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She’s a Clean Machine: Ultrasonic Cleaners and Engine Parts

In the classic Beatles tune “Penny Lane”, Paul McCartney sings about “a fireman with an hourglass” who “likes to keep his fire engine clean”. In those days, the mythical firefighter may have had to use soap, rags, brushes and other hand tools to keep his fire engine sparkling and pristine. Nearly fifty years later, a relatively new technology enables firefighters and others to keep their engines free of grease, dirt and other particles: the ultrasonic cleaner.

How it Works

The generator in an ultrasonic cleaner sends electric current to transducers that generate high-frequency sound waves. The transducers are bonded to the bottom of a tank, which the user fills with water and a special detergent solution. The vibrations in the tank produce millions of tiny vacuum-filled bubbles. The bubbles reach into the holes and crevices that a brush or other hand tools can’t reach. The effect allows the water to carry the dirt, grease, and corrosion away from the engine part, leaving it clean and ready for re-use.


The ultrasonic cleaner has a wide range of applications in a modern garage. The machine can often make short work of tough jobs, such as degreasing parts. In newer cars, where electronics control such functions as fuel injection, the ultrasonic cleaner can also remove dust and other particles to allow the circuit boards and electronic sensors to function at peak efficiency.

Durability and Versatility

Modern ultrasonic cleaners are also highly durable. The washing tanks are made from high-grade alloys, not inexpensive and breakable plastics. The transducers can run at high frequencies and can last through hundreds of tasks. Some of the higher-end machines also have adjustable settings so that users can clean items that need a heavy-duty cleaning and those that require a gentler touch in the same machine.


Ultrasonic cleaners are often the ideal solution for cleaning metal surfaces, especially those that have smaller notches and crevices that would be impossible to reach with a hand tool. From heavy, milled steel parts to lighter, modern aluminum components, the ultrasonic cleaner serves as an effective cleaning method. These cleaners can also be useful in cleaning rubber parts, such as gaskets and hoses, which require a milder setting.

All Jobs, Big and Small

Ultrasonic cleaners come in many sizes for users with a wide variety of cleaning tasks. A cleaner with a thirty-two-ounce tank can sit on a tabletop for easy and frequent use. These small cleaners are highly effective at cleaning nuts, bolts and other smaller parts in a fraction of the time it would require to do the same task by hand. A benchtop unit with ¾ to 1½ gallon capacity is great for carburetor cleaning. A cleaner with a thirty-six-gallon tank can handle much larger parts, including flywheels and other components. Even larger machines can clean cylinder heads and engine blocks.

What an Ultrasonic Cleaner Removes

The combination of the detergent solution and cavitation action allows ultrasonic cleaners to remove several different types of contaminants. The machines can remove stubborn dirt, grease and oil from even the most intricate parts. For exterior parts, the cleaners can also take away rust, paint remnants other oxide films that may dull the piece’s finish.

Whatever the needs are in a garage or machine shop, you can find an ultrasonic cleaner that can handle the task. The ultrasonic cleaner is often the most efficient and least expensive way to keep a “clean machine”.


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