Ultimate Ultrasonic Cleaner FAQ
Why is a special solution required for cleaning?
What cleaning solution should I use?
What cleaning solutions should I avoid?
When should solutions be changed?
Why must I keep solution at the tank's level indicator?
What is "degassing' and why should I do it?
What is "direct" and "indirect" cleaning?
What is the length of cleaning time?
Why must trays or beakers be used?
What is the optimum cleaning temperature?
Is rinsing required after cleaning cycles?
Why shouldn't I leave my cleaner on constantly?
CASE STUDIES, ARTICLES AND WHITE PAPERS ON ULTRASONIC CLEANING APPLICATIONS.
These studies include methodology, best practices, and even specific equipment and chemistry recommendations. In some cases, these studies are geared towards larger, high capacity cleaning requirements. For help in adapting information you find here to a tabletop cleaner, call us toll free.
- Aqueous Degreasing of Metal Parts
- Choosing the right cleaning chemistry
- Cleaning Ceramic Latex Molds
- Cleaning Compact Disc Masters
- Cleaning Printed Circuit Boards
- Injection Mold Cleaning
- Key Elements of Rinsing
- Optical Lens Cleaning
- Precision Cleaning of Disk Drive Components
- Ultrasonic Cleaning in the Plating Line
- Ultrasonic Cleaning of Aircraft Components
Additional Reading on Ultrasonics
Tabletop Ultrasonics Owners Manuals
"Cavitation" is the rapid formation and collapse of millions of tiny bubbles (or cavities) in a liquid. Cavitation is produced by the alternating high and low pressure waves generated by high frequency (ultrasonic) sound. During the low pressure phase, these bubbles grow from microscopic size until, during the high pressure phase, they are compressed and implode.
When they implode, it creates a burst of kinetic energy, and over a small distance, very rapid water movement. This is what does the actual cleaning in an ultrasonic tank.
The short video velow shows the process in action...
With certain cautions, ultrasonic cleaning is considered safe for most parts. While the effects of thousands of implosions per second is very powerful, the cleaning process is safe since the energy is localized at the microscopic level.
The most important cautionary consideration is the choice of cleaning solution. Potentially adverse effects of the detergent on the material being cleaned will be enhanced by the ultrasonics. You should always check to make sure that the particular cleaing solution you are using, in combination with ultrasonics, cannot harm your parts.
Most solution manufacturers will have information on possible adverse effects. the table below shows the effects of various Branson cleaning solutions on metals:
*** Ultrasonic cleaning is not recommended for the following gemstones: opal, pearl, tanzanite, malachite, turquoise, lapis and coral.Text
Ultrasonic Cleaning Equipment can be roughly divided into three categories:
- small jewelry and denture cleaners
- benchtop ultrasonics
- industrial ultrasonic cleaners
Jewelry and denture cleaners are usually small, with capacities less than 1/2 gallon, and tend to be lower power units. Care must be taken when buying these units, as there a many cheap knockoffs of premium units, and it can be hard to tell the difference. We sell only genuine Branson and Gemoro Jewelry Cleaners.
Benchtop, or tabletop ultrasonic cleaners range in size from 1/2 gallon to 7.25 gallons. It should be noted that the name can be misleading. Since water weighs over 8 lbs. per gallon, a large cleaner with a full tank of solution and parts can weigh over 100 lbs, and care must be taken not to overload the tabletop in use.
Usually these units are segmented not just by size, but by features:
- analog controls
- digital controls
Heated units are much more popular than unheated units. They work better for two reasons:
- Ultrasonic frequencies travel more easily through liquids above 140F. As you approach the boiling point though, the turbulence created by the coversion of water into steam and the creation of bubbles interferes with cleaning.
- Heat helps to break down most soils, especially though derived from petroleum products.
In contrast, we find that although digital machines offer a number of advantages, they are not appropriate for every application. Sometimes you simply don’t need the advanced features they offer, and particularly in a setting where there are multiple operators, they can be a distraction or lead to process errors.
Analog machines typically feature a simple countdown timer, and an ON/OFF button or simple dial for heat (if heated)
The features offered by digital machines include:
- Precise cleaning times
- Temperature control (in Fahrenheit or Celsius units)
- Degassing (see our explanation elsewhere in this FAQ)
- Power control (usually offered as full or reduced power)
- Sleep more
The video below provides a demonstration of the digital features of the Branson series tabletop cleaners...
These can be further segmented into integrated industrial cleaners and systems that consist of a separate tank and power supply.
The Branson IC series is a good example of a high end integrated cleaner. Well in excess of a benchtop in size, it includes all the features of a heated, digital tabletop, and even comes with accessories. It’s available in both 12 and 21 gallon sizes.
The Branson Series 8300 is about as big as cleaners can get without venturing into custom built units. Available in sizes up to 50 gallons, they are powered by separate power supplies. This has the added advantage that the power supplies can be remotely located- off the factory floor, and away from moving machinery, liquids, and other hazards.
Soils adhere to the parts... if they didn't, the soil would just fall off the parts! The purpose of the solution is to break the bonds between parts and their soils. Water alone has no cleaning properties. The primary purpose of the ultrasonic activity (cavitation) is to assist the solution in doing its job. An ultrasonic cleaning solution contains various ingredients designed to optimize the ultrasonic cleaning process. For example, increased cavitation levels result from reduced fluid surface tension. An ultrasonic solution will contain a good wetting agent or surfactant.
Modern ultrasonic cleaning solutions are compounded from a variety of detergents, wetting agents and other reactive components. A large variety of excellent formulations are available, designed for specific applications. Proper selection is crucial for acceptable cleaning activity and to preclude undesirable reactivity with the part being cleaned. We can help you to identify either the optimal 'stock' cleaning formula, or likely candidates to test and evaluate.
Flammables or solutions with low flash points should never be used. The energy released by cavitation is converted to heat and kinetic energy, generating high temperature gradients in the solution, and can create hazardous conditions with flammable liquids. Acids, bleach and bleach by-products should generally be avoided, but may be used with indirect cleaning in a proper indirect cleaning container, such as a glass beaker, and appropriate care. Acid and bleach will damage stainless steel tanks, and/or create hazardous conditions.
Cleaning solutions should be replenished when a noticeable decrease in cleaning action occurs, or when the solution is visibly dirty or spent. A fresh batch of solution at each cleaning session is usually not required.
The solution level should always be maintained at the level indicator in the tank, with trays or beakers installed. The ultrasonic cleaning system is a 'tuned' system. Improper solution levels will change the characteristics of the environment, can affect the system frequency, decrease effectiveness, and potentially damage the cleaner. Maintaining the proper solution level provides optimum circulation of solution around parts, and protects heaters and transducers from overheating or stress.
"Degassing" is the initial removal of gases present in the solution. Useful cavitation occurs after gasses have been removed from the cleaning solution, leaving a vacuum in the formed bubble. When the high pressure wave hits the bubble wall, the bubble collapses; it is the energy released by this collapse that will assist a detergent in breaking the bonds between parts and their soils.
Direct cleaning occurs when the parts are cleaned in a cleaning solution which fills the cleaner, usually inside a perforated tray or mesh basket. The limitation of direct cleaning is that a solution must be chosen that will not damage the ultrasonic cleaner.
Indirect cleaning involves placing the parts to be cleaned in an inner non-perforated tray or beaker that often contains a solution that the user may not want directly filling the ultrasonic tank. When choosing indirect cleaning, make sure that the water level inside the tank itself is maintained to the fill line (about 1" from the tank top) at all times.
Cleaning time will vary, depending on such things as soil, solution, temperature and the degree of cleanliness desired. Highly visible removal of soils should start almost immediately after the ultrasonic cleaning action begins. Cleaning time adjustment is the easiest (and most often misapplied) factor used to compensate for process variables. Although new application cycle duration can be approximated by an experienced operator, it usually must be validated by actual use with the chosen solution and the actual soiled parts.
Items being cleaned should never be placed directly on the tank bottom. Transducers (which produce the ultrasound) are bonded to the bottom of the tank. Items resting directly on the tank bottom can damage the transducers and/or reduce cavitation. Additionally, a tray or beaker will position the item within the optimal cleaning zone of the tank. The tray or beaker will also hold the load together and allow for easy, no-touch removal, draining and transport of the items to the next step in the cleaning process.
Heat usually enhances and speeds up the cleaning process, and most detergent solutions are designed to work best at an elevated temperature. The best way to find the optimum temperature, which will give you the fastest, cleanest and safest results, is to run tests. Usually, the best results are within the 50C to 65C range.
Rinsing is recommended to remove any chemical residue, which could be harmful to the part. Parts can be rinsed right in your ultrasonic cleaner, using a clean water bath, or in a separate tub containing tap, distilled or deionized water.
Low solution levels can seriously damage your cleaner. Running your unit continuously runs the strong risk of lowered levels as the solution evaporates, especially when heated. Getting into the habit of shutting off the ultrasonics when not in use, and monitoring the solution level when in use, will yield many years of trouble free service from your ultrasonic cleaner.
There is no routine maintenance needed for a tabletop ultrasonic cleaner. Obviously, it should be wiped out and rinsed in between tanks of solution, but there are no user adjustable settings or replacement parts.
We do, however suggest that you perform the fiol test on your new cleaner, and keep the foil samples in a safe place such as a dated file folder. That way, if you thinnk your machine's performing poorly in the futire, you can do the foil test again, and compare the samples.
Most poor cleaning usually results from improper control of one or more process variable(s); such as choosing the wrong detergent solution, insufficient heat, or not allowing enough time for the particular soil to be removed. If you suspect that your ultrasonic cleaner is not cavitating properly, there are two simple tests you can perform: the "glass slide" test and the "foil" test.
Wet the frosted portion of a glass slide with tap water and draw an "X" with a No. 2 pencil from corner to corner of the frosted area. Making sure that the tank is filled to the fill line, immerse the frosted end of the slide into fresh cleaning solution. Turn on the ultrasonics. The lead "X" will begin to be removed almost immediately, and all lead should be removed within ten seconds.
Cut three small pieces of aluminum foil about 4" x 8" each. Fold each piece over a rod that you will use to suspend the foil in the tank. A clothes hanger works well. Your cleaner should be filled with an ultrasonic cleaning solution, degassed, and brought up to normal operating temperature.
Suspend the first "square" in the center of the tank and the other two a couple of inches from each end of the tank. Make sure that the tank is filled to the fill line, and turn on the ultrasonics for about ten minutes. Remove the foil and inspect: All three pieces of aluminum foil should be perforated and wrinkled to about the same degree.
This guide covers steam, manual and ultrasonic jewelry cleaning, along with jewelry storage and more.
Your jewelry is an investment, and it deserves the best care and cleaning you can give it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just gotten your first nice piece of jewelry as a present from your grandma, or if you have a massive collection of fine pieces, caring for your jewelry is a prime concern.
Cleaning, organizing, storage, even insurance are all factors that play into the proper care of jewelry. But where do you start?
If you’ve never given serious thought to this it can all seem a bit overwhelming. But if you just break it down into parts it’s actually pretty straightforward. We’ll be covering everything to do with the care of fine jewelry, starting with how to get it clean!
Let’s start off with a demo of the Branson B200 Jewelry Cleaner
Beth has given us a quick run through, so now let’s get down to specifics and look at jewlery cleaning in detail.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a platinum bangle or a pair of copper costume earrings, jewelry gets dirty over time. Oil and dander from your skin, dust from the air, build up from hand and dish soap, – all these things accumulate on jewelry leaving it dull and without luster.
This is why, to get jewelry looking its best, a thorough cleaning schedule should be implemented. But jewelry comes in all different shapes and sizes, and sometimes can be quite fragile. So what exactly is the best way to clean jewelry? Well, there are several. The one you use depends on your jewelry, your time, and your budget.
Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaning
Using an ultrasonics is the best way to clean jewelry. Ultrasonic cleaners use high frequency sound waves within a tank of water to create a phenomenon known as cavitation. Cavitation is the rapid creation and subsequent collapse of microscopic vacuum bubbles within a liquid.
When these vacuum bubbles come in contact with the object being cleaned, in this case jewelry, they collapse, causing the surrounding liquid to fill the space they once occupied. This creates an intense scrubbing action at the microscopic level!
This is why your jewelry store uses ultrasonics. It really does make jewelry sparkle like new.
Choosing an Ultrasonic Cleaner
Fisrt up you need a cleaner, obviously. Here at Sonicsonline.com we only stock the top of the line. These are not the little plastic machines you see elsewhere on line or at Wal-Mart. Here are the features you want to look for:
- Real piezoelectric ultrasonic transducer
- Name Brand – not some no-name toy from China
- Stainless steel cleaning tank
- Plugs into the wall (AA batteries can’t product the current needed for real transducers)
- Includes basket and cover
- 2 year warranty
- Includes sample of jewelry cleaning powder or liquid
We have two units that fit the above requirements:
This is the unit you would buy your Mom for its easy operation. Just put the jewelry in the basket, hit the button, and five minutes later your jewelry is clean. If you want to get a complete setup from the start, you can go for our B200 Complete Package, which includes a bonus clamshell basket, and a sample of our jewelry cleaning powder.
It’s also the unit you buy for yourself – small footprint, rock solid reliability, and a great warranty. Here’s the specs:
- All stainless steel tank, 15 oz – room for a pair of sunglasses, or multiple pieces of jewelry
- 40khz piezoelectric transducer
- Simple on/off controls with a five minute timer
- Comes with cover, removable parts basket, and sample pack of jewelry cleaning concentrate, makes up to 1 gallon!
This is a larger machine (1.2 quarts) with an adjustable eight minute timer.
Gemoro is a well known lapidary (jewelry tool supply) company and this is a great little machine. Here’s a look at the features:
- Advanced digital control system provides cleaning cycles from 90 seconds to 8 minutes
- High performance industrial transducer
- 1.2qt Tank Size – Twice the size of other ultrasonic jewelry cleaners
- Tank Size: 6 3/8″ x 5 1/8″ x 2 3/8″ (LxWxD)
- Removable, full size basket included
- Includes free sample of ultrasonic cleaning concentrate with measuring scoop (makes up to 1 gallon)
How to Clean Jewelry with Ultrasonics
Now that you have your new cleaner, it’s time to get cleaning! Cleaning jewelry this way couldn’t be simpler. Here’s a step by step guide on how to get the most out of your new unit:
First, fill your ultrasonic bath with a fresh batch of cleaning solution. In most cases this solution can be made with a commercial ultrasonic jewelry cleaning concentrate at a concentration of about 1 part per 10 of water. If a professional cleaning concentrate isn’t on hand, a small amount of citrus based dish soap can be used.
Let the tank run for a complete cycle before adding your jewelry. This will effectively “de-gas” the tank. The purpose of this is that when a new batch of cleaning solution is added, trapped gas will be inside of the solution. This trapped gas can actually impede ultrasonic transmission. In short, a de-gassed tank will clean better.
Place your jewelry inside the included cleaning basket, and lower the basket into the tank. Run the tank for a complete cycle, and then remove your jewelry. Extremely dirty pieces may take more than one cycle to clean, but for most jewelry this is very rare.
After cleaning, remove the basket from the tank, and the jewelry from the basket. Rinse the jewelry in clean water to remove any remaining residue, and allow to air dry on a soft, clean cloth.
By its very nature, all an ultrasonic cleaner does is scrub, and it doesn’t really care what it’s scrubbing from your jewelry. This means that glues, weak coatings, or anything else could be potentially scrubbed away along with soils. Ultrasonics can also damage certain fragile gemstones, here’s a short list of gems not recommended to be cleaned with ultrasonics:
Jewelry Cleaning Solutions
The simplest and least expensive jewelry cleaning solution is a citrus based dish soap, like Lemon Fresh Joy. You can put this into your sonic cleaner and it will do a passable job. If you want the best possible results however, you need to use a formula that is made for jewelry cleaning. We offer three options:
This is a specialized cleaning solution from Branson Ultrasonics. It is biodegradable, phosphate free, and non-acidic. Appropriate for cleaning jewelry and precious metals.
Branson JC will take off dirt, grime, skin oils and modst anything else that gets on yoru jewelry during daily use. It’s also free-rinsing, which means that it does not leave residue on your jewelry.
One quart of JC makes about 3 1/2 gallons of mix, so a single bottle lasts most people a long long time.
From the people that brought you the Gemoro 12. This is our most highly concentrated solution. It’s no exaggeration to say that this would be a lifrtime supply for many people. One quart makes about 40 gallons!!
- No ammonia. Clean fresh smell
- No color additives, crystal clear mixed with water
- Super concentrated – makes up to 40 gallons
- Non-toxic and non-flammable
Our own jewelry cleaning powder is available in 1/3 cup packets. It is mixed at 1/2 tsp. per pint, and a single pack lasts most people for a few years. It’s free-rinsing and includes no ammonia or harsh chemicals.
Ships with instruction sheet and 1 tsp. scoop. No bottles of liquids to store. Just toos it in a drawer out of the way!
Here are some tips on how to safely operate your new ultrasonic bath:
Before plugging in your unit, make sure the tank is filled with water. Accidentally turning on an ultrasonic cleaner with low or no water in the tank will cause the transducer to burn out, destroying your new cleaner.
Do not place your hands in an ultrasonic cleaner while the unit is running. If for some reason you have to adjust your jewelry mid cycle, turn the unit off, make your adjustments, then turn the unit back on and finish the cycle.
NEVER, EVER, under ANY circumstances use flammable liquids in an ultrasonic cleaner! Ultrasonic cavitation will from time to time create microscopic “hot spots” in the liquid. If the liquid is flammable in nature, these hot spots can actually ignite the surface of the liquid, creating a flash over.
Steam Cleaning Jewelry
Steam cleaning jewelry is another great way to get your jewelry clean, and produces better results faster than hand cleaning jewelry. Steam cleaning can be a little bit expensive to get started with, as you need to purchase your own steam cleaning system, but the results can’t be denied.
The idea behind steam cleaning is rather simple. The steam cleaner creates a high temperature, high pressure jet of steam that the jewelry is placed under. This jet of steam blasts away oils, dirt, and other common debris from your jewelry without the use of any kind of soap or detergent what so ever. There are some things to keep in mind before you choose steam cleaning as the way to clean your jewelry.
Examine Your Jewelry Before Cleaning!
Make sure your jewelry is in good, solid condition before steam cleaning. Inspect each piece to ensure settings are secure, and make sure no gems are cracked or damaged, as the high pressure jet of steam could potentially further damage them.
DO NOT use a steam cleaner to clean the following items:
- Jewelry that is held together with any kind of glue or adhesive
- Amber, emeralds, pearls, jade, coral, opal, or turquoise
- Porous items
- Costume Jewelry
- Jewelry with closed back settings
Steam Cleaning – Best Practices
DO NOT hold jewelry by hand when steam cleaning. As you can imagine that jet of steam is pretty hot, and careless handling could result in a painful burn.
Pre-soak extremely dirty pieces before steam cleaning. This will generally only have to be done the first time, unless you drop your jewelry in a pool of oil or something.
Clean near a sink! If you place your steam cleaner in such a way that the nozzle is pointed down into the sink, there will be no need for post-cleaning cleanup. Just make sure the sink is stopped up to prevent losing anything down the sink!
Hand Cleaning Jewelry
The classic and by far the most common way of cleaning jewelry is by hand. “By hand” however is just a description of the general cleaning method, as different types of metals and gems require different kinds of hand cleaning.
Cleaning precious metals by hand is a fairly simple affair, and apart from silver, will usually only require some mild soaking and wiping. Here’s how to clean gold, platinum, and other precious metals by hand:
First, make a mild cleaning solution from warm (not hot) water and a couple drops of a citrus based dish liquid, like the kind you used to hand wash dishes with.
Next, soak your jewelry for 10 to 20 minutes, maybe longer if your jewelry has a particularly heavy soil load.
Finally, remove your jewelry from the solution, and scrub clean with a soft bristle brush, and pat dry with a soft cloth. Make sure your pieces are completely dry before storing them.
In general, silver can be cleaned of common soils in the same way you clean gold or platinum. Silver however suffers from tarnishing, which isn’t exactly a soil to be removed, but a chemical reaction on the surface of the silver itself.
Silver develops tarnish when exposed to anything that contains sulfur, and you would be surprised how many things have sulfur in them! Examples include certain foods, like eggs, rubber, latex, gasoline and diesel fuel, carpet padding, and even your own skin!
Tarnishing can be accelerated by moisture, so special care should be taken with silver in moist climates.
Tarnish can be fairly easy to remove when first noticed, so frequent polishing of your silver pieces is recommended to fight tarnish. To remove tarnish a special tarnish remover will have to be used.
We offer a small container of silver cleaner here on Sonicsonline. Our Silver Cleaner comes in a handy 7 oz bottle with an included basket. All you need to do is put your jewelry in the basket, twirl it around for a few seconds, then take it out and rinse it. Dirt and tarnish are gone!
Cleaning Gem Stones
Cleaning gemstones can be a little more involved than cleaning precious metals, as some gems can be surprisingly fragile. This can be especially troublesome when trying to clean combination pieces that have more than one gem stone. In general however, the cleaning of most gemstones is a pretty straightforward affair.
- Diamonds – First, make a cleaning solution of one part ammonia to 4 parts water. Then, scrub your diamonds in the solution with a soft bristle brush, remove, then allow to air dry on a soft cloth.
- Rubies, Opal, Turquoise, and other gems– Just like precious metals, rubies and such can be cleaned in a mild solution of water and citrus based dish soap. Allow to soak for 5 to 10 minutes, and then scrub with a soft bristle brush. Remove the gems from the solution, and allow to air dry on a soft cloth.
Pearls are a special case. Their surfaces are porous and easily damaged. We recommend that you use a cleaner especially made for pearls to be certain that you don’t damage them. Unfortunately, due to their fragile nature, you cannot clean pearls in an ultrasonic cleaner.
You can clean delicate pearl jewelry in this special cleaner with no fear! Just lower your strand into the included basket, twirl it aounr, remove, rinse and dry with a soft cloth.
Jewelry Storage and Organization
Now that your jewelry is sparkling clean, it’s time to safely store it away until it’s time to show it off. How you store your jewelry is actually very important. Improperly stored jewelry can be damaged any number of ways, such as jewelry just tossed into a purse rubbing together and getting scratched, or even falling out and getting lost! Luckily there are about as many ways to store your jewelry as there is, well, jewelry to be stored. Here are some of the more common methods of organizing and storing jewelry.
A jewelry organizer is simply a series of hooks set on a decorative frame that either stands on it’s own, or can be hanged from a door, vanity, or other object. Jewelry organizers are a great choice for those with a lot of hanging jewelry, such as earrings and necklaces that could easily become tangled and damaged if simply thrown in a box or drawer.
For the average jewelry enthusiast, a jewelry box will be all they need to protect and organize their collection. A jewelry box is just as it’s name implies; a box to keep jewelry in. What sets them apart is the fact that they have multiple compartments, hooks, clasps, and other features designed to organize and secure jewelry within the box.
For those with very large collection, a jewelry cabinet can be employed. A jewelry cabinet is actually often its own stand alone piece of furniture with multiple drawers and display cabinets containing hooks for hanging jewelry.
Pretty much the ultimate in jewelry security, a jewelry safe is like a jewelry box, but larger, reinforced, and with a locking mechanism. Jewelry safes not only keep your jewelry organized and secure, but also safe from fire, theft, and flooding! A jewelry safe is recommended for those with extremely valuable or sentimental pieces.