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Aqueous Cleaning With Ultrasonic Cleaners

Aqueous cleaning is a water-based method for removing soils and contaminants from parts. It uses cleaning chemistries – or detergents – with heat and some form of agitation to clean parts safely and efficiently. 

The alternative to aqueous cleaning is to use petrol-based solvents. These solvents are effective, quickly dissolving residues such as grease, oil, grime, and carbon build-up. But they have serious drawbacks. The chemicals in the solvents – which include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – are dangerous to health and the environment. Disposing of solvents after use is hazardous and expensive. 

Companies are increasingly switching to aqueous cleaners. These cleaners are much safer to operate and better for the environment – and they can clean as effectively as solvent cleaners.

Aqueous Cleaning

Types of Aqueous Cleaners

Also known as aqueous parts washers – are available as spray or immersion washers. With spray washers, nozzles spray jets of cleaning solution onto the parts. With immersion washers, the parts are submerged in the cleaning solution while some form of agitation is applied. 

The main types of aqueous parts washers are described below. 


Spray washers use nozzles within a cabinet to spray solutions at medium or high pressure at the parts to be cleaned. Cabinets come in a range of sizes and can include a rotating mechanism to ensure all surfaces are cleaned. 

Sink (Drum) Top 

Sink top aqueous washers – also called drum top aqueous washers – consist of a sink mounted on a drum. These washers are the most basic type of cleaner and can only clean single or a small number of parts at one time. They’re not suitable for parts with heavy soiling or contamination. 

Rotary Drum 

Rotary drum aqueous washers consist of a rotating drum filled with cleaning solution. The parts are rotated to ensure all surfaces are cleaned. Large, high-power rotary drum cleaners can be used to clean very large parts or high volumes of small parts. 


Conveyor washing systems use a conveyor belt to move the parts through a cleaning solution before rinsing and drying. Conveyor systems can be manual or automated and are suitable for cleaning high volumes of parts at a steady stream with minimum handling. 


Ultrasonic cleaners create ultrasonic sound waves in a tank of aqueous cleaning solution to remove dirt and impurities from parts. They are suitable for cleaning delicate equipment, complex parts with intricate surfaces and for heavy contamination that can’t be cleaned by other types of aqueous cleaners. Ultrasonics are an effective way to clean a range of items, from medical devices to automotive parts. 

In this article, we explore how ultrasonic aqueous cleaning works in more detail and describe its benefits and applications.  

How Does Ultrasonic Aqueous Cleaning Work? 

An ultrasonic aqueous cleaner can remove contaminants from a variety of surfaces. Objects to be cleaned are placed in a tank filled with a liquid cleaning solution, typically a combination of detergents and water. The tank is fitted with a transducer which creates ultrasonic waves in the cleaning solution.

This ultrasonic energy creates tiny bubbles that subsequently collapse in a process called cavitation. When the bubbles collapse, they release high-pressure jets of liquid, forceful enough to remove contaminants from the surface of submerged objects.

An ultrasonic cleaning system can consist of a single tank or multiple units combined. Typical process stages include cleaning, rinsing, and drying. Ultrasonic cleaners come in a range of different sizes, from smaller benchtop models to large, high-capacity units.

An important factor to consider when using an ultrasonic aqueous cleaning process is which detergent to use. For example, Sonic Power Degreaser is a medium-duty detergent safe for non-ferrous metals and alloys, among other materials. Sonic Power Degreaser HD is a heavy-duty alternative for removing more stubborn contaminants. Another popular option is UP 132-B, a mildly acidic cleaner especially suitable for cleaning musical instruments.

What Are the Benefits of an Ultrasonic Aqueous Cleaner?

During the cleaning process, ultrasonic waves generate cavitation activity, which creates a superior cleaning force that removes particles that would be difficult or impossible to dislodge with manual methods. Forces are present throughout the liquid, so ultrasonic cleaning can remove debris from every crevice of the object, including surfaces that are not accessible by hand.

Another advantage is that ultrasonic aqueous cleaners typically require a short cycle time. Dirt, grease, and other contaminants are easily removed in a matter of minutes. This prevents corrosion and pitting on metal components and significantly decreases downtime. 

While the effectiveness of ultrasonic cleaning leads many to assume it's a harsh cleaning method, it's actually a very gentle, environmentally-friendly process. It avoids the use of abrasives or harsh chemicals and is safe to use on a range of materials without damaging the object's underlying structure or finish.

One more benefit of an ultrasonic cleaning process is that it's highly customizable. You can purchase the most suitable tank size for your needs and create the ideal process flow for your application. You can even choose from a range of automatic parts washers that minimize manual input. The potential for customization and quick processing times make ultrasonic aqueous cleaning an extremely cost-effective method in many industries.

What Are Some Primary Applications of Aqueous Cleaning?

Ultrasonic aqueous cleaning has many practical applications in industrial settings. It can be used to clean most types of surfaces, including metals, plastics, composites, ceramics, and rubber. One popular use is in manufacturing settings where ultrasonic cleaning can be applied to various industrial parts, from molds and dies to wires and electronic circuit boards. Additionally, this process can be used for degreasing metal components prior to painting or powder coating, protecting against corrosion or wear and tear. 

Ultrasonic aqueous parts washing is often used in the automotive and aerospace industries to clean engine components, gears, and bearings. The process removes oil, grease, and carbon deposits that are otherwise difficult to remove. Additionally, ultrasonic aqueous cleaning can help reduce wear and tear on these components by removing any embedded particles which could cause damage over time if left untreated.

An ultrasonic parts cleaner is also commonly used to decontaminate medical devices such as dental instruments, surgical tools, and more. Medical device decontamination requires extremely effective cleaning processes to ensure patient safety; ultrasonic technology eliminates bacteria from hard-to-reach places within medical devices with minimal physical contact required from personnel. 

Another use for ultrasonic cleaning is surface preparation prior to welding or bonding operations involving metals such as aluminum alloys and stainless steel. By removing light oils and other contaminants from surfaces, manufacturers can create stronger and more reliable products than those produced using traditional methods. 

An ultrasonic aqueous cleaning system may be used to clean everyday items such as firearms and musical instruments. And these systems are not just limited to cleaning. For example, an ultrasonic cleaning tank is often used in the passivation of stainless steel.


Ultrasonic aqueous cleaning is an important tool for many different industries due to its effectiveness in removing contaminants from surfaces quickly and efficiently. Using sound waves to create cavitation bubbles, it can quickly and efficiently remove even the most stubborn dirt and debris from various surfaces.  

Ultrasonic parts cleaning systems are fast, effective, gentle, and environmentally friendly. They offer cost-effective precision cleaning while reducing manual labor and decreasing downtime.  

Need help deciding if an ultrasonic cleaning system is suitable for your application? Contact us today to speak with one of our experts!  

No Job Too Big or Too Small

Ultrasonic Power Corporation’s ultrasonic cleaning systems are constructed to handle any job. From six ounces to 2000+ gallons these systems are engineered and manufactured to meet your specifications. Our ultrasonic cleaning systems deliver the same repeatable performance from the smallest machined part to the largest engine block - and everything in between.

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Multi Stage Ultrasonic Wash Rinse RP Dip