4 Big Reasons Not To Purchase a Rotary Evaporator Directly from China

By Carlton Hoyt, 23 July 2019

Rotary evaporators certainly aren't the only types of laboratory or industrial equipment that you can buy directly from China, but our experience has shown they are perhaps the most common. The reason is straightforward: they're cheaper. However, there are a number of sometimes non-obvious downsides to purchasing a discount rotary evaporator directly from a Chinese seller, especially on a platform like Amazon or Alibaba. Here's what to be careful of:

1) No Post-Sale Service or Support

Do you have the company's direct contact information? Are you certain they're going to be there for you when you have a problem? If you're buying a discount rotary evaporator, the likelihood of there being an issue is very high. Who will help you resolve it? Are you even certain that they can communicate effectively in English?

If the company isn't reputable enough to have a presence on a commonly used platform in the US where you can leave a review (Facebook, Google, etc.) and has maintained the same online presence for a significant period of time, you won't be able to "shame" them through bad reviews or other public feedback into providing you with good service, should that come down to it. It is extremely easy to close and re-open an Amazon or Alibaba account in order to eliminate bad reviews and start selling again, so you can't count on them caring about a bad review on those platforms.

2) No Warranty Service

Does that discount Chinese rotovap come with a warranty? If so, are you certain they will honor it?

You're not going to be able to sue them to get your money back, so if there is a problem and you can't get help fixing it, you're now stuck with a large, expensive, useless device that you'll likely have to pay to get rid of.

A random 50 liter rotary evaporator from AliExpress. That's a very tempting price, but there is no warranty and you don't know who the seller is aside from a username.

3) Unavailability of Replacement Parts

This is why we know that a lot of people are buying rotovaps from China and that they're frequently having problems with them; we get a large number of calls and emails from people desperate to find a replacement seal, vapor tube, motor, or some other part for an industrial-scale rotary evaporator which they purchased online, but now can't get in contact with the seller. All you need is one part to break to render your multi-thousand dollar investment completely useless, and while many of the rotary evaporators coming from China are visually similar, there are small design differences to them and there is no guarantee that a replacement part from one will fit another (we've seen this first-hand plenty of times). Are you willing to risk that the first time something breaks, your rotary evaporator will be permanently out of commission? Even if you do find a replacement part, you might spend weeks and a large sum of money trying various replacement parts from other rotary evaporators. Is the downtime worth it?

4) Surprise Duties and Tariffs

If you're buying directly from China, the duties and tariffs may be hidden costs. You might get a call from the shipment company demanding a payment of import duties before your item can clear customs.

Why Chinese Sellers Don't Have to Care

You might think that Chinese sellers will value your business every bit as much as a domestic seller, but in many situations you'll be proven wrong. Why is this?

Once a Chinese seller has your money, you have little recourse to get it back. If you're purchasing an instrument without a warranty, you can't necessarily call your credit card company and dispute the charge, as you'll have no legal right to do so. Likewise, you can't do so because you can't get technical support. You're stuck, and they have your money.

As I mentioned before, leaving a Chinese seller bad feedback on Amazon / Alibaba often doesn't matter. They can close the account and open a new one. Also, the way these platforms work, most feedback is solicited before the product has been in your hands for long - and therefore likely before any issues have arisen - so therefore the seller may have good feedback but provide little or no post-sale support.

At the end of the day, there's nothing magical about buying from a Chinese company that allows you to get a great product, solid support, and a very deep discount all at the same time. If you're being offered a cut rate, that savings has to be from somewhere. With Chinese sellers, what gets cut is often the after-sale service, and for a complex, expensive, and occasionally fragile instrument that after-sale service is critical.

Why Purchase from a Domestic Supplier

To be clear, we have nothing against reputable Chinese brands. We actually sell a number of Chinese-made rotary evaporators, including Hydrion Scientific, Across International (Ai), and Calpha. Sure, they're never going to match the performance or reliability of an equivalently-sized Heidolph, but they allow people who need a rotary evaporator to get one at what is often a fraction of the price, especially for larger systems.

A Calpha RE-550B Rotary Evaporator with dual condensers and receiving flasks.

Purchasing a Chinese rotary evaporator from an American reseller (such as Laboratory Supply Network and Rotovaps.net, of course 😉) comes with a number of crucial advantages:

  • Support and availability. We're operating on your time, and if you need something you can just give us a call.
  • We're your advocate - for warranties and other situations. While the manufacturers do have our money already as well, they don't want to ruin our relationship and threaten future business with us, which is far more substantial than that of an individual. We can ensure you're treated fairly.
  • Transparency. We can't speak for others, but at LSN, the price is the price. There's no surprise collect shipping charges nor duties and tariffs.
  • Knowledge. We've seen it all and we know what is and isn't junk, and how to build a complete, well-functioning system, and we can help you do so.

Yes, buying through an American company is more expensive than buying a rotary evaporator directly from China. However, what's even more expensive is buying a cheap rotovap from China, having it break, and not being able to get it up and running again.