An earlier Tovatech post on selecting an ultrasonic cleaner noted that the ultrasonic cleaner market is “expected to grow from USD 1.6 billion in 2019 to USD 2.2 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 6.5%.” Much of this growth is due to the many ultrasonic cleaner uses that have evolved over the years.
In this post we provide you with an overview of selected ultrasonic cleaner uses starting with a brief discussion of the ultrasonic cleaner process and why it works so well.
A Brief on the Ultrasonic Cleaner Process
Ultrasonic cleaners use the power of cavitation – the violent implosion of billions of microscopic bubbles – to remove contaminants from any surface that can be safely immersed in biodegradable cleaning solutions formulated for specific cleaning tasks.
Ultrasonic cavitation is created in an ultrasonic cleaner tank by generator-powered ultrasonic transducers bonded to the tank bottom.
Vibrating at ultrasonic frequencies such as 37 kHz (37,000 cycles per second) the transducers cause the tank bottom to become a vibrating membrane that produces the cavitation bubbles.
Low-frequency cleaners such as those operating at 25 kHz create relatively large bubbles that implode more violently against surfaces than higher frequencies such as the smaller bubbles created at 80 or 130 kHz. For more information on the process see our post on ultrasonic cleaner selection tips.
Some Common Ultrasonic Cleaner Uses
Following are common use for ultrasonic cleaners. Hopefully they will suggest ways you can employ sonic energy to increase throughput while delivering superior results.
Ultrasonic Cleaning Dental and Surgical Instruments
The CDC, WHO and professional medical and dental associations stress the importance of thoroughly cleaning, then disinfecting or sterilizing reusable medical, dental and surgical instruments.
As pointed out in our post on cleaning dental instruments the process should start immediately so that blood and other matter do not dry on the instruments. Carefully wiping gross contaminants from the instruments then placing them in an enzyme soak is a good first step before the ultrasonic cleaning process.
Ultrasonic energy is far superior to manually scrubbing these instruments because the microscopic bubbles are able to penetrate small cracks and crevices to blast away contaminants unreachable by manual processes. Moreover, the chances of personnel receiving cuts or puncture wounds are greatly reduced.
Cleaning procedures should follow the recommendations of professional associations along with those of ultrasonic equipment manufacturers and suppliers of cleaning solutions formulated for medical and surgical instruments.
In general, however, disassembling instruments will help cavitation reach more surface areas. Fine mesh baskets are available to hold small parts. Clean instruments of similar composition in each cleaning cycle. Avoid cleaning chromium-plated instruments by sonic energy.
After the ultrasonic cleaning cycle instruments are ready for disinfecting or sterilizing.
Cleaning Laboratory Glassware
Cleaning laboratory glassware such as flasks, graduated cylinders, burettes and pipettes requires careful handling to avoid breakage. Lab glassware of complex shape is also difficult to clean.
Using an ultrasonic cleaner instead of manual washing and lab glassware washing machines not only can reduce breakage and associated replacement costs but also delivers a thorough cleaning job thanks to the power of cavitation action.
The secret to successful spot-free cleaning lab glassware depends on selecting the proper ultrasonic cleaner, establishing an effective cleaning cycle and choosing the correct cleaning solution formulation based on contaminants being removed. These are generally classified as acidic, basic, and neutral.
Our post on how to clean lab glassware provides an introduction to this topic, but in general cleaning procedures are fairly straightforward. Here’s an example using an Elmasonic ultrasonic cleaner equipped with a heater, timer and sweep function:
- Arrange glassware in the cleaning basket in such a way that the solution will fill interior spaces. Periodic repositioning may be required, in which case remove the basket – do not reach into an operating bath.
- Turn on the ultrasonic cleaner, set the temperature to 60⁰C and the timer to 10 minutes. Actual time and temperature will depend on what you are cleaning, the cleaning solution formulation and the nature of the contaminants.
- Lower the basket in the solution. The ultrasound will start when the temperature is reached or you can manually start the cleaning procedure.
- At the end of the cycle remove the glassware, inspect, rinse in DI water and dry. If you clean large amounts of lab glassware consider a rinsing tank and electric dryer.
As with other examples in this post, always consult industry and professional associations for recommended procedures.
Clean Printed Circuit Boards with Ultrasonic Cleaners
Contaminants such as excess solder and rosins must be removed from newly manufactured printed circuit boards. Ultrasonic cleaners effectively accomplish this when proven procedures are employed.
Powerful but gentle ultrasonic cleaning is far superior to soaking and scrubbing PCBs by using alcohol, sprays and solvents. Why? Simply because these methods risk damaging delicate components and are time consuming.
When selecting an ultrasonic cleaner be sure to choose one that has what is called a sweep mode.
Sweep provides a slight ± variation in the ultrasonic frequency that (1) avoids harmonics that could damage the PCB and (2) helps assure thorough cleaning action throughout the solution.
For a real world application see our post on cleaning and restoring electronics and PCBs.
Plastic Injection Mold Cleaning
To protect their investment in costly plastic injection molds manufacturers depend on cleaning procedures that do not damage highly finished surfaces.
At the same time the cleaning procedures must effectively remove stubborn contaminants such as residues, oils, flashing and grease that, if allowed to remain, will result in rejected product.
An ultrasonic cleaner is the preferred alternative to manually scrubbing injection molds using brushes and a solvent-based parts washer.
The ultrasonic cleaning process is thorough, safe and fast. It thoroughly removes contaminants from complex, highly finished mold surfaces without damage. Powerful scrubbing by cavitation bubbles reaches all surfaces immersed in the cleaning solution – even surfaces difficult or impossible to reach by manual cleaning methods.
Choose an ultrasonic cleaner large enough to allow molds to be fully immersed. Remember that cleaning baskets have smaller dimensions than the tank.
Options range from benchtop units to floor-mounted industrial ultrasonic cleaners that can be paired with rinsing and drying equipment. Regardless of the size of equipment it should have a heater, timer and sweep mode.
For more on this topic see our case history post on cleaning plastic injection molds.
Ultrasonic Cleaning Engine Parts
Shade tree mechanics, auto service departments, and lawn, garden and recreation equipment service providers can end their reliance on solvents, sprays and wash tanks to remove grease, grime, gunk, varnish and other engine part contaminants simply by investing in an ultrasonic cleaner.
The investment should quickly pay for itself by improving throughput while delivering superior cleaning results compared to messy manual scrubbing.
Another advantage of cleaning in an ultrasonic bath is that many parts do not need to be fully disassembled. Cavitation action in the bath acts on all surfaces of immersed parts to blast away contaminants that are difficult if not impossible to access with brushes and sprays.
Popular ultrasonic cleaner uses in the shop include cleaning carburetors without complete disassembly. The entire carburetor can be immersed in the cleaning solution after the mechanic provides access to the float chamber.
Fuel injectors are another example of how ultrasonic cleaners make life easier for the mechanic.
Mechanics know injector nozzles have extremely fine openings that can clog and diminish performance and fuel economy.
Because these components are delicate and costly to replace cleaning them without causing damage is best performed in an ultrasonic cleaner. Powerful imploding microscopic bubbles reach all surfaces, interior included, to scrub away performance-inhibiting contaminants without damaging other injector components.
Other Automotive Uses for Ultrasonic Cleaners
Transmission gears, fuel pumps, brake assemblies, oil pumps, universal joints, crankshafts, camshafts and blocks are also great uses for ultrasonic cleaners. These powerful cleaning tools are available as benchtop and floor-mounted industrial units. Biodegradable cleaning solution concentrates are economical to use and greatly simplify disposal concerns.
A quick overview of using ultrasonic cleaners for engine maintenance is in our post on small engine shops. It can apply across the board.
Ultrasonic Cleaner Uses in the Lab
As noted above, ultrasonic cavitation is used for fast, safe cleaning of labware.
Another major ultrasonic cleaner use is in the lab for sample preparation to transform analytes into measurable form without chemical degradation that can be caused by excessive heat or mechanically induced damage.
In this case cavitation is not used to remove contaminants but to extract APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) from carriers in order to carry out content uniformity and potency assay tests. The process also is used to dissolve, disperse, emulsify, homogenize and mix samples.
For these applications water along with a surfactant is used in the ultrasonic cleaner tank. Samples being tested are placed in flasks along with a recommended solvent. The flasks are slightly immersed in the water/surfactant solution. Clamps are available to affix Erlenmeyer or volumetric flasks to the mesh-bottom basket.
Cavitation action passes through the glass walls of the flask and acts on the samples to perform the desired analysis.
Unlike most ultrasonic cleaner uses, the ultrasonic cleaner should be operated in a fixed frequency or normal mode rather than the sweep mode. More details on using an ultrasonic cleaner for sample prep can be found in our post on preparing samples based on using equipment designed for this activity.
A Wrap-Up on Ultrasonic Cleaner Uses
We’ve covered but a few of the many ultrasonic cleaner uses across many industries.
If a component can be safely wetted, chances are it can be safely cleaned using sonic energy. Keys to success include the correct cleaning solution formulation and ultrasonic frequency. Cleaning time and cleaning temperatures may also apply.
Your best source for clear, concise and unbiased recommendations is the ultrasonic cleaning professionals at Tovatech. Call them or chat with them to learn more about how you can use ultrasonic cleaning.