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The Basics Of Ultrasonic Cleaning:
From Technology To Solvents

Cleaning is one of the most commonly-used industrial requirements today. Whether it’s removing shavings from recently machined parts or cleaning precious gems to rid them of contaminants, cleaning is an invaluable process for niches like manufacturing, healthcare, aviation, automobiles, and even food processing.

Ultrasonic cleaning has become a mainstay cleaning technology for many of the aforementioned industries. While it might sometimes be expensive, it has proven itself as a high-tech, effective, and unobtrusive way to remove dirt, grime, and other contaminants from the surfaces of materials like glass, aluminum, ceramic, and plastic.

In this article, we’ll go over the basics of ultrasonic cleaning tools. We’ll talk briefly about the different constituent parts of an ultrasonic system, discuss the underlying technology, and go over the kinds and importance of solvents to the ultrasonic cleaning process.

Ultrasonic Cleaning in Practice

The process of cleaning, in any capacity, implies the use of some sort of force to dislodge and remove contaminants (unwanted materials) from a surface. With ultrasonic cleaning, that force is much more subtle and is produced by sound.

When you fire up the power supply, the transducer creates ultrasonic soundwaves around the 20 Khz spectrum. These soundwaves are transmitted through the cleaning solvent in the tank. They make their way to the surface of the material being cleaned and cause tiny explosions on its surface. These explosions of the cavitation bubbles gently dislodge any foreign material.

The tanks hold both the cleaning solvent and the work material. The ultrasonic soundwaves themselves occur at a higher frequency than the human ear can readily detect. At more than 20,000 vibrations per second, millions of cavitation bubbles are generated in that same timeframe.

Some of the examples of contaminants that can be effectively removed include rust, soot, wax, pigments, limescale, oil, dirt, and dust. Microscopic materials

Advantages of Ultrasonic Cleaning

Ultrasonic wouldn’t be able to supplant other forms of industrial cleaning without possessing a set of unique advantages. With that said, here are a few of them:

  • It is much gentler and less prone to damaging the material being cleaned
  • Can be used with delicate materials like gems and jewelry
  • Usually expends less power than other conventional forms of cleaning
  • Modern ultrasonic equipment can be operated with minimal manual labor
  • Using ultrasonic generally results in a quicker, more thorough cleaning operation
  • Labor costs are reduced in the long run
  • Ultrasonic cleaning is more eco-friendly than conventional cleaners

Innovation and improvements in space have slowly but surely improved on many of these advantages. That, perhaps, is why more large businesses are incorporating the technology into their various processes.

The Solvent Conundrum

While everything else in ultrasonic cleaning remains mostly the same at its core, the cleaning solution (or solvent) can vary wildly. There are a plethora of liquids that could function well as the cleaning solution in an ultrasonic tank.

While bare water is used sometimes, ultrasonic cleaning solutions - like enzyme detergents and descalers - contain specialized ingredients that exponentially increase the effectiveness of the cleaning process.

When picking a cleaning solution, it’s important to take two crucial factors into consideration: the material being cleaned and the kind of contaminant to be removed. With that said, here’s a breakdown of the commonly used examples and their best use cases.

  • Descaler: This is an acidic detergent that is purpose-built to handle contaminants like rust, corrosion, hard mineral deposits, and heat scale. Thus, it is best used on metals. Descalers help restore parts of all sizes that work in conditions with hard water and/or high humidity.
  • Low pH Cleaners: These help clean metals and restore their natural sheen. They’re great for lime deposits, dirt, dust, and discoloration. Be careful, however, as metals like copper and brass don’t play nice with low pH cleaners.
  • Enzyme Detergents: Enzymes are specially made to remove oils and other derivative kinds of contaminants from the surface of materials like titanium, aluminum, and brass. They are also effective at removing biological contaminants like germs and other microscopic entities.
  • Detergents: Ultrasonic detergents are designed to remove superficial contaminants like epoxies and ink. They can work on a wide variety of materials.
  • Soap Solutions: These are general-use and have high alkaline content. THey remove oils, grease, and carbon deposits from metals.

Ultrasonic Cleaner Form Factors

While the concept operates the same at the very basic level, there are several nuanced differences between ultrasonic cleaner configurations. 

The tabletop cleaner sits on a countertop or table and is best used for low-volume cleaning loads comprised of relatively smaller parts. The tabletop setup usually doesn’t come with an included drying system and often requires a high amount of operation and supervision. This is best for industries with medium to low cleaning requirements. It is also the cheapest form factor.

Next, we have the benchtop cleaner. These are usually larger, stronger, and more powerful than their tabletop counterparts. Benchtop configurations sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to cost, efficacy, and ease of use.

Floor models are the final ultrasonic cleaner configurations. These are intended purely for industrial use cases and are larger than the aforementioned two. Floor models usually involve multi-stage systems, with tanks for washing and rinsing, as well as a drying chamber. In some models, the machine autonomously cycles the work material between these chambers.

Multi-stage floor systems are best used when there is a requirement for precision in rinsing and drying. Industries like microchips and medical equipment manufacturing have these requirements and, therefore, use this particular system. 

In Conclusion

The breakthrough world of ultrasonic cleaning has revolutionized what’s possible with industrial material and parts cleaning. The level of precision, expediency, and efficiency that is obtainable with ultrasonic is unmatched anywhere else.

Before going in on a new system, it’s wise to understand the technology and how the system functions. It’s also important to get a grasp of the different configurations that these cleaning systems come in. Lastly, depending on the kind of material being cleaned, it’s also wise to know the different solvent combinations used in ultrasonic cleaning.

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