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Principle of HPLC Guard Column

Principle Of HPLC Guard Column

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 The HPLC column is an important component of liquid chromatography because it is the column responsible for the separation of analytes from the matrix. Protecting and maintaining the column ensures not only reliable results but also trouble-free operation. 

We all know that HPLC columns have a limited life, but how do you ensure maximum life? To answer this question, let’s first look at why a column might be blocked.

1. Samples introduced into HPLC columns are often varied and complex

Samples introduced into HPLC columns are highly varied and complex in nature. This is because HPLC is a powerful tool used for separating and analyzing a wide range of compounds, from simple molecules like organic acids to complex biomolecules like proteins and peptides.

Here are some reasons why samples in HPLC are often varied and complex:

  • Diverse sources: Samples can come from various sources, including biological fluids (blood, urine, etc.), food and beverage products, environmental samples (soil, water, etc.), and pharmaceutical formulations. Each source can have its unique set of components with diverse chemical properties.
  • Multiple components: Complex samples often contain a mixture of many different components, each with varying degrees of polarity, hydrophobicity, and size. These properties influence how the components interact with the stationary phase in the HPLC column and ultimately affect their separation.
  • Matrix effects: The matrix, which refers to all the other components in the sample besides the target analytes, can interfere with the analysis by masking peaks, causing ion suppression, or affecting the retention of analytes. This adds another layer of complexity when dealing with real-world samples in HPLC.

Due to the varied and complex nature of samples, choosing the appropriate HPLC column and optimizing the separation conditions are crucial for successful analysis.

2.Incompatible sample diluents and mobile phases

Incompatible sample diluents and mobile phases can be a major challenge in HPLC analysis, leading to several issues that can affect the quality of your results.

What happens when they are incompatible?

When a sample diluent and the mobile phase are not compatible, it can lead to:

  • Precipitation: This is the most common issue. When the sample diluent is significantly different in polarity compared to the mobile phase, the solutes in the sample can precipitate out of solution as the sample mixes with the mobile phase in the column. This can lead to peak broadening, loss of analytes, and ultimately, unreliable data.
    Image of HPLC precipitation
  • Peak distortion: Even if precipitation doesn’t occur, incompatible diluents and mobile phases can cause peak tailing, fronting, or broadening. This makes it difficult to separate and quantify the analytes of interest accurately.
  • Column fouling: Precipitates or poorly dissolved sample components can clog the column, reducing its efficiency and lifespan. This can necessitate more frequent cleaning or replacement of the column.

How to avoid incompatibility issues?

Here are some tips to avoid incompatibility issues between your sample diluent and mobile phase:

  • Choose a diluent with similar polarity to the mobile phase: This will help ensure that the sample components are readily soluble in both the diluent and the mobile phase, minimizing the risk of precipitation.
  • Consult the literature or manufacturer recommendations: Often, specific recommendations for compatible diluents are available for the mobile phase being used. This is especially helpful when working with complex mobile phases containing buffers or modifiers.
  • Test different diluents: If you are unsure which diluent to use, it is recommended to test a few different options to see which one provides the best results in terms of solubility and peak shape.

By following these tips, you can help ensure that your sample diluent and mobile phase are compatible, leading to more reliable and accurate HPLC analyses.

3. Particulate matter from the worn pump seals

particulate matter from worn pump seals is another potential challenge in HPLC analysis. As pump seals wear down over time, tiny fragments of the seal material can break off and contaminate the mobile phase. This can have several negative consequences:

  • Column clogging: These particles can get trapped in the column frit or within the stationary phase itself, leading to increased backpressure and reduced column efficiency. This can affect the separation of analytes and ultimately lower the quality of your results.
  • Peak broadening: Even if the particles don’t completely clog the column, they can still interact with the analytes as they pass through, causing peak broadening and making it difficult to separate closely eluting peaks.
  • Damage to sensitive components: In severe cases, large particles can damage sensitive components of the HPLC system, such as the detector or the injector.

Here’s how to minimize the risk of particulate matter from worn pump seals:

  • Regularly inspect and replace pump seals: Following the manufacturer’s recommended schedule for preventive maintenance is crucial. This includes inspecting the seals for signs of wear and tear and replacing them when necessary.
  • Use high-quality pump seals: Investing in high-quality, durable pump seals can significantly reduce the risk of premature wear and particle shedding.
  • Filter the mobile phase: In some cases, using a pre-column filter can help to capture any particles released from the pump seals before they reach the analytical column. However, it’s important to choose a filter with appropriate pore size to avoid introducing unwanted pressure drop.

By taking these preventive measures, you can minimize the impact of worn pump seals on your HPLC analysis and ensure reliable and accurate results.

4. Now we know what might be causing the blockage. How can we protect it?

Based on the potential causes of blockage you mentioned (incompatible diluents, worn pump seals, etc.), here are various strategies to protect your HPLC column:

Sample preparation:

  • Filtration or centrifugation: This is a crucial step in sample preparation to remove any particulate matter that could potentially clog the column. Choose a filter with a pore size smaller than the particle size you want to remove.
  • Appropriate diluent selection: Match the polarity of your diluent to your mobile phase. Consult the manufacturer’s recommendations or literature for compatible diluents for your specific mobile phase.
  • Sample pretreatment: Depending on the nature of your sample, specific procedures like precipitation, extraction, or enzymatic digestion might be necessary to remove interfering components that could contribute to blockage.

Guard columns:

  • Use a guard column: This disposable column, placed before the analytical column, acts as a sacrificial trap, capturing any particulates or incompatible components from the sample that could damage the main column. Regularly replace the guard column to maintain its effectiveness.

Mobile phase management:

  • Filter the mobile phase: Pre-filtering the mobile phase can remove any contaminants or particulate matter that might be present in the solvents or buffers used. Choose a filter with appropriate pore size not to significantly increase backpressure.
  • Degassing: Dissolved gases in the mobile phase can cause bubbles that can disrupt the flow and potentially contribute to blockage. Ensure proper degassing of the mobile phase before running your analysis.

System maintenance:

  • Regular cleaning and maintenance: Following the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintaining your HPLC system is crucial. This includes cleaning the injector, tubing, and detector at regular intervals to prevent buildup of contaminants.
  • Proper storage: When not in use, store your column according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. This might involve capping the column ends and storing it in a solvent compatible with the stationary phase.

By implementing these practices, you can significantly reduce the risk of column blockage and extend the lifespan of your valuable HPLC column.

5.What is the protection column?

In HPLC, a protection column, also known as a guard column, is a short, disposable column placed before the main analytical column. It acts as a sacrificial barrier to protect the analytical column from various contaminants and potential sources of blockage.

Here’s how a protection column works:

  • Trapping particulates: The frit, a porous filter at the inlet of the guard column, traps any particulate matter present in the sample or mobile phase that could clog the main column. This includes particles from sample preparation, worn pump seals, or even degraded stationary phase from the analytical column itself.
  • Adsorbing incompatible components: The guard column can also adsorb incompatible components from the sample that might interact with the stationary phase in the analytical column and cause issues like peak tailing, broadening, or even irreversible damage. These components might include highly polar or ionic compounds not readily soluble in the mobile phase.

By sacrificing the guard column, which is relatively inexpensive compared to the analytical column, you can significantly extend the lifetime and maintain the performance of your main analytical column.

Here are some additional points to note about guard columns:

  • Packing material: The packing material in the guard column is typically identical to the stationary phase in the analytical column. This ensures it effectively traps particles and compatible components that might interact with the analytical column.
  • Replacement: Unlike the analytical column, guard columns are disposable and need to be replaced regularly when the backpressure increases, peak shapes start to deteriorate, or the column shows signs of degradation.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Although adding a guard column increases the initial cost of an HPLC run, it ultimately saves money by protecting your expensive analytical column and reducing the need for frequent replacements.

Overall, using a guard column is a highly recommended practice in HPLC to ensure the longevity and performance of your analytical column, leading to reliable and accurate results in your analyses.

What functions should I care when buying protective columns?

Here are some key factors to consider when choosing a guard column for your HPLC analysis:


  • Stationary phase: The guard column’s stationary phase should be identical to the one used in your analytical column. This ensures it effectively traps particles and compatible components that might interact with the analytical column.
  • Column dimensions: Choose a guard column with a compatible internal diameter (ID) and length relative to your analytical column. While the exact specifications might vary depending on the manufacturer and column type, a general rule is to use a guard column with an ID that is roughly half that of the analytical column and a length of 5-10% of the analytical column length.


  • High efficiency: The guard column should have good chromatographic performance, with minimal band broadening and peak distortion. This ensures it doesn’t negatively impact the separation efficiency of your analytical column.
  • Low backpressure: The guard column should contribute minimal backpressure to the system. This is crucial to maintain optimal flow rates and separation performance in the analytical column.


Other factors:

  • Cost: Guard columns are generally less expensive than analytical columns. However, consider the total cost of ownership, including replacement frequency based on your usage patterns.
  • Brand reputation: Choose a reputable brand known for manufacturing high-quality and reliable guard columns.


By carefully considering these factors, you can select a suitable guard column that effectively protects your valuable analytical column while maintaining optimal performance in your HPLC analyses.


About uHPLCs

UHPLCs is a leading manufacturer of HPLC columns and consumables for liquid chromatography. The company offers a wide range of products, including empty HPLC columns, solvent filters, guard columns, inline HPLC columns, and PEEK consumables. uHPLCs’ products are used in a variety of applications, including pharmaceutical, biotechnology, environmental, and food safety analysis.

UHPLCs is committed to providing high-quality products and services to its customers. The company has a strong team of engineers and scientists who are dedicated to developing innovative products and solutions. uHPLCs also has a global network of distributors and sales representatives who can provide support to customers around the world.

If you are looking for a reliable supplier of HPLC columns and consumables, uHPLCs is the perfect choice. The company’s products are of the highest quality and its services are unmatched in the industry.

HPLC System Connect Diagram by uHPLCs



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