Dry Baths Vs. Water Baths – Which Do You Need?

Many laboratories use either water baths or dry bath incubators for a variety of heating and cooling applications. For incubation applications, the quality and efficiency of the equipment are critical.  In this blog, we’re going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of both to help you decide which one to have as you laboratory heating equipment. 

What is the Difference Between a Water Bath and a Dry Bath?  

A dry bath, also known as a block heater, is used to heat samples and is commonly found in biology, biochemistry, genetics, tissue/cell culture and more.  As you might have guessed, they do not use liquid to heat samples. 

A water bath is an instrument that is also used to heat and incubate samples, however they use water (other kinds of liquids can sometimes be used depending on the desired result) to maintain a constant temperature.  They can be used to incubate cell cultures, melt substrates and facilitate certain chemical reactions that require a higher temperature.  

As a rule, avoid using water baths if you need to keep your work area free from contaminants. Consider some of the differences between the two baths options. 

Dry Baths Vs. Water Baths

Three key criteria will help you choose which type of bath meets your needs:

  • Speed
  • Cleanliness
  • Container Size

Water Baths

  • Speed: Water is capable of transferring heat to samples much more quickly and effectively than air, so a water bath heats samples much more rapidly than a dry bath. Water baths promote more consistent heat distribution in a sample, helping maintain temperature and reduce the chances of temperature fluctuations, while also allowing you to heat multiple samples at once.
  • Cleanliness: Water baths are typically more susceptible to contamination between samples and work surfaces because they’re essentially large pools of standing (though heated) water. Specific applications may require additional steps to maintain hygiene and cleanliness, which aren’t ideally suited for water baths.
  • Container Size: Some applications require the use of unconventional or bulky containers. Since water naturally adapts to accommodate the shape of the sample, water baths are ideal for these non-standard applications.

Dry Baths

  • Speed: Dry baths don’t store as much heat as their water counterpart does, which results in samples taking longer to achieve the desired temperature. As a result, the stored heat also makes dry baths less able to resist temperature fluctuations.
  • Cleanliness: Dry baths are better suited for areas where aseptic conditions are common or needed. Without any liquid, it is much more difficult to spread contamination between the block surfaces and the sample containers.
  • Container Size: Dry baths are used with standard sample containers sold on the market. They are best suited for specific containers, for example a 1.5mL conical tube.

Picking the Right Model

Sonic Supply offers highly functional water and dry bath models from top of the line manufacturers.

Looking for a dry bath with superior hygiene? Check out DLAB’s Digital Dry Bath with Heating Blocks which offers features like a USB Interface, external temperature sensor and audible reminder alerts.

If you’re looking to heat flasks, bottles and tubes, head over to the Stainless Steel Water Bath from United Scientific Supplies, Inc. This standard size (8″ x 2.75″) water bath features stainless steel construction, seven concentric rings, a flat bottom and a steam escape outlet.


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