I know you have been reading about lots of products and ways claiming to strip off the paint effectively from the objects.
In fact, I have many articles out there that talk about this DIY as well as professional methods to remove the paint.
The question I keep getting from my RePaintNow visitors is about ultrasonic cleaning systems and if these machines can be used for stripping the paint off.
Ultrasonic cleaners can be safely used for stripping paint from objects in homes as well as industries.
But it’s not meant to remove the paint from the walls or wood furniture.
You can use the machine to remove the paint from metal objects (like tools, miniatures, hardware, etc) that can withstand ultrasonic energy and waves.
The capacity of the machine you need to choose for getting the job done will however depend on the type of project and the size of the object from which you will need to remove the paint.
In this detailed guide, I will be covering more on how well are these machines when it comes to the paint removal process, how these machines actually work, what are the things you need to keep in mind when using these devices, and much more!
So, without any delay let’s jump in and start with the basic question…
What is an Ultrasonic Cleaner?
An ultrasonic cleaner is typically a kind of cleaning device that utilizes ultrasound waves/frequencies for cleaning various objects at home and in industries.
Water along with a sonic cleaning solvent is used in these devices so that you can get professional cleaning results within a few minutes.
The very first ultrasonic cleaning device was introduced in the 1950s and was generally used for commercial purposes only.
Later they were designed in much smaller sizes and now these machines are being used in every home for getting professional cleaning results.
Ultrasonic cleaners are more consistent, safer, and faster than other cleaning products available in the market as it makes use of a unique cleaning process rather than hand scrubbing, steam, and soaking.
The best part about these cleaners is their ease of use and portability.
Irrespective of their small size they work on high power and have rugged transducers that are often found in industrial systems.
Can You Use Ultrasonic Cleaner for Paint Removal?
As mentioned above, ultrasonic cleaning is a highly technological and more sophisticated way by which you can strip the old paint off the objects within a few minutes.
You can use the machine for removing the paint and coatings (like chrome) from your spray airbrush, sprayer tools, metal parts, fittings, machinery tools, metal miniatures, resin prints or models, etc.
This is the reason it’s an important device for home painters and artists who uses airbrush kits, compressors, spraying tools, etc.
As a home painter, you can also use the device to clean your old paint brushes and paint guns that have thick layers of paint deposited and are too stubborn to clean.
Many painters also use the machine as a paint bottle shaker for mixing paint.
What Solution to Use?
When using the device make sure you use a high-quality biodegradable ultrasonic paint stripping solution that can amplify the process and cleaning results.
De-ionized water also works great in most cases if the paint isn’t very tough to remove. If you want you can also use something like simple green or vinegar.
Many people recommend using paint thinner, CLR, isopropyl alcohol (IPA), gasoline, etc. as an ultrasonic cleaning fluid.
But I don’t recommend using them in your machine as lacquer thinners or other mineral solvents spirits and can be flammable and can cause severe damage.
If you don’t want to invest in ultrasonic solution or de-ionized water, simply use tap water that’s free of limescale or other minerals.
The Real Benefits of the Machine
Paint removal methods that use scrubbing by steel wool or brushes can be complex and time-consuming if the object or the parts you need to clean is complex.
This means if the object, from which you want to strip paint, includes fine details or crevices getting the job done precisely is next to impossible.
The more complex the object is the more difficult it would be to remove the paint from it.
This is where a sonic device that utilizes ultrasonic sound waves makes the paint stripping task much easier.
How to Use The Device?
Below are the steps that you need to follow when using these devices for stripping off the paint from miniatures and other objects:
- Gently remove the loose paint deposits from the object using a soft cotton cloth
- Place the ultrasonic cleaning machine on a flat surface
- Fill the tank with water and ultrasonic cleaning concentrate solution
- Turn the machine on for about 10-15 minutes to mix and degas the solution
- Now turn the machine off and place the parts (to be stripped) in the provided basket
- Place the basket (with the parts) carefully in the solution and start the cleaning cycle for about 10-20 minutes
- Examine the parts after the cleaning cycle is completed. If you are satisfied with the results rinse the object with plain tap water
At the end of the process allow the object to dry naturally in the air
If the paint layer is too heavy, you will see the particles skimming off and floating on the surface of the solution.
Make sure you remove them slowly while the cleaning process is still on.
After you have achieved a completely cleaned object also ensure that you dispose of the solution properly according to your local guidelines.
The left-over solution should not be used for cleaning other objects as it will hinder the process.
What Frequency Range for Paint Stripping?
In general, the lower the operating frequency is, the stronger the cavitation action will be. And the higher the frequency is, the gentler the cleaning will be.
The intensity of cleaning and removing the paint will also depend on the frequency at which a device will operate.
And keeping this accurate is important to avoid your metal surfaces getting damaged.
For most paint stripping projects 37 kHz of frequency is what you will need.
If, however, the paint layers you want to remove are heavy, a lower frequency range of about 25 kHz should be employed.
Ultrasonic frequencies of about 45 kHz and more should be used if you want to remove the paint from polished surfaces or surfaces like aluminum and other softer metals.
What about Heating and Temperature Ranges?
Heated ultrasonic parts cleaner (that has an inbuilt heater) is most of the time preferred by users, as it helps in removing the paints from the item surface (to be cleaned) fast and easily.
In general, the most appropriate ultrasonic cleaner temperature range is between 50°C–70°C.
However, it may vary or may be changed based on the type of material to be cleaned, the type of cleaning liquid that will be used, and the type of cleaning you need to do.
Especially when you are using ultrasonic cleaning liquids, it is good to check the recommended cleaning temperature range mentioned on the container.
Most of these solutions work best when the temperature in the unit is high. So, the temperature range may go anywhere from 60°C-85°C.
It is best to follow the instructions (given on the cleaning solution bottle) and perform a short cleaning test so that you can safely clean the items without getting them damaged.
Safety Tips, Precautions and Maintenance
Most ultrasonic cleaning and paint stripping machines operate under high voltage.
Its therefore important that you never get indulge with the electronic controls, transformer, or transducers present on the unit.
This means, that if anything goes wrong, never ever try to do the repair on your own.
Also, when the unit is in working mode, never put your hand (or fingers) inside the solution.
If you don’t know what you are doing, you can end up damaging the equipment than doing any good.
Additionally, having used your equipment it’s important that you drain and clean the unit completely.
- Unplug it and wipe down the exteriors using a clean rag.
- Drain out the solution and rinse the tank with clean water. Let the unit dry naturally.
- Never use any kind of spray or water to clean the control box or electrical components.
Draining the Solution
When it comes to draining the solution, do this with special care.
- Small portable units have a small bath from which the solution can be simply poured out.
- Larger units come with a drain tube and valve (present on the side or rear of the cleaner). Use it to dispose of the solution safely.
How Well Does an Ultrasonic Cleaning Machine Work?
The ultrasonic cleaner working principle basically includes the usage of cavitation (the microscopic bubbles) to blast away the paint from the surface of items.
These bubbles are created by high-frequency sound waves in the tank and it acts like a sponge to clean away all the dirt, grime, oil, grease, paint particles, rust, and other contaminants present on the surface of items.
Earlier the ultrasonic cleaners were known to produce cavitation bubbles through one-frequency wavelength. Hence, a better cleaning function is performed.
But this also featured a possibility to harm the delicate parts.
Moreover, they show a tendency to leave dead zones in which cavitation does not occur leaving the surface of the part (to be cleaned) uncleaned in certain places.
Advanced technology has overcome this problem by devising and formulating sonic cleaners that could produce different frequency wavelengths.
This technology is known as sweep frequency. It is designed to help you get unmatched professional cleaning results without damaging the items.
The technology also removes dead zones while ensuring that the cavitation bubbles penetrate deep into the small nooks and crannies, temporary surfaces, or inside passages in the device.
With variable frequency function and multi-power modes, these multi-frequency ultrasonic cleaners ensure that a higher level of frequency of cleaning has been achieved.
Hence, product reliability could be increased leading to decreased warranty and replacement costs.
Ultrasonic cleaners also employ piezoelectric ultrasonic transducers to change electric power from the source into ultrasonic power in the cleaning solution.
The element works at 130 kHz to give optimum ultrasonic action and noise diminution. You can choose a cleaner that has a 3-mode operation including Degas, Sweep, and Normal, for more versatility.
It also possesses an LED display that indicates things like temperature, set cleaning period, original temperature, and time remaining.
Although the modern devices come with the auto shut feature, you need to check the process and the cleaning solution at regular intervals to ensure getting the desired cleaning results.
The right functioning of the cleaner will help you with decreased rework and increased reliability.
What Can I Clean with Ultrasonic Cleaner?
An ultrasonic cleaner uses high-frequency sound waves (usually from 20–45 kHz) to agitate the solvent thereby developing cavitation and microscopic bubbles in it.
These bubbles when collides forcefully with the surface of items like metal tools, glass, ceramics, rubber, plastic, hinges, handles, brackets, etc help in getting them cleaned by removing the adhered contaminants present on their surface.
Most of these modern-day automatic cleaners are not only used for stripping paint and coatings but also to clean the items like:
- Old miniatures
- Jewelry & watches
- Electronic parts like PCBs
- Antique old coins and metals
- Fountain pen nibs, utensils, dishes
- Airbrush, tattoo machines, shaver heads, etc.
- Musical instruments, vinyl records, LPs, printheads
- Denture, contact lenses, and other medical equipment
- Guns, brass cases, fishing reels, paint fill from golf clubs, and other sports equipment
- Automotive, bike, and motor parts like the carburetor, bolts, bearings, fuel injectors, bike chains, etc.
What Not to Put in an Ultrasonic Cleaning Device?
Although an ultrasonic cleaning machine is good to use for most of the metals and items at home, these are not recommended for a few valuables like diamonds, pearls, gemstones, costume jewelry, handmade painted ivory, and tungsten jewelry.
Jewelry made up of these items is valuable and can get damaged by powerful agitation or force created in the machine.
Additionally, when you want to clean aluminum materials that come with a mirror-like finish, it is recommended not to use these devices as they can make them lose their brilliance.
Leaving the materials for long can also damage the material due to the adverse effects of chemicals and detergents.
If, however, you need a cleaner only to clean these items, it is good to check with the manufacturer whether you can use the particular device to clean these items or not.
There are a few good options available that can be bought for cleaning these items safely.
What are the Different Types of Ultrasonic Cleaners Available?
As such there are two different categories of Sonic cleaners available – based on their size, compactness, and portability to use.
These are Mini ultrasonic cleaners (tabletop units) and Sonic cleaners that are meant for industrial purposes.
1- Mini ultrasonic cleaner:
Small ultrasonic cleaners come in handy to clean delicate items in health care and everyday use.
You can use them efficiently for a small duration to clean your contact lenses, dentures, and small jewelry pieces.
2- Tabletop ultrasonic cleaner:
These are bigger in size and are suitable for paintbrushes, old miniatures, smaller engine parts, small electronic parts, scuba gears, and other similar parts that require mild to moderate cleaning action.
These devices are single tank lightweight portable cleaners with small transducers and very simple generators.
Generally, the generators are incorporated into the same case as the tank. So, they are not rated for 24/7 operation.
3- Industrial ultrasonic cleaner:
These industrial-grade heavy-duty ultrasonic cleaners are meant for industrial purposes.
It comes with large-sized multiple tanks, heavy compound transducers, and separate generators that produce high wattage.
The dip and strip tanks in these large ultrasonic cleaners are massive to accommodate a range of large-sized items.
Made up of high-quality stainless-steel material most of these commercial paint stripping equipment can be used for continuous operation for hours.
Factors You Need to Consider Before Buying A Sonic Cleaning System
Choosing the right ultrasonic cleaner device for paint and rust removal is crucial, so that you can get your job done without any problem.
When buying you should essentially know about the features of the machine; you are opting for before you buy one for cleaning.
Here are a few important things you need to look at before you opt for your best unit.
The size of the device and tank capacity are some of the main factors to look for when choosing an ultrasonic cleaner for your home use.
Make sure that the items that you want to clean will fit inside the tray of the ultrasonic cleaner you are choosing.
The size of the unit should be decided by the dimensions of the largest part to be cleaned.
In case you only need to clean small pieces like your painted tools, miniature models, or any other items, you can go with a small size cleaner and there is no need to invest in large expensive devices.
The technology used and the most advanced features are essential to check when you are buying a high-quality cleaning machine.
With technology changing almost daily, the latest machines come with advanced features and technology to suit the demand of users.
It is therefore important that you choose the machine which is the latest and comes with features such as auto shut off, built-in heater, varied frequency range, degassing, etc.
Power consumption is another factor to consider.
Ultrasonic cleaners operating on 30W to 50W models are less expensive.
And for home purposes, you need to find a device that is effective enough and consumes less power.
However, if you are planning to buy a paint dip-stripping machine for professional or industrial use, you may need to invest more as it requires purchasing a unit with a higher power.
Look about whether the unit comes with a proper warranty by the manufacturer.
As there are many Chinese non-branded and non-reliable ultrasonic cleaning machines sprouted all over the market, you should research carefully before choosing one.
Makes sure that you choose the branded industrial paint stripping equipment which comes with a genuine warranty and after-sales service.
The price of the machine is the last consideration you need to keep in mind.
Based on the reviews I found online, machines such as iSonic, Kendal, DK SONIC, Hornady, Lyman, Ivation, ProSonik, JPL, etc. are ideal for cleaning painted tools and equipment.
These cleaners provide the most efficient and economical ultrasonic cleaning and are available in a variety of sizes.
Remember, as these cleaning devices come at various price ranges (maybe from $25 to $25,000) you need to decide your requirements well.
Based on your paint removal needs, choose the one which is best suited to your budget and project.
I personally think that you need not invest above $100 if you require a simple cleaner for personal home use.
It’s imperative to go beyond that unless you require it for commercial purposes.
Will ultrasonic cleaners remove rust?
Yes, ultrasonic cleaners are very effective at removing rust.
These systems are so versatile that they can safely handle a range of metals from aluminum, and stainless steel to magnesium and even brass and titanium.
The high-frequency sound waves create cavitation bubbles that agitate the surface of the object being cleaned and loosen the rust.
Can you put wood in an ultrasonic cleaner?
No, you should not clean bare or painted wood with an ultrasonic cleaner.
This is due to the fact that wood cannot withstand the high-frequency sound waves and it can damage, warp, or crack wooden materials.
Can you put plastic in an ultrasonic cleaner for paint removal?
Although it’s possible, plastic is not the most favorable material for ultrasonic cleaning and paint removal because there will always be cleaning action taking place in the tank.
How effectively it cleans, removes paint, or damages the material will however depend on the density of the plastic.
The Bottom Line
Compactly built, easy to operate, and loaded with advanced features – ultrasonic cleaner can be a hassle-free way to remove the paint. Plus, it’s less time-consuming.
Knowing about how these cleaning devices work and owning one, can change the way you clean your items and remove the paint coatings.
Regardless of the model you pick, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines provided in the instruction manual so that you can know about the ultrasonic cleaning cycle and timer settings that are provided in your machine.
This way you can ensure that all your paint stripping job is done with high accuracy.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.