Ultrasonic Cleaning of Engine Parts – A Shade Tree Mechanic’s Tale

I don’t know about you, but I like to fix my own stuff.  Admittedly it’s getting tougher what with all the complexity they’ve built into engines today.  But I’m talking more about my ’47 Ford Woodie station wagon show car and a 1948 Farmall Cub I use to keep the brush down in the back of the lot and to plow the driveway in wintertime.

Both engines run great.  To make sure that they continue to do so I periodically disassemble parts like the carburetors, fuel pumps and oil sumps, clean them up and reinstall.  OK, maybe I need to get a life, but heck, it’s fun. I will say I got a little bit tired of using gasoline and other engine degreaser solvents for this so when I heard about something called ultrasonic cleaning I decided to check it out.

These don’t work like the parts washers you might see in your neighborhood car repair shop where recirculated, filtered solvent flows over the items being cleaned.  Nope.  The one I use is made by a company called Elma and is a little larger than a family-sized crock-pot or one of those old-fashioned countertop electric roasters.

The water-based ultrasonic cleaning fluid is poured into the tank, and I put the parts to be cleaned into the supplied basket then immerse them in the fluid.  On the bottom of the unit are things called transducers that emit high frequency sonic energy.  This energy creates billions of microscopic bubbles in the cleaning tank that implode when they come in contact with the parts.  Believe it or not, the implosion creates shock waves that literally blast dirt and grease from the parts, penetrating the smallest crevices and screw holes.

The user manual provides guidance on every aspect of the cleaning process.  I must say it’s much simpler and far less hazardous than dunking the parts in a can of gasoline and working them over with a stiff bristled brush.

How expensive you may ask?  Well, the unit cost less than I paid for the Farmall but here’s the thing: when my car repair buddies heard about it, they started to line up to get their engine parts cleaned.  Sure, I have to charge them something for the cleaning solution, etc., but what’s most important is that the efficient little Elma ultrasonic parts cleaner is beginning to pay for itself.

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