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phydaux

Wanted - Tips for using an ultrasonic cleaning machine

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 So I know I’m going to need some kind of cleaning set up, but there’s no way I’m dropping $700 for a proper cleaning machine.   Not when I can get an ultrasonic cleaner off Amazon for fifty bucks.  

 So I’m thinking I’ll get a bunch of those screw-top mesh baskets to put all of the watch parts into.   Then I’ll get three jars, one for wash, one for first rince,  and one for final rinse.   After final rince I figure I can put the baskets on some paper towels and dry everything with a blow dryer.  

 I figured I could use something as simple as a mason jars.   I’m concerned about putting glass jars in the ultrasonic cleaner, though.   I’m afraid that after a few uses the glass would shatter.   I suppose I could use plastic jars, but I have no idea where to get cheap, clear plastic jars.  

 I know there are specific solutions that I’m supposed to use.    Can I get away with just using ammonia & water for the cleaning,  distilled water for the first rince,  and rubbing alcohol for the final rince?  

Does anyone else use anything similar  as an inexpensive cleaning station?     Or anything vastly different but still not too expensive?  I figure I can put together the set up above for about hundred and a half,  and I like that better than 700 for a proper cleaning station.   

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I did purchase a cheap ultrasonic cleaner from a retailer (Lidl) those in the UK will be aware of this shop. However it is crap compared to my half decent one I purchased a few years back. In fact I now only use it now for watch bands once I have pre-cleaned them. The cheap ultrasonic's do not vibrate (sorry don't know thew correct terminology) enough be effective. The better quality machines have up to 40khz of action and more than one transducer. The old story you get's what you pay for. Also size matters ie if you are just going to clean watches then a small tank will be fine but if you are going to clean clocks then you will need a bigger tank. Some say you should not clean clock parts with an ultrasonic but I do with (so far) no issues.

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Thanks clockboy.   So 40 hz of action, and preferably more than one transducer.   

Do you put small parts directly into the ultrasonic cleaner, or do you put them inside something?

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I put them in a container preferably a mesh style container so retrieving them is easy and also drying them using a hairdryer is made easy. What ever ultrasonic you choose check the Hz. I notice those sold by Cousins are 37Hz. 

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I have experimented with many solutions. I have been using Elma 1:9 for my clock bits. However be aware of the workspace you are working in some solutions are really pungent. I purchased ultrasonic carburettor cleaner and it stunk the house out. Wife was not happy.

211787231_Screenshot2018-11-0717_46_02.png.ebb9476ab0e2cb40ce69aaf2f16fb9df.png

 

 

 

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I hate to be pedantic, but if it says 37Hz it 'aint ultrasonic. You need to be careful. There are some really cheap "dental ultrasonic" cleaners on ebay that are not remotely ultrasonic, since they use a small vibrating 3V motor. They are at best agitators. They may well vibrate at 37Hz for all I know. The point is ultrasonic is high frequency sound, and it's frequency is measured in killo hertz so they would be say 37kHz or 40kHz or whatever. Anything typically between 20kHz and 250kHz would be accurately described as ultrasonic.

The other thing you need to be aware of is the output power. As has previously been stated, the better units put out more ultrasonic energy, and in some cases this means they have more than one transducer (the transducer is in effect a loudspeaker that operates in the kHz range, and pumps out the ultrasound. There is a good description here -> http://tmasc.com/qa process.htm

If a small ultrasound cleaning unit states an output power of 500 Watts or more, this is probably the power of the heater, rather than the ultrasoinc transducer. Typical small ultrasoinc sounders are under 100 Watts

If you want to see someone tearing down a slightly larger workshop cleaner (clock sized rather than watch sized, and way bigger than the one I have, mine only has two transducers), take a look at this ->

The other thing to be aware of is that often these units include a heater. High sound output power and the ability to heat the cleaning medium to near boiling point may not be necessary in a small unit, and in fact may be undesirable when cleaning very delicate parts.

If you are looking for a relatively cheap "basket" to keep the parts in, you could try using some of the small  mesh ball loose leaf infusers .

This sort of thing...

Infuser.jpg.2b78f4e85a83dfdeca56bb24335ffba6.jpg
 

A quick search of ebay or amazon will bring up lots of them, and they are relatively cheap.

I've not pressed my little ultrasonic cleaner in to service on watch parts yet, but I have cleaned a few items like inkjet print heads, switches, electronic components,  small circuit boards and so forth. Its not been used in a while ,so  I will need to locate it in the attic first. :unsure:

Other more knowledgeable individuals will need to chime in with suitable cleaning agents for watch parts, I would not know what is suitable. Some watch parts however may rely on shellac, which is soluble in some alcohols, so take care with what you use. 

Edited by AndyHull

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26 minutes ago, clockboy said:

Perhaps you are being a bit pedantic. The ultrasonic machine I was referring too was the Elma "P' Line (Industrial use) Multi-Frequency & digital. Starting price £775. 

Just call me Mr Pedant from now on. :D
The little cleaner I have is an ebay China special, they come in about £50 new, but I picked up mine "spares or repair" for about a tenner a few years back. It needed a new power switch and a fuse and it was good to go. It looks similar to this, but without the heater, and with some other generic Chinese brand name.

Ultrasonic.thumb.jpg.c53b05fb980449b73f6d4a28878ee2ab.jpg


What I will say is that the quality of construction of the Chinese ones is reflected in the price. It is stainless steel, and  it certainly works for the infrequent use I subject it to, and does actually use a couple of fairly robust looking genuine ultrasonic piezo transducers.  However the circuit boards are single sided through hole cheapest of the cheap FR4 ish material, with lots of noname brand capacitors etc. and as I said I had to replace the mains switch because it had crapped out, and the push buttons for the timer don't inspire confidence.  

If I were doing this commercially I would go for quality, but for occasional hobby use it is fine.

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1 hour ago, AndyHull said:

Some watch parts however may rely on shellac, which is soluble in some alcohols

I did not know that, although I did know that the impulse jewel was held on to the balance wheel by shellac.

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Well here is another useless fact you may not be aware of in that case.. wood working French polish consists of shellac dissolved in denatured alcohol aka methylated spirits.

I suspect the shellac glue used to fix the impulse jewel is formulated somewhat similarly, but I'll let the experts chime in on that one.

Shellac is a very traditional natural substance, which has been used since well before the invention of modern plastics  for bonding things where bond strength doesn't need to be too high, but the glue needs to take up very little volume and where it may be necessary to remove and re-fit the items being bonded.  Eighteenth century superglue if you will.

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On 11/8/2018 at 7:19 AM, phydaux said:

I did not know that, although I did know that the impulse jewel was held on to the balance wheel by shellac.

Pallet jewels as well.

 

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I use a couple of these. One for clean and the other for rinse...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/James-Products-Ultrasonic-Jewellery-Spectacle/dp/B00N4XB5YU/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1541761920&sr=8-4&keywords=ultrasonic+cleaner

I use this cleaning solution:

https://www.cousinsuk.com/product/elma-wf-pro-cleaner

And this for rinse:

https://www.cousinsuk.com/product/elma-suprol-rinse

For pallet fork and balance wheel I use Bergeon one-dip to avoid damaging the shellac.

These baskets are great for small parts:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B01819HN24/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

So far I've had really good results even on some very dirty old watches.

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I wondered how effective the old 1960s/70s cleaning machines are compared to low end dual transducer chinese items Andy Hull mentions?

I was offered a larger Elmar Vacmatic. Like a small cupboard on 4 castors with 4 jars in the bottom with pipes going in! Are these just museum items nowadays? Here is a picture of a smaller table top machine. This is the sort of thing.

 

 

1510510996_ScreenShot2018-11-09at14_46_27.png.d5f33117ee762d2c928f152afb3aa0ea.png

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Googling the Hazmat sheet for the Elma Luxury cleaner, etc, I noticed that the Bergeon 2552 One Dip appears to contain 99% tetrachlorethane

https://www.scribd.com/document/61062721/Bergeon-2552-One-Dip-899-F0668

Take care with that, and avoid contact with your skin, eyes etc.

Back in the distant past, we used to use it a lot of that in the workshop to clean printer parts and other computer bits. Later we moved to isopropanol, which is slightly less hazardous (but not suitable for contact with shellac, and probably much more flammable).

Tetrachloroethane can be pretty nasty stuff, and a potential carcinogen. Pay close attention to the safety warnings, and use in a well ventilated area.

Interestingly one of the things I experimented with initially on the first watch I cleaned recently was an old can of Ambersol electrical safety cleaner, which appears (from the familiar smell) to also contain tetrachlorethane. 

It is a very potent de-greaser. Iit will remove the grease from you skin, and can easily penetrate the skin to potentially enter the bloodstream, so use gloves and eye protection, don't breath the fumes, and remember to re-lubricate anything that has come in to contact with it. 

The other cleaners mentioned are mainly detergents and simpler hydrocarbons (so perhaps turps substitute or lighter fluid and simple washing up liquid might work, not that I would recommend experimenting, unless you are particularly curios). Their main hazard appears to be their flammability. 

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Wow I had no idea one-dip was that dangerous. Doing a bit of research on tetrachloroethane confirms it. This is from an ATSDR Public Health Statement:

"An increase in liver tumors was observed in mice following oral exposure.

The EPA determined that 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane is a possible human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane is not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity."

I think I might get rid of mine. Nasty stuff indeed.

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38 minutes ago, margolisd said:

Wow I had no idea one-dip was that dangerous. Doing a bit of research on tetrachloroethane confirms it. This is from an ATSDR Public Health Statement:

"An increase in liver tumors was observed in mice following oral exposure.

The EPA determined that 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane is a possible human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that 1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane is not classifiable as to human carcinogenicity."

I think I might get rid of mine. Nasty stuff indeed.

I'm not sure getting rid is necessary, but avoiding exposure to it is advisable.

Beer is a liver carcinogen, tetrachloroethane likewise.

Just treat it with respect, and as I said, avoid contact with skin, eyes and by inhalation as much as possible. Work in a well ventilated area, wear suitable gloves and eye protection and you should be fine.

As I said, I used it for years, for cleaning computer and printer parts in the  workshop in the eighties and nineties and to the best of my knowledge, my liver is still fully functional (although I suspect exposure to beer would be a more likely vector for damage if it is not :D).

Edited by AndyHull

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Hi Andy  Likewise I used it for the same purpose. we has a self consensing bath for cleaning circuit pcbs in the factory I like you used it by hand.  I myself use a mixture of citit bang , ammonia, and a drop of detergent in the ultrasonic , used in a well ventilated area (not the kitchen) and constantly check the progress of the cleaning. Too long exposure removes the lacquer from the plates . Small jobs can be cleaned with Carburettor  cleaner ( good for balances no deposits left).

 

 

 

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2 hours ago, oldhippy said:

I never liked one-dip. I always used Ronsonol lighter fluid. It doesn’t harm anything in a watch and it is shellac friendly.

 

Hi, I got zippo lighter fluid and am testing , short term soaks seem alright, soaked over night or longer seem to have paled the co!or as though have chemically  reacted with chrome plating, Dose Ronson act the same, something to be concerned about?

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