First I want to thank one of my subscribers, William, for prompting me to put this post together. So let’s just jump right in.
Ultrasonic cleaners are typically used to clean things like jewelry and eyeglasses, but they’re also used for medical equipment, electronics, musical instruments and other things. Ultrasonic cleaners don’t sterilize though, so they won’t work like an autoclave in a tattoo shop (which many people wrongly assume).
How Ultrasonic Cleaners Work
Ultrasonic cleaners work by emitting ultrasound sound waves, which are sound waves that humans can’t hear. People with good hearing might be able to hear sound waves up to 20khz, but not usually higher than that. Ultrasonic cleaners typically run between 25khz to 400khz, so we can’t hear the sound they are emitting. Cats can hear up to 79 kHz and dogs up to 45 kHz, so you might notice your pets acting a little strange when you run an ultrasonic cleaner.
The Frequency Of Your Ultrasonic Cleaner is Key
When it comes to ultrasonic cleaners, the main thing you’ll want to look at is the frequency. Higher or lower doesn’t necessarily translate to better cleaning ability. The frequency actually determines how aggressive the cleaning action is and how evenly distributed it is. High frequencies are gentle and more evenly distributed, while low frequencies are aggressive and not evenly distributed.
Depending on what you’re trying to clean, you might want a lower or higher frequency ultrasonic cleaner.
Ultrasonic cleaning requires water and soap. The soap or cleaning solution you use depends on what you’re cleaning, but for vape gear, you can use everyday kitchen dishwashing soap.
The way it works is that the high-frequency sound waves create bubbles that implode, which is called cavitation. When the bubbles implode, they release energy. This agitates the liquid and allows the cleaning solution to get into the tiniest of holes and cracks to remove dirt.
Low-Frequency Ultrasonic Cleaners
Lower frequency cleaners, for example, ones that operate at 25kHz have hotspots which happen at about every 1 inch apart from each other. Cleaning works best at these hotspots, but these hotspots also have a blast radius that helps clean parts in surrounding areas – it might not clean as well in the blast radius, but it still cleans and might even clean the entire part you’re cleaning if it’s not too dirty. These systems are best for cleaning large parts. At lower frequencies, there are fewer, but larger bubbles that contain more energy. And because of the stronger cavitation action, it can damage delicate parts and cause erosion.
Mid-Range Frequency Ultrasonic Cleaners
At 40kHz, the hotspots are reduced to about 1/2 inch apart, so it cleans better and is more evenly distributed across the parts you’re cleaning. 40kHz ultrasonic cleaners are the most common cleaners you’ll find online and at stores like Harbor Freight and Walmart. They are usually really small and cost around $25-$35.
High Frequency Ultrasonic Cleaners
Once you get up to the 80kHz range of cleaners, you get much more evenly distributed cleaning but it’s also very gentle. The blast radius is smaller, but because the hotspots are so close to each other, your parts can come out very clean, unless they have large particles of dirt. The bubbles produced at higher frequencies are much smaller than what are produced by lower frequencies, so they have a lot less energy, but there are many more bubbles to reach into tiny areas. These systems are best for very small parts and for cleaning small holes, threading, and fine details, but they don’t work well on large parts.
I want to point out that when I say large parts, I’m talking about heavy duty equipment like car parts. Since we’re only interested in cleaning relatively small vape parts, higher frequency ultrasonic cleaners are perfect.
Other Factors That Impact Performance Of Ultrasonic Cleaners
There are other factors that impact how well an ultrasonic cleaner works, for example how long you run the cleaner, the cleaning solution you use, and the heat of the water. The longer you clean your items, the cleaner they’ll be, it’s as simple as that.
As for cleaning solutions, you can buy special cleaners specifically made for ultrasonic cleaners, but for vape gear, I recommend gentle dish soap.
As for heating the water, it’s pretty well accepted that a heated ultrasonic cleaner will clean much better than an unheated model, especially when cleaning fatty or waxy oils, so heated is better, but it adds to the cost of the machine. Not a lot, but it might matter to you. An unheated model will still clean very well.
The Dos and Donts of Ultrasonic Cleaners
There are also some things you need to be cautious of when using ultrasonic cleaners.
Don’t Clean Diamonds – You don’t want to clean extremely delicate and expensive jewelry in a 40kHz ultrasonic cleaner. I mention this because I know some of you might want to get more use out of your ultrasonic cleaner than for just using it to clean your atomizers. I’ve heard horror stories of people cleaning diamond jewelry in their ultrasonic cleaners and returning to find the diamonds cracked or broken into pieces. This is because diamonds have flaws, some more than others, but the ultrasonic waves get into those tiny inclusions and make them bigger.
Don’t Clean Gemstones or Pearls – You don’t really want to put any jewelry made of stones in an ultrasonic cleaner, such as gemstones. The same goes with pearls. Pearls are very soft and they will dissolve if you try to clean them this way.
Don’t Clean Tungsten Metal – And there’s one particular metal that doesn’t do well in ultrasonic cleaners and that’s tungsten. I have a tungsten wedding ring, so I definitely can’t clean it in there.
Don’t Use Flammable Liquids – You never want to use flammable liquids like alcohol. In an ultrasonic cleaner, these liquids will vaporize and can cause a fire or even explode, not to mention the dangerous fumes they will release into the air.
Don’t Use Bleach – Bleach is not dangerous, but it drastically reduces performance so make sure any cleaning solutions you’re using don’t have bleach as an ingredient.
Don’t Run It Without The Basket – You never want to run the cleaner without the basket that comes with it. If you do, the parts you’re cleaning will directly touch the inside of the cleaner and will damage the machine because it can cause it to pit and leak. Particularly relevant for vapers, keep this in mind when cleaning atomizers with small screws. Those little screws can fall out while cleaning and fall through the holes of the basket and sit on the bottom of the machine while it’s running. Your screws don’t have to be tightened down completely if you want to try to clean them, but they shouldn’t be so loose that they can easily fall out either.
Don’t Clean Items With Flaws or Chipped Paint – If you’re cleaning something that has chipping paint, the ultrasonic cleaner will chip it even more. The same goes with something that’s cracked, such as plastic or glass. Every time you clean something with flaws, those flaws will get worse.
You Can Clean Most Metals and Plastics – Now as for what’s safe to clean in ultrasonic cleaners, you can clean most non-absorbent metals and plastics. Gold, platinum, and stainless steel are safe. I clean all of my plastic parts in my ultrasonic cleaner too, o-rings and everything.
You Can Clean Glass – As mentioned above, you don’t want to clean glass if it has chips or cracks, but if it’s in good shape, it’s totally fine to put in an ultrasonic cleaner. I’ve had only one major mishap and that was with the Asvape Cobra tank, which had a tinted film on the glass. The ultrasonic cleaner destroyed the film and it peeled right off, which left me with a clear untinted glass tank.
What Ultrasonic Cleaner Should You Buy For Vaping?
Many laboratories will clean equipment with frequencies starting at 35kHz, which is probably a good starting point for vape gear. For finer details and sensitive products, you might want to jump up to 45kHz. When you get into the 80kHz range, you’re talking about highly sensitive products like electronics, which doesn’t make sense for our purposes.
I realize this might be a lot to take in and consider, but if you just want sometime practical and affordable to clean your vape gear, just get a cheap $30 cleaner from Walmart or Amazon that runs at 40kHz.
That’s what I use.
I keep all of my stuff in a single layer in the machine, fill it up with hot water from the sink, add three drops of dish soap (most people recommend Dawn), and then I run it three times since my machine only does 3-minute cycles at a time. Then I rinse the parts and lay them on a towel to dry. I rinse out the machine, wipe it down and that’s it. I get great results with my machine and I don’t feel like I need anything more.
That’s not to say I wish it didn’t have more features though. If you have a little more money to spend, I would recommend a 40-45kHz machine with a large tank, a heating feature, and longer cleaning cycles.
But until the one I have breaks, I’ll probably never upgrade because I’m happy enough with it. I’ve heard that these little cheap models don’t last very long though and that they should be considered disposable, so I might end up with a higher priced model eventually. But I’ve been using my cheap machine for more than year now pretty regularly, so I feel that I got my money of out it.