 5: Chemicals

Be wary of the safety and storage measures for handling certain chemicals. It is often best to store chemicals in glass vials labeled with their formula and percent concentration.You should keep chemicals with  large containers in their respective areas and only store a small sample of it in your lab. This will save space and time. You will find yourself not having a certain chemical at some point in your amateur chemist career, so I will try to list the most useful chemicals to collect in my opinion. 

Chemicals to store:

-Hydrogen Peroxide
-Clorox Bleach 
-Distilled Water
-Potassium Chloride (salt substitute)
-White Vinegar
-Hydrochloric Acid
-Sulfuric Acid (certain brands of drain opener or at a local auto shop) 
-Ammonium nitrate (from instant cold packs)
-Baking Soda 
-Lye (sodium hydroxide) 
-Battery Chemicals (carbon, zinc, manganese dioxide, and amonium/zinc chloride)
-Stump remover  (potassium nitrate) 
-Potassium permanganate 

-Battery Chemicals (best obtained from a 6v battery): 
  • Manganese Dioxide (found in batteries)  
  • Zinc metal
  • Carbon Electrode

Step 6: Heat Source

Heating: Intrinsic to chemistry is a source of heat to carry out more reaction. I bought a camping lantern at walmart and modified it as an alcohol burner. You can also make a cheap alcohol stove as I later explain on step 7. Another option is to carry out experiments on your kitchen stove, (use personal judgement on this).  In some instances a blowtorch is called for. I have used a micro torch which I bought at Home Depot.  Just make sure you buy some butane fuel for it. Store these items in a cool and dry environment. To heat substances, simply make a stand out of wire and place about an inch above the flame's tip. Use thermometers for precise heating. 

Many amateur chemists make the decision of investing on a hotplate and I highly recommend this if you have the funds, as it is one of the most useful pieces of equipment in the chemist's arsenal (can't stress that enough). 

Step 7: Shaping Glass Tubes

Certain experiments call for various glass apparatuses which are expensive and hard to obtain. I've used  my micro torch and glass tubes obtained from medicine droppers to make bent glass tubes and have also been able to mend them into larger tubes. However, the best source for glass tubes of all shapes and sizes are online, such as these.  In retrospect, working with these professional tubes is MUCH better and cheaper. An alcohol burner can shape glass tubes  as well, but takes much longer and is less safe. Plastic tubes from pens also readily bend under fire and are much cheaper, but are also of substantially lesser quality and have lesser applications than glass tubing.  

Glass Shaping Technique : Exercise extreme caution when dealing with molten glass.

The Process is quite simple, yet difficult to execute at first. Heat about an inch of the glass tube evenly by rotating it slowly around an open flame. Glass melting time varies depending on heat source. Once it's soft, bend quickly into a right angle. Set aside for cooling. 

To mend two glass tubes together, simply insert the thin end of one tube into the thick end of another and melt along where they meet using the same rotating process  used to bend them. Once melted soft, apply pressure to make a stronger bond. Note: These make delicate glassware. Be careful in using them. 

-You can drill holes in the chair tips we're using as rubber stoppers and fit them nicely to make a gas generator among other things. 

Step 8: Making Things

You might find yourself on a tight budget or unable to obtain certain lab items. This is where your creativity kicks in. Try to make lab tools and hardware yourself using wood, wire, scrap metal, etc. Below are just a few examples of such improvised items.

Alcohol Stove Burner: I bought a lantern, but you can make a cheap stove burner from aluminum can and alcohol fuel. There are numerous instructables on this topic, so I won't include it. 

Wire Stand/Holder: You can use coat hanger wire to build almost anything. Bend wire into a circle and attach three straight wires of equal length with epoxy putty to make a stand.  

Wire Test Tube Holder: I will make another instructable on this subject. 

Glass Tubing and Joints: As discussed in the previous step.

Lab Clamp for easy heating: Can be made by drilling a spring grip clip (used for holding brooms, rakes, etc. in place) onto a  stand. 

Distilling Aparatus and Clamp: An aparatus that distills made from a wood frame, condenser, and DIY water pump. Serves as a clamp for heating as well. I will upload the  instructable for this project at some point. 

Step 9: On Your Own

Is home chemistry controversial? Has it become a taboo in our society? Unfortunately, clandestine chemistry has been tied to the drug trade and even terrorism. But there is far more to this beautiful art than the negative. I have laid out the main aspects of my own chemistry hobbyist lab. I should point out that I am currently a chemistry student and really enjoy experimentation outside  the world of theoretical textbook work. However, I really encourage anyone to pick up this wonderful hobby that will give you hours of fun scientific intrigue. If you do it right, you can share it with your friends and loved ones rather than practicing it in fear and secrecy. 

"...whatever you decide for the future, keep up your interest in chemistry as a hobby. In addition to giving you fun and enjoyment, your chemical hobby will sharpen your powers of observation and reasoning and train your mind for whatever occupation you decide upon for a lifework. "

- The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments

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