View Full Version : ultrasonic cleaner

02-21-2011, 11:02 PM
Looking for a good ultrasonic cleaner for small parts. Bicycle chains plus metal chunks less than a few cubic inches with tapped holes. I recently got a 1 pint Harbor Freight unit, and it really sucks. I think all it does is buzz. I later saw that Pete F also had bad experiences with his. Back in grad skool, we had a unit, I don't remember exactly which, but it was blue and was from a company that sold scientific supplies... maybe Fisher Scientific. Anyway, that unit (about 1/2 gallon in size) was awesome. When you dunked small parts in and turned on the buzzer, they would shake around, bubbles would form, and you could see a cloud of oil coming out of the tapped holes. Problem is these units cost several hundred dollars.

02-21-2011, 11:11 PM
Probably a Branson.

02-21-2011, 11:23 PM
Can confirm, Pete F officially states the little HF unit is a POS! Also their cleaning powder is NOT best of friends with aluminium.

Not sure I'd be putting a bike chain in an ultrasonic cleaner myself, I think a parts washer is probably more appropriate for that little puppy. Mine don't come off until replacement (continuous chains), so I clean them in situ, either with a chain cleaning machine or simply an ice-cream container and kero. The trouble with "over-cleaning" a chain is then getting the lube fully back into the links, since it's normally applied to the outside and seeps in. Going crazy on the cleaning is quite possibly counter-productive.

My 2 cents worth ... but the HF unit is still a POS :D

02-21-2011, 11:30 PM
I think a lot of people expect way to much from an ultrasonic cleaner. I have a pretty good one, an American Beauty (Really OEM Branson). Its good for small things, cleaning small parts, but a chain? I would never even try that.

There are some powerful machines out there that dump kilowatts into the water, those are megabucks though.

Brett Hurt
02-22-2011, 12:20 AM
I use 2.5 Liter Ultrasonic Cleaner

Item # 95563 Manufacturer: Chicago Electric Power Tools, I work on music boxes and clean a lot of brass and copper works very well I use clock cleaner with ammonia , I have the old one that they don't have it any more. Get the big one

02-22-2011, 01:52 AM
I have a 5 gallon unit with 6 very large transducers and a large remote power supply. It's heated as well, but doesn't really matter -- the ultrasonic puts so much energy into the water it gets hot fairly quickly. I use the heater more as a "pre-heater".

I've tried a lot of different soaps, and the best thing I've found is also just about the cheapest I've found -- it's the Smart & Final brand "Cleaner/Degreaser". I use 10% (1/2 gallon in my 5 gallon tank). It will not stain aluminum at all, even if the parts are left in for a long time. Cleans really well, and it's very, very inexpensive. Highly recommended.

One thing to be aware of if you've not used many ultrasonic cleaners -- they will NOT cut grease, not even the high powered ones will. I believe that there are cleaners made with very low frequency (maybe 20khz) which allegedly will cut through the goo better than the usual 40khz stuff. I haven't had any experience with low frequency units though.

I have cleaned bicycle chains in mine before -- works well, but not worth the trouble IMO.


Greg Q
02-22-2011, 03:48 AM
I have a 1 gallon Whaledent. It is a brand made primarily for dental practices, is crazy money. I got mine for $100 on ebay, lucky b-i-n. It works instantly and has an integral heater, timer and drain. If you can find one I highly recommend it.

02-22-2011, 04:26 AM
I use TSP in mine.

02-22-2011, 11:20 AM
In my "day job" I use a branson with a heater...it's a good unit.

I don't know if US cleaning is detrimental to all aluminum, but when you place a piece of aluminum foil in the cleaner it ends up riddled with holes...something to consider.

I also think there are other things (jewelry type stones, opals, pearls maybe) that shouldn't go in them.

We use Alconox in ours, but I've used Murphy's oil soap, Simple Green etc.

Good luck,


02-22-2011, 12:03 PM
I've got a 750W sonics and materials VCX750 20kHz ultrasonic unit for materials processing and sonochemistry. It will boil the water in a small container with the ultrasound energy alone. The effects are incredible however the price was too as in don't bother using it to clean your bike chain: a new Klein or Cannondale would be cheaper than the unit.

Aluminum can be cleaned in ultrasonic cleaners AFAIK, just don't use a highly alkaline detergent like alconox that is detrimental to aluminum.

02-22-2011, 12:26 PM
I have a Crest Tru Sweep and really like it. It has a big heater for pre-heating and you can adjust the both the frequency and intensity. One downside of the bigger ones is that you can actually blow holes in delicate parts if you turn them up too high.

02-22-2011, 01:55 PM
Didn't some one just post about an HF store opening up about a mile from his house !!!! Take this posting as just another warning.


02-22-2011, 08:09 PM
Looking for a good ultrasonic cleaner for small parts. Bicycle chains plus metal chunks less than a few cubic inches with tapped holes. I recently got a 1 pint Harbor Freight unit, and it really sucks. I think all it does is buzz. I later saw that Pete F also had bad experiences with his.

I have the 1 quart HF cleaner, and it's a little better, but the ultrasonic transducer starts shaking loose the moment you turn it on, so the amount of cleaner decreases every time you use it.
I replaced it three times, and finally gave up and bought a heated Branson unit on Ebay.

Ultrasonic cleaners are the bee's knees for cleaning the gunk out of intricate parts, like screw threads, gears, etc. I use ammoniated cleaner.

02-22-2011, 08:40 PM
Just to clarify my comments about the aluminium in my cleaner, I think it was the cleaning powder itself causing the problems due the reaction with the alloy, and not the fault of the ultrasonic cleaner itself, which I actually wonder if it does anything at all :D Seriously though, it does possibly work on things like jewellery etc.

Just another warning about high power ultra-sonic cleaners damaging parts. A colleague of mine had a bad day at the office when he had a double engine failure on takeoff on a twin-engine aircraft due to ultrasonic cleaning of some fuel filters. The company we worked for cleaned these filters rather than replacing them and each time the cleaning process slightly closed up the very fine holes in the stainless steel mesh. Eventually it was all too much and was enough to cause the engine fuel starvation. There's more to the story regarding fuel contamination but that's not important here, the point being that, while the holes were very small, the SS mesh was really quite substantial and I was shocked to learn that simply ultrasonic cleaning was enough to close them up slightly. I don't think I'll have that problem with my HF model :p


George Hodge
02-22-2011, 09:54 PM
I fill my cleaner with water and put my parts to be cleaned in a sealable plastic bag with whatever cleaner I'm using. Just cleaned a bunch of bearings with about a half cup of mineral spirits in the bag. It's interesting to see the old lube coming out of the bearings!

02-24-2011, 01:23 PM
Would you settle for just "sonic"?

Get a big speaker like the ones in that ricerocket next to you at the light on your way home. Get one with a heavy plastic cone that looks like it's made to take some abuse (aka "music").
Set it cone up on the workbench. Silicone a plastic tank into the cone, being sure you don't impede it's movement. It also needs to be centered.
Fill with solvent of choice, add parts.
Connect to shop stereo (with enough watts)
Turn on the music. Classical for watch movements, Heavy Metal for...well, heavy metal.

02-25-2011, 01:28 PM
The ultrasonic energy causes a fluid dynamic phenomenon called cavitation. This is the explosion of microscopic bubbles with explosion like velocities of the water vapor in them. Cavitation is powerful enough to break down organic chemicals, cause sonoluminescence and a wide variety of other effects as well as localized heating. It is amazingly powerful and can provide both effective cleaning and a destructive force depending on how it is used.

Lower frequency sound <~20khz isn't really capable of these effects. You need a transducer that is effective in the medium you are using and a fair amount of power to get real results.

02-25-2011, 04:07 PM
Oh, I knew it wasn't the same thing, but for many complex assemblies - like gun cleaning - it seems to work just as well.

02-25-2011, 08:10 PM
There was a thread on Timezone Watchmaking forum a couple of years ago and one of the things that came out of it was that to test an ultrasonic cleaner you would put a piece of aluminum foil in water and run it for about 20 minutes. At the end, you should see small pinholes in the foil from the ultrasonic agitation.

Personally, I use a small HF model for watches and a Crest 2.5L unit for clock and gun parts.

I know if you overload the cleaner, the ultrasonic waves get blocked and don't reach all the parts. If I was doing bike chain, I'd do it in the 2.5L unit in a loose wound disk on it's side and turn over a couple of times. I'd also use either a strong caustic to remove the oil or a solvent like stoddard solvent or kerosene.