Solving Tough Cleaning Challenges with Ultrasonic Cleaning

Ultrasonic Cleaning Solutions

According to a report available from market research firm IBIS World, “in 2016, the ultrasonic cleaning equipment manufacturing industry is expected to generate $359.6 million in revenue,” and, “over the five years to 2016, industry revenue increased at an annualized rate of 1.8%, including an expected 3.7% rise in 2016.”*

At Tovatech we believe that this positive projection is due in part to the continuing and growing realization that tough cleaning challenges can be overcome with ultrasonic energy.  Many of our posts go into detail on the use of ultrasonic energy to solve cleaning challenges.  We present here a compendium of applications that may or may not be top of mind to folks grappling with difficult cleaning challenges.

But First:  Why Ultrasonic Cleaning Works so Well

In a sentence ultrasonic cleaning works so well because sonic cleaning action reaches places that manual or mechanical cleaners cannot.  This is because cleaning is accomplished by the implosion (not bursting) of microscopic bubbles against surfaces of items being cleaned, and because the bubbles access surfaces difficult or impossible to reach by other cleaning methods.  Manual cleaning methods or those using high-pressure sprays or jets can also damage delicate parts.

These implosions, called cavitation, safely and gently blast loose and carry away tenacious contaminants.  The only “but” is that parts being cleaned must be able to be immersed in an ultrasonic cleaning solution, most likely water based,  formulated for the cleaning task.

Ultrasonic Cleaners for the Home and Hobbyist

Cleaning and Restoring Old Vinyl Records

Do a web search on cleaning and restoring old vinyl records to see that this is a topic of major interest.  Enthusiasts restore these records, it is said, because CDs do not match the sound quality of vinyl.

The owner of an impressive collection of old vinyl first vacuums surfaces if they are extremely dirty then uses a cleverly constructed rotation device mounted on an Elmasonic P60H ultrasonic cleaner.  This is filled with distilled water to which is added 2 drops per liter of Photo Flo or Jet Dry.   According to the collector distilled water is used because minerals in tap water remain on the record surface after the cleaning process and must be rinsed after cleaning.  Records are rotated into and out of the cleaning solution at 1 to 5 rpm.  At 5 rpm 3 records can be cleaned in 8 minutes, 1 record in 5 minutes.

An Elma P series unit was selected because it operates at 37 kHz or 80 kHz, and can be programmed to automatically alternate between the two frequencies at 30-second intervals.  According to the collector the 37 kHz frequency is best for removing heavier dirt deposits, while the higher frequency, with its smaller cavitation bubbles, assures cleaning penetrates the finer grooves in the vinyl.

Ultrasonic Cleaners in the Home

Cavitation action has increasing application in the home.  Residential uses for ultrasonic cleaners include jewelry, eyeglasses, dentures, razors, combs, brushes, and manicure and pedicure implements.  The tabletop Elmasonic EP 10 ultrasonic cleaner is a good candidate for home-based operations.  Operating at a frequency of approximately 37 kHz it has a stainless steel tank in an attractive case fitted with a control panel.  A biodegradable ultrasonic cleaning solution formula for this is a biodegradable elma tec clean A4 diluted to 2 to 5% with water.

Ultrasonic Cleaners for Hair and Nail Salons; Tattoo and Piercing Parlors

Licensing qualifications for hair and nail salons, tattoo and piercing parlors may require the use of ultrasonic cleaners.  For example, New Jersey regulations for hair salons require a location for cleaning and disinfecting implements and tools, an ultrasonic cleaner for metal implements and tools, and a clean, closed receptacle at each work station so soiled implements and tools can be completely immersed in an enzyme solution prior to cleaning and disinfection.

Likewise, cleaning plastic and metal implements used in nail salons and manicure parlors can be accomplished quickly and thoroughly in an ultrasonic cleaner followed by disinfecting, sanitizing and storage.   States are also implementing regulations governing the operation of tattoo and body piercing parlors. For example, Washington state has posted WAC 246-145-060 “Sterile procedures in body art, body piercing and tattooing.” It states in part that as soon as practical reusable instruments must be “immersed in detergent and water in an ultrasonic cleaning unit used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.”

Powerful, safe cavitation action in compact, countertop ultrasonic cleaners available from Tovatech are ideal for removing oils, clipping residues and other contaminants from tools used in these applications.  Cavitation penetrates crevices, cracks and small openings to quickly thoroughly remove contaminants.

Ultrasonic Cleaners to Clean and Restore PDAs

Cell phones, iPods, palmtops and other mobile personal digital assistant devices are subject to a lot of abuse, most of which is accidental.  Ingress of dust and dirt, spilled beverages, rainwater, yes even pool water or a dip in the ocean can render them inoperable.

In most cases (excepting physical damage to the board) these devices can be quickly and easily restored to a like-new condition by using the same technology employed by PCB manufacturers to remove solder paste and other contaminants during printed circuit board assembly.

Countertop or workbench ultrasonic cleaners are ideal for cleaning and restoring these electronic components at PDA sales and service organizations.  The process is far gentler and more environmentally friendly than using an alcohol solution and toothbrush or similar physical scrubbing that can easily damage delicate connections.

An ultrasonic cleaning solution for this is elma tec clean A1 that quickly removes grease, oil and residues from coffee, tea, colas, milk and other sources.   Depending on the extent of contamination this concentrate is diluted to 3 to 10% with water.  Cleaning can be accomplished in 3 to 10 minutes.

Ultrasonic Cleaning Restores Gleam to Silver

Silver flatware, serving dishes, candelabra and similar pieces often have a double life: if not used daily they are often stored for special occasions.  Or owners or heirs decide it’s time to send the collection to a consignment shop or auction it off.

For special occasions, bringing out the family silver usually means an intensive cleaning session to remove tarnish.  Volunteers are hard to find especially if pieces have intricate patterns.  And while there may be value in the pieces (sterling being a good example) setting a price for silver at auction or consignment depends on appearance.  Gleaming is good, black tarnish not so good.

Some chemical dips used to remove the tarnish can actually damage the silver surface.  Instead, a few minutes in an ultrasonic cleaner bath of a 1:1 solution of elma noble clean and water quickly and safely removes the tarnish.  Select an ultrasonic cleaner with tank dimensions large enough to accommodate the silver pieces being restored.

This brings to mind an important point to remember for any ultrasonic cleaning application:  cleaning tank size.  Our post on tank cleaning sizes provides useful tips.

Ultrasonic Cleaning and Law Enforcement

Handcuffs come into direct contact with the skin of suspects and can pick up oil, dirt, and hair that might harbor infectious diseases.  Because of the way handcuffs are constructed contaminants can lodge in the cracks and crevices.  This makes simple washing unacceptable.  Instead, cuffs should be given a “sentence” in an ultrasonic cleaner before officers put them back into their carrying cases.

Tabletop ultrasonic cleaners available from Tovatech are ideal cleaning handcuffs and other reusable devices that come in contact with suspects. Simply place the cuffs in the mesh basket and immerse them in a biodegradable ultrasonic bath diluted to the manufacturer’s specification.   After cleaning they should be disinfected and dried before being returned to service.

Ultrasonic Cleaning Industrial Filters

Removing congealed grease and other contaminants from reusable mesh metal or plastic industrial filters by means of manual scrubbing or high pressure water/detergent jets can cause damage.  The same applies to reusable filters fabricated as tubes, screens and sieves.  If the cost of replacing reusable filters becomes considerable the answer may be re-conditioning them in an ultrasonic cleaner.

Because ultrasonic cavitation bubbles are so small they penetrate deep into the filters to loosen and carry away contaminants impossible to reach manually or with a pressure wash.  Moreover, pressure washing can drive contaminants further into the mesh.

For most filter cleaning applications industrial-sized ultrasonic cleaners are required.  Therefore making the decision to invest in an ultrasonic filter cleaning system should be based on expected long-term savings due to reduced filter replacement costs.

When you decide to clean filters ultrasonically choose a cleaning solution formulation based on the filter material (such as metal or plastic) and the contaminants being removed.  An example ideal for removing oils and similar contaminants from metals and plastics is alkaline elma tec clean A4 diluted to 2 to 5% with water and used at 60 to 70⁰C.

Other Decision Factors

This post covers but a few of the many ultrasonic cleaner applications in use today.  In certain examples we’ve offered suggestions on equipment and cleaning solution formulations.  These are key criteria when it comes to achieving desired results from the ultrasonic cleaning process, As to formulations, some of these are covered in our post on selecting cleaning solutions.  We also suggest checking our post on equipment selection before contacting Tovatech’s ultrasonic cleaning professionals.

* Ultrasonic Cleaning Equipment Manufacturing in the US: Market Research Report

About Bob Sandor

Bob began working as a chemist in 1987 and remains a science geek to this day. After his PhD he worked on the bench in materials and inorganic chemistry for 10 years. He then took on a love for marketing and sales. He combined his passion for science and business and took entrepreneur general management positions in large corporations like Hoecsht Celanese now Sanofi Aventis, Bel-Art and Smiths Detection. There he learned what it would take to run a business and finally Tovatech was co-founded in 2006. Bob’s hobbies include playing, listening and composing music, skiing, working out, the internet and all things science. Read More