Gun Cleaning Solvent

How to Maintain Firearms with an Ultrasonic Gun Cleaner

Investments in firearms by individuals and organizations can be substantial.  This post provides a  comprehensive tutorial on how to maintain firearms with an ultrasonic cleaner.  It offers you guidance on when and how to use gun cleaning solvents but focuses more on why an ultrasonic gun cleaner is a wise investment when maintaining firearms.

 Gun Cleaning Solvents Described

Firearm owners may be aware of many gun cleaning “solvents” available on the market, but just what is a solvent?  According to an article in Science Direct, a solvent can be defined as “a liquid that has the ability to dissolve, suspend, or extract other materials, without chemical change to the material or solvent.”

When it comes to maintaining firearms, gun cleaning solvents are generally employed just after a session on the shooting range or in the field.  Savvy firearm owners recognize the importance of cleaning and lubricating their weapon immediately after use using rods, brushes, pads, solvents and oils.

Gun cleaning solvents are also available as sprays.  A concern, however, is that some solvents may not be environmentally friendly. Sprays also hit more than the gun components being cleaned – and that is wasted money.

Ultrasonic Cleaning and Maintaining Guns
5 Steps for Cleaning Your Gun with an Ultrasonic Cleaner

Ultrasonic Action – an Alternative to Gun Cleaning Solvents    

Ultrasonic firearm cleaning is much more effective when compared to manually cleaning and lubricating with gun cleaning solvents.  While it’s not practical in the field, it provides more thorough cleaning and lubricating on a periodic basis depending on how frequently firearms are in use.

Now let’s look at

  • Why ultrasonic firearm cleaners are preferred
  • Why they are so effective
  • How ultrasonic gun cleaners work
  • Equipment options for cleaning firearms
  • Ultrasonic gun cleaning exercises

Why Ultrasonic Gun Cleaners are Preferred

Ultrasonic cleaners are widely employed by gun shop repair services, law enforcement agencies, the military and gun clubs, and for good reason. 

Nothing is better when it comes to removing lead shavings, residues from powders, old lubricants, in fact any contaminant that causes wear or otherwise impacts the performance or degrades the value of the firearm.    

Several ultrasonic cleaner options are available to gun owners, whether individuals, a club or public safety organization. But before getting into examples of what to look for we’ll start with a description of

Example of ultrasonic cleaning process

Why Ultrasonic Firearm Cleaners are so Effective

The effectiveness of ultrasonically cleaning guns due to how the process works. 

Cleaning takes place in a stainless steel tank containing an ultrasonic cleaning solution formulated for particular cleaning tasks being performed. We’ll cover cleaning solutions later in this post.

Ultrasonic cleaner tank capacities and dimensions are major considerations when purchasing the equipment.  A broad range of tank dimensions and capacities are available but the cleaning process is the same for all.

The underside of cleaning tank bottoms is fitted with what are called ultrasonic transducers.  Transducers are connected to the unit’s ultrasonic generator that when operating excites the transducers to vibrate at ultrasonic frequencies.  These frequencies are above the range of human hearing (approximately 20,000 cycles per second or 20 kHz).

When the ultrasonic cleaner is activated the transducers cause the tank bottom to become a vibrating membrane that creates what are called cavitation bubbles in the cleaning solution. 

Unlike soap bubbles cavitation bubbles implode with tremendous force on contact with objects immersed in the cleaning solution.  The rapid compression of gases and vapors inside these bubbles create temperatures which can be on the order of 5000⁰C, similar to the surface of the Sun. 

The pressure inside the bubble is approximately 1000 atmospheres, equivalent to the deepest point in the ocean.

But not to worry.  Cavitation action is so fast that ultrasonic firearm cleaning is safe for most anything that can be immersed in a cleaning solution. Rather, the key is selecting the correct ultrasonic cleaning frequency for the cleaning process.

Ultrasonic Cleaner Equipment Options for Firearms

Ultrasonic cleaners are available in a variety of cleaning frequencies.  Common frequencies are 25, 37, 45, 80 and 130 kHz; other frequencies are available.  Some cleaners on the market operate at user-controlled dual frequencies. 

What’s the difference between frequencies and what does it mean when cleaning firearms?

The difference is in the size of cavitation bubbles created at ultrasonic frequencies. But regardless of their size, cavitation bubbles are very, very, very small.

The lower the frequency (such as 25 kHz) the larger the bubble and the more violent the implosion when acting on contaminants attached to objects being cleaned.  Lower frequency cleaners are generally used when cleaning metal castings, fabricated assemblies and similar products.

Higher frequencies such as 80 or 130 kHz create smaller bubbles and more gentle cleaning action. As a note, smaller bubbles are generally used to clean delicate surfaces and are better able to penetrate small openings such as blind holes and tight fittings. 

Suggested ultrasonic frequencies for cleaning firearms are in the 30 to 50 kHz range. 

So much for this.  Let’s move to a few examples of maintaining firearms with an ultrasonic cleaner.

Ultrasonic Gun Cleaning Exercises

Equipment Selection

When selecting an ultrasonic cleaner for firearm maintenance you’ll want one

  • Capable of accommodating the largest component being cleaned minus grips and stocks.  (NB: these should be removed prior to the process.)   
  • Heaters are recommended as are ones equipped with a degas mode and timer. (see below)
  • You’ll want a mesh basket in which to place the components for the cleaning process.  Some units come with baskets; others offer baskets as an option. Note that basket dimensions are slightly smaller than the tank interior dimensions.

Heaters allow you to set the cleaning solution temperature as recommended by the manufacturer.  Some units are designed to initiate ultrasonic action when the set temperature is reached.

Timers allow you to set the cleaning cycle and attend to other matters until it is completed and the unit turns off. 

A degas mode lets you get started quicker with fresh cleaning solutions.  These contain trapped air that reduces the effectiveness of cavitation until driven off.  A degas function speeds this, otherwise you should operate the unit for 15-20 minutes without a load to drive off air.

Cleaning Solutions for Ultrasonic Gun Cleaning

Ultrasonic cleaning solutions formulated especially for firearms are available.

An example is biodegradable GunClean L6 offered by Tovatech in one-gallon containers.  The recommended dilution is 1:10 with water.   (Don’t worry, water is addressed later.)

The formulation is designed to remove powder residue, bullet shavings, hardened lubricants and other contaminants from firearms.

A 5-step Ultrasonic Firearm Cleaning Procedure

Following is a representative cleaning exercise for firearms using GunClean L6.  As we say in our posts, with practice you will develop your own ultrasonic firearm cleaning routine.   

  1. Based on the capacity of the ultrasonic cleaner tank prepare the cleaning solution according to the manufacturer’s dilution recommendations.  Most cleaners have a “fill line” but remember to allow for solution displacement when parts are immersed in it.
  2. Activate the ultrasound and degas function (if so equipped) to mix and degas the solution. Once the solution is mixed and degassed you can turn the unit off until you are ready to clean parts.
  3. Disassemble the firearms according to manufacturers’ instructions.  If you observe loose contaminants remove them with a brush to help preserve the effectiveness of the cleaning solution.  Place the components (minus grips and stocks) into the basket.  Avoid crowding the parts.  While you are doing this turn on the unit and set the thermostat to 150⁰F (65⁰C) if so equipped.
  4. When the ultrasound starts lower the basket into the solution and set the timer for 10 minutes.
  5. At the end of the cycle remove the basket and examine the parts.  (Do not reach into the hot solution).  If satisfied shake, wipe and allow parts to dry, and then lubricate them. 

Ultrasonic Firearm Lubrication

An option to hand-lubricating cleaned weapons is ultrasonic lubrication using GunLube L5 also available from Tovatech in one-gallon containers.  This is used full strength in a lubricating pan that is partially immersed in the GunClean L6 solution.

Place the cleaned parts in the (degassed) lubricating solution, set the timer to activate the ultrasound for 10 minutes.  Cavitation energy passes through the pan walls and thoroughly lubricates the gun parts while removing all traces of water and leaving a dry lubricating film.    

Parts are now ready for reassembly.

Maintaining the cleaning solution

Contaminants that rise to the surface of the ultrasonic gun cleaner bath should be skimmed off and set aside. 

When cleaning time takes longer it is time to replace the solution.  Drain the tank and dispose of the solution along with skimmed residues following local regulations.  Take the time to remove sludge that settled to the bottom of the tank then clean the tank.  This should be done using a cleaning process recommended by the manufacturer.

Then you can prepare and degas a fresh batch of cleaning solution.

In Conclusion….

While gun cleaning solvents play an important role in maintaining firearms after a day on the range or in the field, they should be used with care.  For more thorough cleaning, especially reaching the cracks, crevices and other difficult-to-reach areas, nothing beats a periodic session in an ultrasonic gun cleaning bath.

Contact Tovatech’s ultrasonic cleaning professionals for recommendations on ultrasonic firearm cleaning equipment and cleaning solution formulations that meet your ultrasonic gun cleaning requirements.

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