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What Is A Measuring Cylinder Used For?

If you’ve never used a measuring cylinder before, you might wonder what this oddly shaped beaker is most commonly used for.

Measuring cylinders, also called graduated cylinders or mixing cylinders, can be used for many tasks, but they do have some specialized uses.

empty measuring cylinder made of glass on black background

What is a measuring cylinder?

A measuring cylinder is a tool, mainly utilized in a laboratory setting, that measures volume.

Unlike a regular flask or beaker, a measuring or graduated cylinder is much more precise, so anyone working or studying in a laboratory can take very accurate measurements.

Unlike a normal measuring cup or pitcher, which is shaped a bit like a large coffee mug, measuring cylinders are narrow and tall.

These cylinders usually have a small mouth on one side, so liquids can be easily poured from them.

Small numbers marking off volume measurements are printed or, more commonly, engraved on the side of the cylinder, making it easy to read the volume measurement.

Measuring cylinders are long and tall because this shape helps to improve the accuracy and precision of volume measurements.

measuring cylinder with 100 ml of liquid

However, you can sometimes find shorter or wider measuring cylinders. Graduated cylinders are available in a range of sizes, and these measuring devices usually hold anywhere from 10 to 2,000 milliliters of liquid.

Smaller or larger cylinders are also available.

Measuring cylinders are usually made of either glass or plastic. If glass is used, it’s usually either quartz or borosilicate glass.

These types of glass are generally non-reactive, have a strong chemical stability, and are extremely heat resistant.

Two of the most common types of plastic used to make measuring cylinders are polypropylene and polymethylpentene. Both materials are durable and transparent.

Polypropylene has high resistance to chemicals, making it perfect for lab work. Polymethylpentene is lighter than glass.

These materials are often used to create larger graduated cylinders.

scientist pouring liquid into a measuring cylinder

What is a measuring cylinder used for?

Measuring cylinders are almost always used in a laboratory setting. They’re very precise, so they’re perfect for getting accurate measurements for any type of liquid.

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Because they can be quite small, they’re also a good option for measuring small amounts of liquid, such as one might work with when creating a new chemical substance.

The materials used to craft the cylinders also make them non-reactive, another reason why they work so well in a setting where harsh or corrosive chemicals are sometimes used.

These cylinders can be used in any type of lab, including medical or scientific research laboratories.

two scientists working in a laboratory

You might even encounter a measuring cylinder in a lab for creating new types of food, cosmetics, soaps, or other household items.

Aside from measuring the volume of a liquid, measuring cylinders can also be used to measure the volume of a solid object or objects.

To do this, whoever is using the measuring cylinder would partially fill it with a liquid, such as water.

They would then read the measurement to see how much water is in the cylinder. The solid object can then be added to the cylinder. A second measurement is taken.

Subtracting the first measurement from the second measurement will give you the volume of the solid object.

Because measuring cylinders offer such precise measurements, they are a very good choice for experiments.

measuring cylinders filled with colored liquids

For example, if a scientist is attempting to create a new compound, they can add small amounts of a liquid, take measurements, and continue adding liquid until they achieve the desired effect.

Occasionally, measuring cylinders are also used to store liquids.

For example, if chemicals need time to react with each other or if scientists must wait for something to happen, the top of the measuring cylinder can be plugged or covered.

This will keep the liquid inside from spilling or evaporating, and scientists can record any changes in volume that might occur.

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