(1) TEMPERATURE FLUCTUATIONS:
(3) INADEQUATE MOBILE PHASE DEGASSING:
When the actual flow rate is in question, start by checking it manually (never trust the instrument's display screen or the software value for flow rate. Measure it). An easy way to measure the flow rate involves timing the amount of liquid that exits the HPLC detector line after a defined period of time. For example: If your flow rate is set at 1.000 ml/minute, measure the time it takes to fill a 10ml graduated cylinder. It must take exactly 10.00 minutes.
Inadequate degassing, sticking valves and/or incorrect solvent compressibility values may also cause flow instability.
Gradient analysis provides an opportunity to make sure you use a strong enough mobile phase to elute everything off the column during the run. Make sure you ramp up to a high enough concentration of solvent and use a "hold time" to insure this.
If you use isocratic methods to analyze samples, then you must follow each analysis run with a second, and separate from your analysis method, "column only wash step". This method does not inject any sample. Instead, it uses a strong wash solution which is compatible with your column AND is well known to dissolve any accumulated material into solution and elute it all off the column. For NP applications an alcohol (e.g. MeOH) may be suitable for this job and for RP applications ACN or even MeCl may be be appropriate. Check with the column manufacturer to find out which wash solution should be used (do not guess).
(6) SAMPLE OVERLOADING or too large an Injection volume: If you inject (load) more sample than the column can hold (as determined by a proper loading study), then the peak that results will be broader in width with more tailing (from diffusion). This will result in a peak which elutes later than expected.
(7) pH OF MOBILE PHASE: Samples containing ionizable compounds are strongly effected by the pH of your mobile phase. Buffer capacity is often overlooked (the ability to resist pH change). It is highest at the pKa of the acid/base. Try to work within ±1 pH unit of the buffers pKa value for the best pH control of the mobile phase. If your mobile phase is buffered too far away from its pKa, then poor peak shape or variable retention times are often the result. Note: Weakly ionizable samples can be very sensitive to changes of as little as 0.1 pH unit.