December 19

Explore the Key Differences Between Fume Cupboards and Biological Safety Cabinets

Holliday Fielding Hocking Ltd are a specialist fume cupboard purchasing, installation and testing company based in West Yorkshire. We provide services to laboratories, industry and education including scheduled maintenance contracts from one unit to thousands.

As well as servicing fume cupboards, HFH also provide testing services for a wide range of LEV equipment and biological safety cabinets including fumigation services.

Speak to one of our team today about your fume cupboard or other local exhaust ventilated equipment needs today, visit

Let's start and explore the key differences between fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets.

In laboratory settings, the safety of researchers and the integrity of experiments is of utmost importance. Two common pieces of equipment used to safeguard lab personnel and maintain a clean workspace are fume cupboards and biosafety cabinets.

While they serve similar purposes, there are significant differences between a biosafety cabinet and a fume cupboard, and in this article, we will delve into the distinctions between a biological safety cabinet BSC and a fume hood, including their protection capabilities, airflow patterns, applications, and variations.


When considering whether to use a fume cupboard or a biological safety cabinet, the first step is to determine the specific type of protection required.

Fume cupboards, also known as chemical cabinets or fume hoods, are specifically designed to shield laboratory personnel from the harmful effects of chemical vapours and gases. By creating a physical barrier between the user and the hazardous substances, fume cupboards effectively contain and extract the fumes from the workspace, answering the question of “What is a fume cupboard used for”.

On the other hand, biosafety cabinets, designed for microbiological safety, offer protection not only to the user but also to the surrounding environment. These cabinets are specifically designed to prevent the release of microbiological hazards, such as viruses and bacteria, into the laboratory environment. By creating a controlled and contained workspace, biosafety cabinets effectively minimize the risk of contamination and ensure the safety of both the user and the laboratory environment.

Furthermore, in addition to protecting personnel and the environment, biological safety cabinets also play a crucial role in safeguarding the integrity of the product or material being worked on. By providing a controlled and sterile environment, these cabinets ensure that the product remains uncontaminated throughout the process.

In summary, both fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets serve important roles in laboratory safety. While fume cupboards primarily focus on protecting personnel from chemical hazards, biological safety cabinets offer a broader scope of protection by addressing both biological hazards and the integrity of the materials being handled.

Holliday Fielding Hocking Ltd offer full testing and maintenance of all fume cupboards and Class I or Class II biological safety cabinets. We also supply, install and commission both equipment that vents to atmosphere and recirculating fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets. As a major supplier to the UK market we carry a wide range of spare parts including centrifugal fans and replacement carbon activated filters and HEPA filters.

Explore the Key Differences Between Fume Cupboards and Biological Safety Cabinets - Holliday Fielding Hocking

Airflow Patterns

The airflow patterns in fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets differ significantly, reflecting their distinct purposes and functions.

Fume cupboards, often referred to as lab fume hoods, are designed to remove hazardous fumes and vapours, while biological safety cabinets, also known as biological hoods, are specifically engineered to provide a sterile environment for handling biological materials.

These differences in purpose and function result in variations in the airflow patterns within these two types of equipment.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of laboratory operations.

Fume Cupboards

Fume cupboards, also known as fume hoods or lab hoods, operate by drawing air through the cabinet's front opening at a steady face velocity. This process, often referred to as fume extraction, guarantees that any harmful fumes within the fume cupboard are adequately contained and redirected away from the user. The air is then discharged to the outside environment through an exhaust hood, safeguarding laboratory personnel from potential exposure.

Biological Safety Cabinets

On the other hand, biological safety cabinets, particularly Class II biosafety cabinets or biosafety hoods, employ a more complex airflow pattern known as the 'downflow' principle. In this configuration, the air is drawn from the top of the cabinet and passes through a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter, which removes airborne contaminants. The filtered air is then directed downwards towards the work surface, creating a sterile environment that protects both the operator and the biological materials being handled. Additionally, biological safety cabinets also incorporate an 'inflow' feature, where a portion of the filtered air is recirculated back into the cabinet to maintain a constant positive pressure, further preventing the entry of contaminants from the surrounding environment.

These distinct airflow patterns in fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets are essential for maintaining the integrity of laboratory experiments and ensuring the safety of personnel and the environment.


The decision on whether to use a fume cupboard or a biological safety cabinet in a laboratory depends on the nature of the materials and substances being dealt with. It is crucial to consider the specific requirements and potential risks associated with each option.

Fume Cupboards

Fume cupboards are suitable for working with a variety of hazardous materials, including odorous substances, toxic gases, reactive materials, corrosive chemicals, flammables, and volatile compounds. They provide a safe environment for handling these chemicals, protecting the user from potential harm.

Biological Safety Cabinets

Biological safety cabinets are specifically designed for handling biological hazards such as infectious microorganisms. Depending on the cabinet classes, they are suitable for use with agents that require containment according to Biosafety Level (BSL) 1, 2, or 3. For instance, a safety cabinet class 1 is ideal for BSL 1 agents. Class III biological safety cabinets can even accommodate BSL 4 agents, which are the most dangerous and require the highest level of containment. These biological cabinets provide a controlled environment for biosafety research involving infectious substances, protecting both the user and the surrounding environment from potential contamination.

Smiling Female Lab Technician Holliday Fielding Hocking


Both fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets come in various types and configurations to suit different laboratory requirements. These cabinet types include the class 1 safety cabinet and others.

HFH stock a wide range of fume cupboards and Class II biosafety cabinets, visit our website for our latest range.

When looking at the wide range of fume cupboards and biosafety cabinets, here are some notable variations:

Fume Cupboards

  1. Ductless Fume Cupboards: These cupboards use carbon filters to eliminate fumes and vapours, making them more environmentally friendly. They are cost-efficient and energy-saving compared to traditional ducted fume cupboards.
  1. Ducted Fume Cupboards incorporate an exhaust duct that connects the cupboard to the outside environment. This duct serves as a pathway for the extraction of contaminated air, ensuring that it does not accumulate within the workspace. By continuously removing the harmful substances, ducted fume cupboards help maintain a safe and healthy working environment for laboratory personnel.
  1. Canopy Fume Cupboards: These ventilation systems are primarily used for extracting heat, steam, and other odours generated by non-hazardous materials. They are often installed in ceilings or walls and can be customized based on specific requirements.
  1. ADA Fume Cupboards: ADA-compliant fume cupboards are designed to provide a safe working environment for individuals with disabilities, offering options for manual operation to accommodate different accessibility needs.
  1. Perchloric Acid Fume Cupboards: Perchloric acid fume cupboards are designed specifically for working with perchloric acid, which requires specific precautions to prevent the formation of perchlorate salts.
  1. Chemical Fume Cupboards: These specialised cupboards are specifically designed for handling dangerous compounds, providing additional safety features to protect handlers from potential harm.
  1. Walk-In Fume Cupboards: Designed to accommodate larger items and equipment, walk-in fume cupboards provide ample space for lab personnel to move and work comfortably within the cabinet.

Biological Safety Cabinets

  1. Class I Biosafety Cabinets: These cabinets provide personnel and environmental protection by drawing air away from the user and across the work surface. They are suitable for working with biological agents requiring containment at Biosafety Level 1.
  1. Class II Biosafety Cabinets: Class II cabinets provide personnel, product, and environmental protection. They have different types (A and B) and airflow patterns that ensure a sterile work surface and prevent cross-contamination.
  1. Class III Biosafety Cabinets (Glove Boxes): Class III cabinets are gas-tight enclosures that provide the highest level of protection. They feature both intake and exhaust air passing through HEPA filtration and create a physical barrier between the user and the sample.


In conclusion, fume cupboards and biological safety cabinets are essential equipment in laboratory settings to ensure the safety of lab personnel and maintain a clean and controlled workspace for biological experiments. While both serve the purpose of protecting users, their functions and capabilities differ significantly.

Primarily, fume cabinets protect against chemical vapours, while biological safety cabinets, a type of safety cabinet, are designed to handle microbiological hazards and safeguard personnel, products, and the environment.

Understanding the distinctions between these two types of equipment is crucial for biosafety and selecting the appropriate option based on the specific requirements of the laboratory and the materials being handled.

Useful Links

Holliday Fielding Hocking Ltd > Our Products

Holliday Technical Services > Fume Cupboard Testing

Wikipedia > Fume Cupboards

Wikipedia > Biological Safety Cabinets


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