Precautions When Using a Microscope

By Lori Weaver; Updated April 25, 2017
Microscopes are delicate instruments and must be handled carefully.

If you are interested in getting a close-up view of the world around you, a light microscope could be the right choice. Light microscopes, which employ compound lenses and light, are commonly used in schools and homes. They work by using two lenses: an objective lens close to the specimen being viewed and an ocular lens or eyepiece. Understanding the proper care and use of the microscope can help ensure years of use.

Handling

Never grab or carry a microscope by its eyepiece.

Although microscopes may seem sturdy, they are actually quite fragile as evidenced by their glass lenses and delicate focusing mechanisms. Microscopes have gone down in price over the past couple of decades, and there are many more microscopes available now that are made with inexpensive materials that may not be as durable as earlier models. Always pick up a microscope using both hands, one holding the arm of the microscope and the other supporting its base. Although it may seem tempting, never grab or carry a microscope by its eyepiece. When you put the microscope down again, be sure to do so on a flat surface, such as a tabletop.

Use

Familiarize yourself with the workings of your particular microscope model to avoid damaging it.

Before using your microscope, look over its various mechanical and optical parts. Even light microscopes differ in how they work, so familiarize yourself with the operations of the particular model you have. You will want to know what each knob does before operating it to avoid overworking or straining the mechanisms. Position the arm of the microscope toward you and the stage--that flat platform used for holding the specimen--directed away from you. If your microscope has built-in light, be sure it is powered on before trying to use it for viewing. Use your microscope in a well-lit room or outdoors. Microscopes often use a mirror to direct available light to the specimen platform, so not enough light will make it difficult to view an object and can cause eye strain. When using your microscope at its highest magnification, some models require special preparation of the specimen or lens.

Cleaning and Care

Lenses need special care to avoid scratches.

If your microscope has a cover or case, always put it in place when you aren't using the device. Wet or dirty slides should never be put on the stage, which should always be kept dry. When cleaning your microscope, unplug it first, if applicable, and then clean the outside using a damp, soft cloth only. Never use a dry cloth or paper towel to wipe any optical surface as you could scratch a lens. Use an air blower or a camel hair brush to whisk away dust. If there is dirt on the eyepiece that can't be removed with air or the brush, gently wipe it with a piece of clean cotton. If you must clean the objective lens, use xylitol or absolute alcohol. Never try to clean or take apart the internal pieces of the microscope.

About the Author

Lori Weaver is an experienced online writer and editor. She frequently contributes to a number of sites and covers a range of subject areas, including automotive trends, finance, marketing, sustainable living, renewable energy, healthcare, agriculture, real estate and other topics. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.