The tough, stretchy, waxy, plastic wrap has many common uses and is a necessary fixture in a wide range of laboratory settings. Parafilm also has many lesser-known uses, making it not just an ordinary laboratory helper but a product with a diverse resume of responsibilities.
Parafilm M Laboratory Film is a paraffin plastic film which typically comes in rolls with square demarcations printed on a paper backing. It is a ductile, malleable, waterproof, odorless, translucent, and cohesive thermoplastic, making it extremely versatile under a number of conditions. Originally commercialized in the 1930s and intended for map mounting, Parafilm was quickly adopted by lab scientists for a myriad of uses.
Parafilm is most commonly used for sealing and protecting vessels such as test tubes, cuvettes, and petri dishes. Since Parafilm is both stretchy and self-sealing, it is easily used on lab containers of all shapes and sizes.
Beyond these typical lab applications, many additional uses have taken advantage of the hydrophobic nature of the film. For instance, beads of aqueous liquid can be “dotted” on the surface, thereby making those samples easier to load into electrophoresis gels and other devices. In fact, any technique involving microliter volumes of aqueous solution can theoretically be performed using Parafilm. Of course, there are notable exceptions such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which require sterile conditions to prevent the risk of contamination. Parafilm is also permeable by gasses such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water vapour.
Interestingly, Parafilm has a prolific role in multiple areas outside of the traditional lab. A few notable uses include:
Parafilm not only serves a variety of traditional laboratory functions, but it has many adopted uses in a diverse range of fields as well. It will be interesting to see what other engagements Parafilm will entertain in the future.