When I set up a lab, I usually use large plastic lunch trays, one per group or two lab partners. All the equipment is ready to go and portable. They can be pushed to the center of the table, or taken off the table and placed on the side of the classroom when not in use. This comes in handy esp when you are sharing a classroom with another teacher and need a quick clean up between classes, or have different activities for the multiple grades that you teach.
In labs where messes can occur, the lunch tray contains any liquids that may get spilled or solids (like powders, sand, dirt, rocks) that can get messy. I remind the kids to work on their lunch trays when they take items off and put them on their desks. When something does get knocked over and spills, its so easy to just remove a few items from the tray, take the tray over to the sink and dump the liquids right into the sink (we don't use anything that is toxic or needs special disposal in 5th grade). Much better than liquids all over the desk, on their clothes, or running onto the floor, and using a lot of paper towels to clean it up.