Translator for HPLC HINTS and TIPS for Chromatographers

Saturday, April 8, 2017

LC-MS Contamination? Another Possible Cause. Are your Mobile Phase Bottles and Filters Clean ?

One of the more common LC/MS problems I am asked to help solve deals with contaminated LC-MS or LC/MS/MS systems. Over time, many systems will become contaminated with a wide variety of plasticizers, detergents, salts, metals and ion pairing agents that routine source cleaning will not remove. Often, these compounds are introduced to the system through the tools used (e.g. pipettes) chemicals, solvents, mobile phase additives or even the samples themselves. "Dirty" samples sometimes persist inside the system long after the analysis work is complete, leaving material in poorly maintained injection valves but also through the use of poorly washed / contaminated and fouled HPLC columns. Even the modern inline HPLC vacuum degasser has proven to be a source of contamination. 

In addition to the above mentioned sources of contamination, another more obvious source of contamination should always be addressed early in the process of cleaning the system. Specifically, the glass mobile phase bottles and the associated solvent pickup filters used with them. Contamination in these areas directly infuses the system with undesirable material, so good practices must be maintained to reduce this source of potential contamination. 

As a general guideline, we should not place our mobile phase reservoir bottles in any type of dishwasher or wash them using any soaps. These will leave a residue easily detected by even the weakest mass spectrometer. Avoid contamination by purchasing high quality glass bottles with vented caps to keep dust out. If rinsing with organic solvents (and/or freshly prepared and filtered high resistance water) does not clean them, you can try a Nitric Acid rinse (30%) followed by a neutralizing wash in 2M Sodium hydroxide. Follow-up with a few rinses of HPLC Grade water (or LC/MS grade) then re-fill with an appropriate mobile phase. Don't forget to replace those solvent pickup filters too. Most of the sintered glass style filters are designed to be disposed of (not cleaned or put in an ultrasonic cleaner!) so dispose of them and install new filters and fresh mobile phase into those recently cleaned bottles before you start looking for the source of contamination in the more expensive parts of the instrument. - Please don't re-contaminate an expensive HPLC or LC/MS system and your data because you skipped replacing a $10 part. Keep commonly used spare parts around and always maintain a clean system.