Water Bath: Parts, Principle, and Applications

The water bath is an essential laboratory equipment used to heat the samples over a while at a constant temperature in research or clinical laboratories. The main distinguishing feature of the water bath is it uses water as media of heat transmission. Therefore, it plays a crucial role in heating flammable substances to prevent their combustion, which might occur under a Bunsen burner. Similarly, allowing the sample to be incubated over a long period and continuous shaking has widened its applicability in laboratories. The water bath consists of a container with a heating element filled with the heated water. 

The water bath is the best choice when the temperature requirement is not more than 100℃ to heat samples. When the temperature requirement is above 100℃, alternative methods are used, such as; oil bath, silicone bath, or sand bath. 

Types of water bath
Types of water bath

Parts of a water bath

The water bath is designed comprising various parts, each having equal importance in the function that includes;

Parts of water bath
Parts of water bath
  1. Container/ tank bath: It is made of insulated metal with low heat conductivity and resistance to mechanical shock (like stainless steel). The capacity of the container ranges from 12 to 32 liters for a standard model and 50-100 liters for a large water bath. It is filled with water that is used to heat the sample for an extended time.
  2. Container lid: It is made of aluminum or stainless steel that helps resist mechanical shock or oxidation. It has a solid rectangular shape that makes them easy to place anywhere. The container lid also consists of several layers of isolator material that help to prevent water evaporation.
  3. Heater: Temperature sensors (Cu50) located at the bottom of a water bath serve as a heater.
  4. Shelve/ Mesh: It is made of aluminum or steel. It contains a group of holes that helps to increase thermal conductivity.
  5. Thermostat/ regulator: It is a sensor of heat connecting directly to the heater that helps to maintain a constant temperature. It also helps to protect the device from overheating.
  6. Thermometer: It helps to measure the temperature of heated water. It can be either integrated or added on its own.
  7. Outlet valve: It helps to remove water from the container after use. Leaving water in a container might lead to the corrosion or growth of algae.
  8. Indicator light: The light indicator helps to indicate whether the water bath is working correctly or not. When the light of the water bath is glowing it infers that the water bath is warming up whereas, turning off of light indicates a set temperature has been achieved.
  9. Digital/analog interface: It helps to set the desired temperature of the water bath.
  10. Propeller/stirrer device: It is found in a continuous water bath and helps to promote water circulation inside the container.


The working mechanism of the water bath is quite simple. It works by increasing the temperature of the water through a heating plate around the reservoir. The operating mechanism of the water bath varies based on its design, i.e., the analog or digital type.

In the analog type of water bath, turning on the mains leads to passing current to the thermostat and then to the heater immersed in water. When the water temperature is less than the calibrated value, the thermostat will let the current flow through the heater. Thus, the temperature of the water will begin to increase. Once the water temperature reaches the set value, the thermostat will shut off. Therefore, current will not flow through a heating rod. As a result, the water temperature decreases, which is also indicated by turning off the heating light.

The working mechanism of the digital water bath is similar to the analog water bath. In it, the PID controller and the solid-state relay (SSR) control the current flow to the heater. When the temperature of the water is lesser than the calibrated value, the controller will supply DC current to the relay. Then the relay will get activated, causing the current flow to the heating rod. Therefore heater begins to heat the water. The controller activates and deactivates the relay when the temperature reaches a set value. As a result, the heating rod will go ON/OFF continuously. Therefore, controlling the ON/OFF stage duration maintains a constant temperature in a digital water bath.

Similarly, digital water baths also consist of a resistant temperature detector (RTD) that senses the temperature of the water and converts the temperature to a resistance value supplied to the controller. The controller compares the incoming value to the set value.

Types of water bath

Shaking water bath

  • It allows continuous shaking of samples at a controlled temperature over a long period. Its shaking features are more precisely controlled.
  • Continuous shaking allows liquid-grown cell culture to mix continuously with the air, which enhances cell growth.
  • It has high-precision temperature control and easy temperature adjustment.
  • Consist of flask holding clamps as accessories.
  • Consist of a gabled lid that allows no direct dripping of condensate onto the sample.
  • Other available features of this type of water bath include; user-friendly keypad operation, simple bath drains, etc.

Circulating water bath

  • It is also known as a stirrer water bath.
  • In this bath, water circulates properly, which results in a more consistent temperature.
  • It allows rapid heating or cooling of samples or reagents with a wide temperature range.
  • It is used for enzymatic or serological experiments.
  • Other available features of this type of water bath include; touchscreen operation and control keys such as temperature accuracy control, heating rate, temperature uniformity range, etc.

Non-circulating water bath

  • It is based on a convection mechanism rather than heating water uniformly.
  • Ability to manage temperature is less precise.
  • Other accessories are also required to agitate the water bath for proper heat transmission.
  • Suitable to use only up to 99.9℃ temperature. Another alternative should be used if the temperature requirement is up to 100 ℃.

Polycarbonate water bath

  • It consists of a transparent polycarbonate container.
  • Inside the bath thermostatic heating system is present.
  • Suitable to use only up to 100℃ temperature.

Procedure for running water bath

  1. Open the lid and fill the container with water up to 3/4th height of the bath and close it.
  2. Switch ‘ON’ the mains and also the instrument.
  3. Red light and yellow light will glare on mains and heating, respectively.
  4. Then set the temperature with the help of a temperature control knob and allow the temperature to rise to the pre-set value.
  5. Monitor the temperature with the help of a thermometer, and after obtaining the required temperature, open the lid and place the sample init over a necessary period.
  6. On completion, remove the sample and switch ‘OFF’ the main and instrument.
  7. Lastly, drain all the water from the container by the valve and dry the instrument before closing the container with a lid.

Applications of water bath

  1. It helps to improve the solubility of a poorly soluble substance.
  2. It is the best choice for heat-flammable substances that might ignite under an open flame.
  3. It is used for heating laboratory reagents.
  4. The water bath is also used for melting substances.
  5. It is used to heat the smear during acid-fast staining and spore staining.
  6. It is also used for cell culture incubation for various purposes in laboratories like for the production of protease from Bacillus spp, isolation of Actinomycetes from the soil sample, and DNA extraction to bring the cell into the log phase.

Advantages of water bath

  1. Easy to operate and cost-effective.
  2. Allows no direct heat contact with the samples.
  3. Allows a large number of samples to be heated at once.
  4. Provides a constant temperature range over the required period of time.
  5. Low maintenance cost.

Limitations of water bath

  1. If the bathtub is untreated and exposed to the environment, it encourages microbial activity.
  2. Regular replacement of water is required.
  3. It is operated only by the power supply.


  1. Before turning on or plugging into the main power, make sure your hands are dry.
  2. Adjust the water level carefully since the sample containing the vessel will displace the water, increasing the apparent volume of water in a container. Similarly, the water level should be routinely checked.
  3. Ensure the water bath is adequately covered with a lid during the working period to avoid evaporation and contamination.
  4. The instrument should be clean and free of dust. Moreover, colin can be used after use.
  5. Never fill the water bath with tap water because it contains ions that will rapidly increase corrosion.
  6. The heating rod or element should be fully immersed in water. Running a water bath by not dipping the heating rod can cause damage to it.
  7. Always drain out the water from the water bath after use to avoid rusting and contamination of samples.
  8. Anti-rusting chemicals should be used to avoid rusting.
  9. Always apply a thermometer to check whether the water bath is working correctly or not before incubating the sample.

Oil bath and sand bath

Oil bath

  • Instead of water, high-conduction oil (i.e; soybean oil or cotton seed oil) is used.
  • It can maintain temperatures up to 300℃.
  • It provides more uniform heat than water baths and sand baths.

Sand bath

  • Yellow sand is used instead of water but its conductivity is less than water and oil bath.
  • The heating rod is made up of aluminum.
  • The reaction vessel is partially covered with sand. The sand conducts heat from the plate to other sides of the reaction vessels.


Samikshya Acharya

Hello, I am Samikshya Sharma. I have completed my post-graduate study in medical microbiology at the central department of microbiology, TU, Nepal. I hope my articles are helpful to you. Thank you!!

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