Balanced salt solutions

How balanced salt solutions affect your cell culture

Balanced salt solutions maintain the structural and physiological integrity of cells in vitro. Gibco Balanced Salt Solutions are isotonic buffer systems that help keep mammalian cells within their physiological pH range and maintain high viability during short-term incubations.

A balanced salt solution’s essential function is to maintain pH and osmotic balance as well as provide your cells with water and essential inorganic ions. Gibco Balanced Salt Solutions are available in many different formulations and formats.

Please see below for the common formulation components found in balanced salt solutions and how they may impact your cell culture.

Shop all balanced salt solutions Compare PBS & DPBS Compare HBSS & EBSS

Choose the right balanced salt solution for your cell culture

ComponentComponent rolePBSDPBSHBSSEBSS
With Ca2+ & Mg2+Cell adhesion
Needed when cells are to remain attached to culture substrate
Without Ca2+ & Mg2+
With glucose & pyruvateEnergy source and cell survival support
May keep cells alive longer when culture medium is absent
Without glucose & pyruvate 
With phenol redpH indicator
Exhibits gradual color change from yellow to pink when between pH 6.8 and 8.2
Without phenol red  
With sodium bicarbonateStabilizes pH in CO2 environments
Can be used in CO2 rich environments such as cell culture incubators

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Balanced salt solutions selection guides

Available in both liquid and powder form, all Gibco balanced salt solutions are manufactured in state-of-the-art cGMP, ISO-certified facilities, maintaining the highest quality and consistency for reproducible results. Regular testing includes osmolality, pH levels, stability, as well as testing against the presence of endotoxins, and bacterial and fungal contamination.

For increased stability, all powdered balanced salt solutions are produced without sodium, and therefore require sodium bicarbonate supplementation, pH adjustment, and filtration at the time of preparation. Please see this protocol for preparing salt solutions from powder concentrates for detailed instructions.


PBS and DPBS, both of which include sodium chloride and phosphate buffer, are common reagents used in biological research to maintain pH while minimizing osmotic shock in living cells; however, in contrast to PBS, DPBS also includes potassium chloride and may be formulated with or without calcium and magnesium and with or without glucose and pyruvate. Select PBS or DPBS based on your specific application.

Use this selection guide to find the right PBS and DPBS for your application

ApplicationCa2+, Mg2+Glucose, pyruvatePBS Cat. No.DPBS Cat. No.
Cell dissociation, immunostaining10010
10X: 14200
Powder: 21600
Tissue dissection, assay, immunostaining, perfusion++ 14287
Immunoprecipitation, immunohistochemistry+ 14040
10X: 14080
Powder: 21300
Cell therapy applications A1285601
+ A1285801
Flow cytometryA1286301 


Hanks' balanced salt solution (HBSS) and Earle’s balanced salt solution (EBSS) are both isotonic solutions used to maintain osmolality and pH in biological applications. While both HBSS and EBSS include glucose and sodium bicarbonate for short-term maintenance of cells outside of growth medium, EBSS is designed for use under 5% CO2, whereas HBSS, which is formulated with less sodium bicarbonate, allows for use without CO2. Select from a variety of formulations specific to your application.

Use this selection guide to find the right HBSS and EBSS for your application

ApplicationCa2+, Mg2+GlucosePhenol redSodium bicarbonateHBSS Cat. No.EBSS Cat. No.
Tissue dissociation, perfusion++1417514155
Dissection, staining+10X: 14185 
Dissection, cell washing+++14170 
Live cell procedure, microscopic study with live cells, dissection+++14025 
Dissection, microscopic study with live cells++10X: 14065 
Cell culture, tissue dissociation++++2402024010
+++10X: 14060 


Hanks’ balanced salt solution (HBSS) and phosphate buffered saline (PBS) are two types of salt solutions commonly used for the maintenance of osmolality and pH in cell culture applications. However, the formulations of these two solution types differ. While PBS is a simple solution containing phosphate buffer, HBSS is more complex and includes sodium bicarbonate. Both may be formulated with glucose and pyruvate as well as calcium and magnesium. However, given their differences, application should be carefully considered when selecting the appropriate solution for your cell culture experiments. See above for selection guides by application.

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Phosphate buffered saline product bottle

Phosphate buffered saline (PBS)

Commonly used in biological applications, PBS is a water-based salt solution with a simple formulation. It is isotonic and non-toxic for most cells. It includes sodium chloride and phosphate buffer and is formulated to prevent osmotic shock while maintaining living cells’ water balance.

Bottle of Dulbecco’s phosphate buffered saline

Dulbecco’s phosphate buffered saline (DPBS)

Like PBS, DPBS is also a water-based solution containing sodium chloride and phosphate buffer that is used in biological applications. However, DPBS differs from PBS in that it also includes potassium chloride and is available in a larger variety of formulations.

Bottle of Hank’s Balanced Salt Solution

Hanks' balanced salt solution (HBSS)

Originally formulated in 1940 by microbiologist, John Hanks, HBSS is rich in bicarbonate ions. Ordinarily used as buffer systems in cell culture media, HBSS helps maintains optimum physiological pH. Because these buffers are low in reactivity, HBSS is often used in atmospheric conditions. HBSS may be used to maintain osmolality and pH in biological applications.

Bottle of Earle’s Balanced Salt Solution

Earle’s balanced salt solution (EBSS)

The amount of sodium bicarbonate in EBSS is designed to maintain pH under 5% CO2, while HBSS has lower sodium bicarbonate levels and is intended for incubation without CO2. These buffers also come in a variety of formulations, including with or without calcium/magnesium ions, and with or without phenol red, so you may choose the appropriate buffer depending on your application.

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