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Which Is Right for You: A Steam Rack Washer or an Electric Rack Washer?

Life science and laboratory animal research facilities utilize various material handling carts and racks to transport vivarium cages throughout their operation. All these mobile items utilize a rack washer that is designed to wash and rinse items placed in its chamber.

These industrial washers are specifically designed for intended sanitization or decontamination purposes. To ensure complete disinfection of items, industrial washing solutions must heat water to a certain temperature for thermal disinfection. The typical expectation is to wash at a required temperature of 185°F / 82°C for a certain duration of time.

But since the typical hot water temperature available from facility supply is approximately 120⁰F / 49⁰C, a heating source provided by the rack washer is required. There are essentially two options available for heating water to the desired temperature in each stage of a wash cycle including thermal decontamination: steam rack washer vs electric rack washer.   

So, how do you know which is right for your facility? 

Steam Rack Washer

Water is heated to a minimum temperature of 212°F at which point it becomes steam energy. Steam is then used efficiently to instantaneously heat water to the desired temperature range. A steam heated rack washer utilizes an external mounted steam heat exchanger. As well as internal steam sump coils and if required steam coils in external side tanks storing wash and rinse solution.

Steam is an excellent heating source because it’s extremely quick and is quite efficient. This steam is created through a boiler which is traditionally powered through natural gas. Steam rack washers can be directly hooked up to this boiler system. Most life science and healthcare facilities have a boiler on-site for other purposes.

However, it should be noted that there are some environmental issues with steam-powered heating sources as it requires natural gas. Further, steam rack washers are not necessarily an option for facilities of all sizes.

This approach is generally best for larger facilities, because of the pressure boiler systems they use. Depending on the jurisdiction, the facility may require a full-time boiler operator to keep the machine working correctly. Smaller facilities may not have the option to hire a full-time employee for this role or have the available space required for a boiler system. An alternative for some facilities has been to provide low-pressure steam 8-12 PSIG instead of the medium pressure steam 40-80 PSIG required.  Low pressure steam will have its own set of challenges also.

Electric Rack Washer

An electric heated rack washer is provided with electric elements to maintain the temperature of facility supplied hot water and if appropriately equipped increase the temperature of water. These electric elements typically are located in the sump of the washer and if required in side-tanks storing water for wash and rinse purposes. 

Electricity is certainly a more environmentally friendly energy source than natural gas. However, it does take longer to heat the water up to the desired temperature. Electric elements are not as efficient as steam Heat Exchangers in transferring their energy to water, therefore will typically increase the cycle time.  

But electric rack washers can be a good option for smaller facilities that do not have steam boiler systems and cycle capacity is not as critical. This setup does not require a boiler and no extra piping or insulation is necessary.

Which One Should Your Facility Use?

There are some significant benefits to both electric and steam rack washers – so what makes one the preferred choice over the other? Let’s summarize the key pros and cons of each washer heating system:

Steam Rack Washer


  • Heats up water quickly
  • Optimum washer performance
  • Fast and efficient cycles
  • Steam source is common in many facilities 


  • Requires a boiler that is typically powered through natural gas, which can be expensive 
  • Not a valid option for some facilities
  • May require licensed boiler operator

Electric Rack Washer


  • No additional piping or boiler system required
  • Licenced boiler operator not required
  • Ideal for facilities with no boiler system


  • Not optimal washer performance
  • Longer cycle times
  • Not as efficient in heating water


As with any type of industrial washer and sanitation solution, the best option for each facility is dependent on numerous factors. It is always best to speak with an industry expert to weigh your options and find a solution that will deliver the desired results for your laboratory. 

In Conclusion 

Rack washers are an important sanitation element for any healthcare, life science, or vivarium research facility. You want to make sure you are investing in only the highest quality equipment available under the direction of true industry experts.

BetterBuilt has been leading industry standards for industrial washing systems for over 70 years. We offer both steam and electric heated rack washers which can be customized based on your facility’s needs. Be sure to reach out to our team to learn more about our industrial solutions and find the right option for your facility. 


BetterBuilt is one of the top manufacturers of vivarium washers such as tunnel washers, cage and rack washers, and cage and bottle washers for life sciences, laboratories, and the healthcare industry. We have a strong reputation for quality, durability, and trust within the scientific community over the years.