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What Are the Differences between Beakers and Flasks?

Richard Nelson
Richard Nelson

There are several differences between the two common laboratory containers called beakers and flasks. The main difference between beakers and flasks is their shapes. A beaker is a cylinder with a lip for pouring and no lid. Flasks are curved with no lip and have lids. Another difference between beakers and flasks is their uses. Beakers are used for careful mixing because they have a lip, but are not used for storage. Flasks are used for storage and prevent contamination by using a lid, usually a glass or rubber stopper.

Beakers come in many sizes, but all have straight sides and a flat bottom. The taller and wider the cylinder is, the more difficult it becomes to accurately measure the amount of fluid in a beaker. The narrowest beaker is called the graduated cylinder. This beaker has measurement lines to determine accurate volume. Other beakers have a few measurement lines but are not considered accurate and are only used to estimate the amount of fluid in the beaker.

Flasks are designed to hold and seal fluids. They usually have a wide body and a narrow neck. This allows for the fluid to remain less in contact with the outside environment. Flasks have stoppers and lids for even more containment.

Boiling liquid in an Erlenmeyer flask.
Boiling liquid in an Erlenmeyer flask.

Beakers and flasks are not made with the same materials. Flasks are always made of glass and plastics, while beakers are sometimes made of metals, like tin. Beakers and flasks differ in variety and shape. Only a few types of beakers are used while many different kinds of flasks are used.

The use of beakers in the laboratory is usually to mix and perform chemical and physical experiments. Graduated cylinders are the only beaker used to measure volume. The most common beakers are used to mix acids and bases to water or for other liquid reactions. A crystallizer is a short wide beaker that is used to dry materials that will form crystals. Beakers are not used as often, but they are important for carefully pouring and making observations in the laboratory.

A graduated cylinder is a type of beaker.
A graduated cylinder is a type of beaker.

Flasks are used to hold and store liquids over long periods of time and in a sealed environment. This allows a much wider range of uses for flasks. Flasks can be linked to other equipment with glass or plastic hoses as well. Nearly any reaction that produces gas will use a flask to separate the gas and measure the amount produced. Certain flasks use a vacuum pump to change the pressure in a container for experimental processes, like filtration.

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Discussion Comments


I too thought they were one and the same. Its amazing that some of them might be made of tin or some other metal. I would think the ones made of metal are not opaque and cannot be seen through in which case I would question what their purpose would be besides just holding or heating a substance.


I remember using this equipment In High School, but I never knew there was a difference. I had always thought they were the same all around but that they all had different shapes as per the chemical they would be holding. I never know there was such huge variable differences between them to the point that some might be made of tin or something other than glass or plastic.

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    • Boiling liquid in an Erlenmeyer flask.
      Boiling liquid in an Erlenmeyer flask.
    • A graduated cylinder is a type of beaker.
      By: red2000
      A graduated cylinder is a type of beaker.