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Biosafety Cabinets vs. Fume Hoods 

Both chemical fume hoods and biosafety cabinets are specialized types of laboratory equipment. While chemical fume hoods and biosafety cabinets look similar and both protect laboratory workers from laboratory hazards - their purpose, function, and operation differ significantly.

A chemical fume hood is designed to remove chemical fumes and aerosols from the work area while a biosafety cabinet is designed to provide both a clean work environment and protection for employees who create aerosols when working with infectious agents or toxins.

Chemical Fume Hood

 Chemical hood 

Biosafety Cabinet

   Example of a Biosafety Cabinet 

A chemical fume hood protects the user while a biosafety cabinet protects the user, the environment, and the material. Biosafety cabinets have high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters while chemical fume hoods do not. The HEPA filter in the exhaust system of a biosafety cabinet will effectively trap all known infectious agents and ensure that only microbe-free exhaust air is discharged from the cabinet (i.e., 99.97% of particles 0.3 µm in diameter and 99.99% of particles of greater or smaller size).

The images below show basic examples of the airflow design for the two types of cabinets.

Chemical Fume Hood
Source: USDA ARS

 The chemical fume hood has a door that prevents fumes from escaping and protects the user from inhalation while working.  The room air is drawn in below the protective door in to the hood and over the counter top forcing the fumes of the hazardous materials upward through the duct to the outside unfiltered. 

Biosafety Cabinet
Source: LBL

  The biosafety cabinet draws the room air in to cabinet where it circulates the contaminated air through the HEPA filter which is then ventilated up in to the room as decontaminated HEPA-filtered air. 

The chart below characterizes the differences between a chemical fume hood and a biosafety cabinet.

The chart shows differences shows the functional differences between the chemical fume hood and the Biosafety Cabinet. Chemical fume hood is used for dangerous chemicals, protects the user, has no HEPA filter and exhausts air outside the building. Whereas, the Biosafety cabinet is used for infectious biological agents; protects the user, the environment, and the material; must have a HEPA filter; and does not exhaust air outside the building without decontamination. 



Additional Resources

For more information on chemical fume hoods see:

For more information on biosafety cabinets see:

This page last reviewed: September 25, 2019