ULTRASONIC CLEANING involves the use of high-frequency sound waves (above the upper range of human hearing, or about 18 kHz) to remove a variety of contaminants from parts immersed in aqueous media. The contaminants can be dirt, oil, grease, buffing/polishing compounds, and mold release agents, just to name a few. Materials that can be cleaned include metals, glass, ceramics, and so on. Ultrasonic agitation can be used with a variety of cleaning agents; detailed information about these agents is available in the other articles on surface cleaning in this Section of the Handbook.

Typical applications found in the metals industry are removing chips and cutting oils from cutting and machining operations, removing buffing and polishing compounds prior to plating operations, and cleaning greases and sludge from rebuilt components for automotive and aircraft applications.

Ultrasonic cleaning is powerful enough to remove tough contaminants, yet gentle enough not to damage the substrate. It provides excellent penetration and cleaning in the smallest crevices and between tightly spaced parts in a cleaning tank.

The use of ultrasonics in cleaning has become increasingly popular due to the restrictions on the use of chlorofluorocarbons such as 1, 1, 1-trichloroethane. Because of these restrictions, many manufacturers and surface treaters are now using immersion cleaning technologies rather than solvent-based vapor degreasing. The use of ultrasonics enables the cleaning of intricately shaped parts with an effectiveness that corresponds to that achieved by vapor degreasing. Additional information about the regulation of surface cleaning chemicals is contained in the article "Environmental Regulation of Surface Engineering" in this Volume. The article "Vapor Degreasing Alternatives" in this Volume includes descriptions of cleaning systems (some using ultrasonics) that have been designed to meet regulatory requirements while at the same time providing effective surface cleaning.

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