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PCR/Thermal Cycler Maintenance and Care

A PCR machine (polymerase chain reaction) also known as a thermal cycler is a piece of laboratory equipment used mainly for amplification of DNA samples, a PCR machine is an essential piece of equipment and any research laboratory. in this blog we will run through general maintenance and care to ensure you prolong the life of your PCR machine and prevent any unwanted down time.

As with most laboratory equipment you should ensure they are cleaned on a regular basis, using compressed air or a battery powered air gun you should clear any built up dust from the block wells, fan(s) and block heat sinks, not only will this ensure the PCR machine is running efficiently it may also prevent the machine from over heating and worst case causing unwanted damage to the main board or block from excessive heat/power demand. Applying Isopropyl alcohol or 70% ethylene to a piece of tissue clean the body of the PCR machine, around the block, the heated lid seal and heated lid (ensure heated lid is at ambient temperature), for touch screen cleaning avoid applying solution directly to the screen and ensure it is only applied to a tissue prior to cleaning.

For software checks you should regularly check the error log and see if any errors have been picked up during runs and check/clear run logs periodically to prevent unnecessary memory being taken up, for models equip with internal cycle performance/self-test (Applied Biosystems, BIO-RAD, MJ-Research, Agilent Technologies etc.) these should be run periodically with a blank test plate, the machine will usually test the heating and cooling performance of the block and heating of the heated lid, the results will be reported at the end (pass or fail), this will ensure confidence that the machine is running as expected, if the machine fails then it is still better for it to have failed with a blank plate than a sample plate that could cost you time and money. For failed tests/error codes please contact Labcare Service or the manufacturer for additional help and support.

General inspection of the casing, lid mechanism, air vents and power lead to ensure there are no damages or blockages, most lid mechanism issues occur from over tightening of the heated lid or forcing a lid closed when there is a blockage or a plate is not seated correctly.

On a number of occasions we have had to strip down and repair water logged blocks where a user has left a 4 °C program on for a long period of time with the lid open, a block at 4 °C will attract moisture from the air and this can sometimes make its way inside the block shorting out sensors and peltier’s, we recommend having a final hold step of 10 °C or ensuring you run a 15 minute incubate at 90 °C after a long 4 °C run to help dry the block out.

It is important to have your PCR machine calibrated to verify the set temperatures are within the manufacturers specification and that your samples are not being compromised by poor performance, we understand this is a high importance so we include a static temperature calibration during a preventative maintenance/service instead of keeping a service and calibration separate meaning a higher cost for customers, we have been servicing and calibrating PCR machines for over 20 years and are UKAS accredited for static block temperature calibrations giving you confidence in our work. A block temperature calibration will verify your PCR machine’s performance, adhere to any laboratory audits/accreditations and highlight any issues before they become an unexpected cost giving you time to resolve the issue and plan ahead.


Below we have summed up all of these points and more in a bullet point maintenance and care information sheet which we advise placing on the wall near your PCR machine(s), if you are receiving a PM/Service by us please feel free to ask for a copy and we will ensure one of our engineers has a laminated copy with them to leave after their visit.

Labcare - Maintenance and Care of PCR Machines
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