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What is an Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner?

An ultrasonic jewelry cleaner.
Ultrasonic cleaners are not recommended for pearls.
An ultrasonic cleaner can be very effective for rings with many small crevices.
Ultrasonic cleaners can be used to clean gold rings.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Nicole Feliciano
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2014
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An ultrasonic jewelry cleaner is an electronic appliance designed to quickly and easily remove dirt, debris, and surface stains from most types of jewelry. It relies on ultrasonic energy and sound waves to force liquid cleanser into cracks and crevices between stones and in settings, and can polish the outer surface of most metals, too. Most professional jewelers have these sorts of machines, and many industrial models have the capacity to clean a number of pieces at once. In many places it’s also possible to buy smaller versions for individual home use. Owners need to understand which sorts of cleansing fluids to use and how to turn the machine on and off, but in most cases this is about the extent of it. The machines are generally very easy to use and clean, though some upkeep is required to keep them performing optimally.

Basic Concept

Most cleaners look like sealed tanks or closed boxes, and most can sit on top of a table or counter top. They consist of a small transducer, which works like a motor; an empty chamber that users fill with fluid; and an insert basket where the jewelry needing cleaning is placed. The basket submerges the jewelry but doesn’t allow it to touch the bottom or float freely. Any dirt or debris that comes off falls to the bottom where it can be cleaned out later, and the jewels are left soaking at the top.

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How It Works

The main role of the transducer is to produce ultrasonic energy that bounces around the cleaning chamber. This sort of energy travels by sound waves and is very powerful. It also tends to bounce off of metals and other hard, non-porous materials like diamonds and most precious gems. Using ultrasonic energy is a lot more effective than just soaking dirty jewels or scrubbing them by hand, since the sound waves can get in between even very tiny grooves and can eliminate dirt on a microscopic level.

On average, ultrasonic jewelry cleaners emit at least 40,000 sound waves per second. The resulting vibrating motion creates microscopic bubbles in the water or cleaning solution in a process called cavitation, during which millions of tiny bubbles knock into one another and into the items resting in the insert basket. The cavitation process gently knocks dirt off the jewelry all while barely touching it. Provided the machine is built properly, the waves, while very powerful, will not actually leave the cleaning chamber and don’t pose any sort of risk.

Models and Options

Ultrasonic jewelry cleaners tend to be pretty expensive, and they’re mostly used by people who need to do a lot of cleaning every day. Professional jewelers, estate agents, and auctioneers are some of the people who might be interested in an industrial grade device. Most of these tend to be somewhat large, and often have the capacity to clean many different pieces at once. Most have different settings when it comes to temperature and clean time.

Smaller models that can clean only a single bracelet, ring, or necklace before needing to be reset are sometimes often available. These are popular with people who have a lot of jewelry needing cleaning on a regular basis. Celebrities, public figures, and the wealthy elite are some of the most common purchasers of these sorts of “use at home” devices, though they’re available to the general public, too. People sometimes also use these sorts of devices to clean other things like eyeglasses that have a lot of grooves and crevices.

Usage Tips

Success with an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner usually depends on two main factors: using the proper cleaning fluid and paying attention to what sort of jewels are being soaked. Most machines will work with little more than warm water, but the results are often better with some more aggressive cleaning fluid, particularly if there’s a lot of dirt. Most experts recommend a non-ionic surfactant, detergent, or ammonia. Cleaning agents with bleach and acids should generally be avoided since these can harm even very resilient metals.

Not all jewelry is suitable for cleaning in one of these sorts of devices. Most manufacturers do not recommend exposing opals, pearls, emeralds, coral, or other soft materials to ultrasonic waves since the waves could actually penetrate the surface of these substances and could cause them to erode or weaken. Ultrasonic cleaning generally works best on hard stones set in gold or platinum.

People usually also need to be careful to regularly clean their devices, and to drain them completely between uses. Standing water, even water that is mainly a cleaning fluid, can harbor bacteria. Chemical deposits or residues can also clog the transducer ports, which can limit the ability of the ultrasonic waves to get into the chamber in the first place.

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Discuss this Article

anon283416
Post 11

Does the machine make any noise? How do I know it's working?

SkittisH
Post 10

@hanley79 - Great post, you pretty much explained exactly what I was going to tell seHiro to answer their questions, there. Let me add a comment for seHiro and anybody else who has never used an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner: this seems complicated, but it really isn't.

You might get anxious about what cleansers to use, how to dilute and mix them, how to put the jewelry inside the tank or basket just right and how long to run the machine, but chill out -- it's quick and easy!

Here's a quick summary:

1. Dilute cleanser by following the instructions on the back of the bottle. It should just mix with water. Also, always make sure to buy actual cleanser -- makeshift stuff doesn't work as well.

2. Basket is optional.

3. Each cleaning takes five minutes, tops -- and ultrasonic jewelry cleaners have timers built in.

4. Don't be alarmed if one cleaning doesn't make the jewelry perfectly sparkly. You can run the same piece through the cleaner multiple times to get it extra clean -- I usually go with twice for daily wear, five times if I want the gems flawless for a big party or something.

That's it. Happy cleaning!

hanley79
Post 9

@seHiro - You'll be happy to hear that you can indeed wash multiple pieces of jewelry at the same time -- if your ultrasonic jewelry cleaner is authentic.

If it's one of those knockoffs with regular motors as anon10659 mentioned, it's not safe since the unit's just vibrating the jewelry around instead of creating ultrasonic waves. I own a Branson B200 ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, one of the authentic microscopic-level cleaners, and it does a fantastic job of cleaning my earrings when I put them in in pairs.

Also, no, you don't need the basket to use your secondhand ultrasonic jewelry cleaner -- also provided it's authentic. The basket in mine is removable, and I think it's intended to be used when I want to wash whole jewelry sets. For example, I could put a necklace in the tank and a pair of earrings in the basket.

Though the cleaning process doesn't hit them together hard or anything, it could still be a pain if the earrings got tangled up in the necklace's chain or anything, so I think the basket is just for convenience's sake.

Hope this helps you out -- there's nothing like fresh clean, shiny jewelry!

seHiro
Post 8

If you can just put the jewelry into the tank directly, why do ultrasonic jewelry cleaning machines have baskets at all? It sounds like it's perfectly safe for the jewelry to touch each other in the tank; the cavitation process doesn't really jostle things around or hit them together hard since it's just zillions of teeny tiny gentle bubbles.

Or is it bad to put jewelry in there together? Do you have to wash items one at a time? That would make washing earrings a pain -- one cleaning for each earring!

If anybody who has used one of these machines can tell me more about how much jewelry it's okay to put inside at once and whether the basket is actually that important to have, please let me know. I picked up an Ultrasonic jewelry cleaner cheap used, but the basket part is missing, and I want to know if it's still usable.

malmal
Post 7

@anon10659 - Thanks for this comment. I was curious how a motor could create Ultrasonic waves. I thought they were more than mere vibrations.

The "cavitation" effect explained here sounds like a very creative and effective method for cleaning jewelry -- too bad it doesn't work for softer gemstones like opals, because they tend to be my favorites. I have more jewelry with opals than any other stone.

If you can't use an Ultrasonic cleaner for cleaning opals and other softer stones, what can you use that's more effective than traditional cleaners? I'm sure there must be a technological wonder for us soft gemstone wearers, too, right?

anon23391
Post 4

Ammonia is a very ionic surfactant. Non-ionic surfactants are some laundry detergents. Woolite is safe for wool fabrics precisely because it is non-ionic.

anon10659
Post 2

Ultrasonic cleaners use Ultrasonic transducers to produce the ultrasonic waves. Not "Motors". Some cheap knock off use motors and advertise themselves as ultrasonic cleaners when they are not.

anon4672
Post 1

what is an example of a non-ionic surfactant? What besides ammonia would make a good cleaning solution to add?

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