How to Use a Graduated Cylinder

by carolinastaff
graduated cylinder

Get tips to help you measure the volume of a liquid with a graduated cylinder.

Graduated cylinders are long, slender vessels used for measuring the volumes of liquids. They are not intended for mixing, stirring, heating, or weighing. Graduated cylinders commonly range in size from 5 mL to 500 mL. Some can even hold volumes of more than a liter.

1. Select a graduated cylinder with markings that will not be obscured by the substance being measured.

A graduated cylinder with blue numbers.
Graduated cylinder measuring volume of liquid.

2. Select a graduated cylinder made from a material that is appropriate for the substance being measured.

Plastic graduated cylinder
Graduated cylinder with bright yellow background.

See specifications charts and PDF.

3. Select the appropriate-size graduated cylinder. The volume to be measured should fall between the lowest and highest numbered graduations on the cylinder.

Cylinder is too small.
Cylinder is too large.

4. Determine the value of the graduations on the cylinder.

  • Locate 2 consecutive labeled graduations on the cylinder.
Example: 10 mL and 15 mL
  • Determine the value between the labeled graduations by subtracting the 2 values.

15 mL — 10 mL = 5 mL

  • Count the number of spaces between the 2 graduations. Remember that space equals volume.

10 spaces

  • Divide the value between the graduations by the number of spaces.

5 mL/10 spaces = 0.5 mL per space

  • The answer tells you the value between each marked graduation on the cylinder.

A graduation is 0.5 mL.

  • Complete this process for every graduated cylinder you use.

5. Read the graduated cylinder.

  • Put the graduated cylinder on a flat, level surface.
  • Look at the meniscus at eye level to avoid parallax.
Eye level = 75 mL
Looking from above = 76 mL
Looking from below = 74 mL
  • Read the value from the bottom of the meniscus.
Meniscus reading 75 mL
  • Estimate the final decimal place by dividing the volume between graduations into smaller segments. Easily recognizable segments are 0.25, 0.50, and 0.75 of a graduation.

The meniscus is at 75 mL, halfway between 74 mL and 76 mL.

  • Record the volume and appropriate units.

75 mL

6. Clean the graduated cylinders after every use.

Related activity

Graduated Cylinder Practice

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