What Is Ultrasonic Cleaning and How Does it Work? A Simple Guide

ultrasonic cleaning

In 2018, the global ultrasonic cleaning market had an estimated worth of $1.47 billion. By 2024, experts say that its value will almost double to reach $2.18 billion.

All those figures show just how booming this specific sector is. After all, numerous other industries, from medical to automotive, rely on ultrasonic cleaners.

What exactly does “ultrasonic cleaning” mean, though, and how does it work? What does the cleaning process entail, and how do you go about using an ultrasonic cleaner?

This comprehensive guide will answer all these questions and more, so be sure to read on!

What Exactly Is Ultrasonic Cleaning?

Ultrasonic cleaning is a cleaning method that uses high-frequency sound waves. It involves generating high-intensity pulses released in a liquid. The sound waves then reverberate within the cleaning solution, creating microscopic implosions.

If you thought it had something to do with ultrasounds, you were right; it does.

How Does It Work?

There are specific ultrasonic cleaning machines called “ultrasonic cleaners.” They come in various sizes and capacities, usually with frequencies of 15 up to 400 kHz. However, the standard frequency used for most cleaning tasks is about 40 kHz.

Ultrasonic cleaning also often involves the use of a specifically-formulated ultrasonic cleaner solution. This is the liquid in which the sound waves travel. The high-frequency pulses generated by the machine then creates microscopic implosions.

The implosions create countless bubbles in the solution, referred to as “cavitation bubbles.” The bubbles, in turn, serve as minuscule scrubbing brushes throughout the machine’s tank. The tiny size of the bubbles allows for the thorough cleaning of the submerged items.

How Effective Is It?

Scientists themselves say that ultrasonic cleaning is a “high-quality cleaning” method. For starters, this unique process gets rid of contaminants that other techniques can’t. Compared to spray washing or brushing, ultrasonic cleaning does a much better job.

That’s because ultrasonic cleaners can clean objects from deep within. This is especially important for items with etches, odd shapes, or hollow interiors. A few examples are jewelry, hoses, tubes, auto parts, surgical devices, and motherboards.

That’s why many industries, from manufacturing to medical, rely on ultrasonic cleaning.

By contrast, brushing and spray washing require direct access to dirty surfaces. Without direct access, these cleaning methods won’t be able to do a proper, thorough job. What’s more, they are prone to missing a lot of surface areas, especially hard-to-reach spots.

Also, keep in mind that spray washing relies on high water pressure. As such, you can’t use these for sensitive or fragile items, such as motherboards or jewelry.

An Overview of How to Use an Ultrasonic Cleaner

Most ultrasonic cleaners are simple load-and-unload devices. This means that you only need to submerge the items in the solution prepared in the tank. Then, just run the machine for a few minutes, remove the basket, and that’s it.

Sounds easy, right? It is, but there are still a few things you should keep in mind to ensure your cleaner does a perfect job.

Prepare the Cleaning Solution

With some cleaning applications, you may only have to use water. This is fine for items without excessive dirt or grime build-up.

However, most jobs require ultrasonic cleaning solutions mixed with water. These are highly-concentrated cleaners, so be even more careful when handling them. They also require specific amounts of water, so check their directions for use.

In any case, you need to pour the active formula into the ultrasonic cleaning tank.

Place the Items Inside the Cleaning Basket

Ultrasonic cleaners come with strainer-like baskets. These are the containers designed to hold whatever it is that you need to clean. Their size is directly proportional to the size itself of the cleaning machine.

One of the most important ultrasonic cleaning tips is to clean only a single layer of items. This means that you shouldn’t stack items on top of each other as you load them into the basket.

In addition, make sure you leave enough space between each item. Otherwise, the minuscule bubbles may not be able to penetrate each object thoroughly.

Once everything is in the basket, you can then lower and submerge it into the liquid.

Adjust the Frequency Based on the Items You Need to Clean

As mentioned above, the standard frequency used in ultrasonic cleaning is 40 kHz. This works for the majority of items typically cleaned through an ultrasonic cleaner.

However, you should set the machine to a lower frequency when cleaning bigger items. A few examples of such items are automotive car parts or power tool attachments. The ideal frequency range for such objects is between 20 and 25 kHz.

By contrast, you’d want to set the frequency to a higher level if you’re cleaning sensitive items. These include jewelry, motherboards, soft hoses, and flexible tubes, to name a few. A higher frequency creates bubbles that can better penetrate crevices and small holes.

Set the Timer

One cycle of ultrasonic cleaning usually takes about three minutes. Health experts also say that this is enough to get rid of over 99.9% of blood on medical instruments.

However, three minutes may not be enough to eradicate all traces of grime on other items. Especially not on greasy objects like automotive parts. For this, you may need to set the ultrasonic cleaner’s timer for at least five minutes.

Is There Any Drawback to Using an Ultrasonic Cleaner?

It’s not really a disadvantage, per se, but an ultrasonic cleaner doesn’t disinfect. It only cleans and gets rid of contaminants, so it doesn’t sterilize either. That’s why the CDC recommends disinfection following ultrasonic cleaning.

Use Ultrasonic Cleaners for Deeper, More Thorough Cleaning

As you can see, ultrasonic cleaning can be a smarter, more efficient way to clean various items. They allow for a faster, “hands-free” way of removing dirt, grime, and contaminants. Best of all, you can alter their frequency to make them suitable for fragile or hardy objects.

Looking for more educational guides like this to keep your stuff and home clean and healthy? Don’t forget to browse our site’s other how-tos and blog categories then!