CO2 Incubators

What is a CO2 Incubator?
CO2 incubators are sealed, climate-controlled boxes used in life science laboratories to grow biological cell cultures. They are required to maintain the same conditions as inside the human body.

  • 7.4 pH neutral
  • 37°C
  • > 90% relative humidity

These three numbers create the optimal conditions for biological cell growth.

Why is CO2 needed in an incubator?
Humans are most comfortable at CO2 levels at or slightly above 400 ppm (0.04%) which raises the question, why would a CO2 incubator that is used to grow tissue cultures need CO2 levels of 5 – 10%?

In order to culture cells under optimum conditions, the media they grow in needs to stay at neutral pH (around pH 7). The H2O in the cells can be turned into a carbonic acid (H2CO3) buffer by adding additional CO2. The combination of H2O and CO2 results in bicarbonate (HCO3-) and H2CO3 which keeps the pH neutral, and therefore has been found to affect the growth of biological cells the least.

In other words, by adding additional CO2 at the right level you prevent the pH inside the cells from becoming either alkaline or acidic, which both inhibit cell growth.

Maintaining CO2 Levels
CO2 levels inside a CO2 incubator are measured with  Infrared sensors or Thermal Conductivity Sensors. Read More

Maintaining Humidity Levels
While a water pan is often used to improve humidity, it creates potential problems with contamination and irregular humidity levels as the door is opened and closed. For that reason, an atomizer may be used to boost the humidity level along with a %RH sensor to control the humidity level.

What’s the Difference Between Water-Jacketed CO2 Incubators & Air-Jacketed CO2 Incubators?
Water-Jacketed & Air-Jacketed CO2 Incubators are the most common types of cell & tissue growth chambers used in laboratories. Over the last few decades, temperature uniformity & insulation for each type of incubator has evolved and changed to enhance performance and providing a more efficient environment for optimal cell growth. Learn the difference of water-jacketed vs air-jacketed incubators below and discover the better solution for your laboratory & application.

Water-Jacketed Incubators
Water-jacketed incubators refer to a type of insulation that relies on heated water within the chamber walls to maintain a uniform temperature throughout the incubator. Due to the high heat capacity of water, they are capable of maintaining the desired temperature for long durations which is beneficial with multiple door openings or power outages; this makes them a popular choice to this day.

However, water-jacketed incubators do come with some disadvantages. Filling and heating the incubator can take time so the water-jacketed incubator comes with a longer start-up process. Once the chamber walls are filled with water, the incubator can become very heavy and can be difficult to move. Considering stagnant, warm water is an ideal place for contamination growth, another downside of water-jacketed incubators is algae & bacterial growth can easily take place within the chamber. Also, if the wrong type of water is used, the incubator could rust, potentially leading to costly repairs. This requires a little bit more maintenance than air-jacketed incubators as water-jacketed incubators must be drained and cleaned to take care of this problem.

Air-Jacketed Incubators
Air-jacketed incubators were conceived as an alternative to the water jacket. They are much lighter, faster to set up, provide similar temperature uniformity and generally need less maintenance. They provide faster recovery after door openings. This is due to the fact that air jacket incubators can adjust temperature on/off cycles based on the air temperature inside the chamber following door openings. Air-jacketed incubators are also suitable for high heat sterilization and temperature upwards of 180°C can be reached, something not possible when using water-jacketed models.
If contaminated, air-jacketed incubators can be quickly decontaminated through, traditional decontamination methods, like high heat, or more efficient methods, like ultraviolet light and H2
O2 vapor. Many air-jacketed incubators also offer heating capabilities for the front door of the incubator providing more consistent heating and temperature uniformity, while facilitating a reduction in condensation.
Air-jacketed incubators are becoming an increasingly popular option as they offer more flexibility and superior performance when compared to their water-jacketed counterparts. Labs that frequently use their incubator should consider air-jacketed incubators for their rapid temperature recovery and decontamination methods. Air-jacketed incubators also excel for their light-weight build and less required maintenance. As incubators evolve, air-jackets are becoming increasingly the norm, as water-jackets become older technology.

What is High Heat Decontamination?
High heat cycle (Typically 160-180℃ for +/-120 minute) top disinfect incubator chamber after usage

What is moist heat decontamination?
Decontamination at +/- 100℃

What is UV sterilization in CO2 incubators?
UV light to disinfect chamber. Usually limited to pan.

Why use copper lined incubators?
Copper has Antibacterial properties. However Stainless Steel is more durable

Why use an HEPA filter inside a CO2 incubator? 
A HEPA filter which is positioned inside the incubator chamber and is driven by a circulating fan will capture all types of microorganisms and dust particles. Some can even capture volatile organic compounds.

What is Hypoxia or Supressed O2 incubators?
A laboratory incubator maintains a controlled environment for cell and tissue cultures that require particular conditions. While a standard incubator may be able to control oxygen levels to some extent, a hypoxia incubator is required when maintaining cultures at oxygen levels below 1%
What grade CO2 gas should we use: Medical Grade. Recommend a dual stage regulator 0.3 to 1bar inlet pressure. Be careful.. international supplied regulators may not fit local gas tanks.

Information required to to quote on a CO2 Incubator

  1. What size do you need?
  2. Do you need a water jacket or air jacket?
  3. Do you need High Heat decontamination?
  4. Do you require a roller or shaker?

Further Reading


Brochures What is High Heat Decontamination Copper Interior Incubators IR vs TC