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Ultrasonic Cleaners

When I was in the market for a UC a number of years ago I put out a
post looking for info and received a number of replies. Alan
Tischler has had extensive experience in using these critters and
the majority of the information comes from him. At the end of PART
II of the message I will discuss what I purchased as well as SOS for
the different models. SOS = source of supply.

(Not for use with volatile solvents.)

There are 2 completely different tools that are often referred to
as "ultrasonic cleaners" (UC's). The best way to differentiate
between the is to look at the price tag. If the list price is around
$50 or below, this is NOT in the category that most actually would
call a true UC. These are most often sold in places like jewelry
stores and can get away with calling them UC's because they vibrate
water, but the ultrasonic waves they produce have very little power
to them. Yes, the will make the water dirty if you stick in a metal
watch band that hasn't been cleaned in a few years in with the
detergent. But you could get the same cleaning effect with a hand
held vibrator (The shape is the user's choice) and holding it
against any container with a detergent solution in it. A Real UC is
very powerful unit. It sends very high-pitched and very powerful
waves through the container, which is usually stainless steel. These
high powered and high pitched (i.e. ultrasonic) actually cause
microscopic bubbles to be formed in the solution and it's these high
energy microscopic bubbles are what causes the desired cleaning
effect. When a detergent is added it will be transferred with the
high energy microscopic bubbles to hasten the cleaning process.
There are several ways to separate the real and the impostors. First
is price. For fountain pen / multitools / etc work we really only need
the smallest units made and these will list from about $100 to $150.
These will generally pull 40 to 50 watts of power and will produce ultrasound waves in
the vicinity of 60,000 cycles per second. While you may not be able
to hear 60 KHz itself, you will certainly be able to hear the effect
of the microscopic bubbles in the tank. Much of the energy that the
waves give off, like almost any source of energy will be lost in the
form of heat. In a 40 watt unit that has a one cup capacity,
starting around room temperature, the water or detergent solution in
the unit will increase roughly 1 degree F per minute. THIS IS VERY
IMPORTANT TO CONSTANTLY AWARE OF! The unit I got 7 years ago
is made by Koh-I-Noor. This is an excellent unit for small items and
if you know of another source for it, I can highly recommend it. Another unit they
have made by Alvin, is one that I've seen in action at the now
replaced Michael's in San Francisco. The employees there held it in
high praise. According to the Reprint catalog, it lists for $148 and
sells in the catalog for $99. It comes with a thermostat, a lid and
an insert made for cleaning the nibs and feeds of almost any
fountain pen, by holding them vertically. This is the perfect way
every week or so to remove inks that are starting to concentrate in
the feed and nib. A UC is certainly not a mandatory piece of
equipment. Although for my money, it would rank very near the top.
If money is very tight, you might not want to spend your money on
one, even on an excellent unit costing only $99. I would, however,
put it's usefulness way ahead of a lathe as was seriously suggested
as a more useful tool in a discussion on the pen-pencils newsgroup
long ago. This is a tool that I would not only recommend for anyone
interested in pen work, but for virtually every repair person, or a
just a very useful household tool. Like any tool must be used
correctly. I has incredible usefulness in our hobby, but used
incorrectly can do significant harm. The most important source of
harm has to do with the heat buildup mentioned above. A timer,
either one that cuts the power, or one that is on your person is
very important. If starting with tap water, the time that it takes
the bath temperature above about 125 degrees F should always be the
absolute maximum. For most jobs, the limit should be under 100
degrees F. For Pyroxylin plastics this is about the hottest that the
plastic will be safe. Much hotter than this, the plastic can undergo
totally unexpected changes, the most damaging is plastic shrinking.
Also, hot temperatures can cause the plastic to melt and disfigure.
This can all be prevented by length of time exposed or tossing some
ice chips as suggested by Fultz. There are a few false claims that
have given a bad name to UC's by some (who don't use them). Some
have claimed that it can lift-off inlaid pen nibs as in many Sheaffer
pens. After this was suggested as a problem in the heated discussion
of the past on the pen-pencils newsgroup, one repair person,
described putting a section of a PFM section in a powerful cleaner
for a full 18 hours (I take it that this was one that have full heat
control.) His comment that the only change was that it came out
immaculate. I personally called Sheaffer and spoke with one of the
staff in technical service as to how old PFMs, Imperials, Targas and
now Lagacys are treated to get out dried ink, as this is one problem
that all these inlaid nibs have in common-it's hard to get the last
traces of ink out of them. I was told quite simply they use UC's. To
date I know of only one general case that is likely to be harmed by
an UC. On the other hand, the things that can be accomplished with a
UC are nothing short of amazing. When restoring any sac-filled pen,
removing the section from the pen and cleaning in a 1:1 solution of
Formula 409 to water for 5-10 minutes will render the whole
section/feed/nib as clean as knocking the parts out and cleaning
each by hand separately. The majority of the time even a totally
clogged section will be completely cleaned in 15 to 20 minutes. One
of the things that I've found that only a UC can do is remove
staining in a plastic pen due to dried ink.   At other times it may be useful
to use a milder solution or one that will leave no trace after evaporation,
like ammonia. While I wouldn't recommend filling the whole bath with
clear household ammonia--this is fine if your work area is outside.
On can very easily treat a piece in ammonia by placing the parts in
a vial of ammonia/water solution and placing the vial directly in
the bath. The uses are really only limited to your imagination.

ultrasonic cleaner - PART II

I learned a valuable lesson today as I went to read the post I wrote
on which types of stains and discolorations can be removed with an
ultrasonic cleaner versus types that can't. I found the post to be
essentially unintelligible! It could easily be the worst written
post I have posted yet. At least I hope so. For this I feel
embarrassed and I apologize to many of you who have appreciated most
of my efforts in the past and tried to follow this particular piece.
I assure you that this does not represent that I have lost it
altogether. I made the horrible error of trying to write something
while I was in fact falling asleep at the keyboard. It was a
question that I was eager to address, but I now realize that there
is no question that is so important to address that it can't wait
until morning. In a much more concise way, I think I can condense
what I was trying to say into a single lucid paragraph. Vintage
plastic pens, almost all of which are made from Pyroxylin, are
relatively porous materials. In these plastics, discoloration falls
into 2 categories. One type is when the stain or discoloration IS
NOT chemically bound to the plastic. These, which are most commonly
due to inks, can be removed in principle with the aid of an
ultrasonic cleaner. The other type of discoloration is when stain IS
chemically bound to the plastic. This can occur under a number of
conditions including heat, light, and exposure to reactive agents
such as fumes from rubber sacs and some types of inks. This type of
stain or discoloration cannot be removed from the plastic
essentially because the discoloration has become an integral part of
the plastic itself. Unfortunately, this type of discoloration occurs
frequently in many colors and patterns that are highly desirable,
such as jade, pearl, onyx and lapis among others. Even pure
colorless Pyroxylin becomes ambered, an irreversible reaction that
is induced by exposure to light, heat and chemical reactants. ALAN
There is at least one factor alone that could explain the
difference. That would be the efficiency of the wave generator. As
even 40 watts for an appliance that is only used minutes at a time
is almost negligible, there isn't much incentive to design and
produce an efficient unit. For a company like Bronson, who
essentially makes nothing but UC's up to tanks that hold many tens
of gallons, there is an incentive for more efficient design. In
short they may just have the engineering in place to make an
efficient unit without having to invest much effort in it. Another
factor would be in the difference in the frequency of the waves
generated. In principle, 60 KHz would be preferable than 40 KHz and
this would take more power to generate. But once again, efficiency
is a big question mark. A good analogy is to compare a 60 watt light
bulb to a 40 watt bulb. If we define that the watts pertain only to
incandescent bulbs than the 60 watt bulb produces more light at the
filament. But this begs two questions. One is how far away from the
incandescent bulb you are. If you are 10 feet from the 40 watt bulb
and 50 feet from the 60 watt bulb, which is going to look brighter?
This speaks to how efficiently the energy generated is directed into
the system. The other question is what happens when the bulbs are
not constrained to be incandescent? This is what I was primarily
referring to above. Obviously a 40 watt fluorescent bulb will
generate far more light at the source than a 60 watt incandescent
bulb. This is the kind of thing I was referring to when speaking of
the efficiency of the generator used. I can't say for certain that
your small Bronson unit will be better or worse than the units I
found. All I can say is that I know from experience that Bronson
makes quality UC's in general. It would be good to come up with some
standard by which we could compare the units directly. Perhaps the
time needed to remove the stain made by a particular ink on a given
surface. I suspect you will be happy with the Bronson UC, unless
there has been some big changes in the company since I bought my
last unit from them 10 years ago. This was their smallest
thermostated unit at the time. I believe it had a half-gallon tank
and sold for over $500. ALAN
Before I had a Bronson ( Branson is the correct
name of the UC (note ALAN refers to it as a BRONSON) )UC in every
lab I worked in. They are indeed the largest manufacturers of UC's
that I am aware of. In fact, when I first decided to by one for my
pen work, I contacted the regional Bronson dealer. At the time, at
least according to him, they didn't have one in the $100 to $200
price range as the smallest model was significantly larger. I would
think that if they now have one in this size and price range it
would be an excellent alternative to the ones I mentioned. I would
also recommend posting this information on the Zoss list, if you
haven't already, and you may certainly cite my recommendation of
Several years ago I posted a question on the net asking for sources for a
good, powerful and reasonably-priced Ultrasonic Cleaner (UC). I
received a few suggestions that were worth following up. The
suggestion that I got from Marc Brown I believe was THE answer. He
told me about a small, powerful unit made by Koh-I-Noor,
specifically for cleaning Rapidograph technical pens that use
pigmented ink. I ended up buying the unit from the source he
suggested, the Re-Print Corp. for $112 (list is $135). This unit has
a round stainless steel tank that measures approx. 3 5/8" in
diameter and 2" high - very small size. I am used to laboratory
units 5 - 10 times more costly. This unit, for it's size is every bit as powerful.
My first test was a Parker fountain pen that seemed to be clogged
with India ink. Placed in the unit, the crud started shooting out
both ends immediately. The section was completely clear in minutes.
A good way to check the power of a UC is to put in cold tap water.
The power of the Ultrasonic waves should heat the water to warm in
about 10 minutes. This unit passed this test with flying colors.
Even though the unit is shallow, It is possible to clean long
objects by placing them in a along with the cleaning solution in a
plastic container and placing this container in the tank, which
would then contain tap water only. This is actually a very efficient
way to use any UC as only as much cleaning solution as needed is
used. For cleaning purposes 409 to water, about one to one is about
right for very stubborn jobs, while much more dilute detergent, or
even no detergent at all will suffice for easier jobs. Dilute
ammonia can also be used but it is ill-advised in a room that is not
adequately ventilated.  ALAN
Rather than posting info on solutions used to clean pen, nibs,
parts, etc. the winner for cleaning solution to use in your UC tank
is a 50/50 mix of water and 409 cleaner. It should be noted that
certain items should not be cleaned in a UC. I am sure there will be
posts covering the specifics as the tread develops.
Based on all the info presented and reading the tech specs as well
as ALAN's love for Bronson's that is what I purchased off the
Internet. I later sold it and acquired a Koh-I-Nor which has a
smaller capacity but is a far superior machine when it comes to
cleaning small parts. Recently I sold the Koh-I-Nor and purchase a
UC from Harbor Freight for $50 which is a good size for MTs.
Listed below are the sources for UC's .






Use "ultrasonic" in the search engine in each of the above sites to
locate the cleaners. I hope this helps all that are looking for a
ultrasonic cleaner

UC FAQ - http://www.coleparmer.com/techinfo/techinfo.asp?htmlfile=ultrasoniccleaner_faq.htm&ID=792

12/24/2002 - original review
9/29/2009 - updated