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  1. #1
    cab horn
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    Investing in ultrasonic cleaners

    I'm polling for general information on anyone who uses ultrasonic cleaners. In particular i'd like to hear from anyone who's used one in a shop environment or at home.

    I want to know several things

    1) The make/model of the cleaner used + capacity
    2) How well it cleans really gunked up mud/dirt (we're a road shop so nobody is fording muddy streams)
    3) Cycle time for cleaning
    3) Whether ultrasonic lubrication is equivalent to or as good as overhauling and *greasing* a component
    4) Whether it was worth the cost

    Our shop places extra emphasis on having clean frames/components which eats up significant amount of labour. If ultrasonic cleaners help us do this faster and more efficiently i'm all ears. I'm not too concerned with price as long as we can recoup our investment in a timely fashion.
    Mes compaingnons cui j'amoie et cui j'aim,... Me di, chanson.

  2. #2
    Senior Member mechBgon's Avatar
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    Our shop used to have a pretty fancy one (sorry, don't know the make/model) and it was slow and didn't clean stuff well. Furthermore, I understood that the special fluid was expensive. I wish I could be more specific, but when the store got sold, the previous owner was more than welcome to take the ultrasonic cleaner with him, so it's gone.

  3. #3
    Grizzled Curmudgeon keithm0's Avatar
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    My father used one many years ago in his TV repair shop to clean mechanical TV tuners. (Back when TVs actually had rotating dials -- that's how long ago it was.) You'd probably be surprised at how gunked-up a mechanical TV tuner can get. His ultrasonic cleaner did an awesome job of degreasing. He had a friend who often worked on cars, and occasionally my father would clean a filthy carburetor for him. The carbs always ended up looking cleaner than when they were new. I suspect it would work well for degreasing bike components.

    He used trichloroethane as a cleaning fluid. My understanding is that this is no longer available (due to ozone depletion) and the replacement fluids are not nearly as effective.

    The trichloroethane was very expensive at the time. To keep his costs under control, he built a still (large glass flask, condenser tube, heat lamp, a bucket of water, and a small pump to circulate water between the bucket and the condenser) and distilled the dirty fluid. This was very effective, and he basically had to only replace fluid lost due to evaporation. The downside was that the sludge left at the bottom of the glass flask was probably worthy of becoming its own superfund site. I think he just dumped it in the trash. (This was back in the late 70's. Nobody cared then.)

  4. #4
    Senior Member Shimagnolo's Avatar
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    http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/cta...112&zmap=95563

    $60 plus shipping.
    I found the exact same unit elsewhere under 3 different brand names for up to twice the cost.
    I LOVE it!
    I use it with Simple Green.
    Not only is it great for bike parts, (especially filthy chains), but it is fantastic on eyeglasses and sunglasses.

    A word of warning: When cleaning plastic things like sunglasses, do *not* turn on the heating element!
    I learned that the hard way.

  5. #5
    Senior Member onbike 1939's Avatar
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    I have a small one made for jewellers and it works a treat on bike components. We do have a large version for shop use and are investigating the cost of operating this. We have been approached by a company offering to provide the cleansing liquid and operating a monthly disposal service for a fee. I use washing-up liquid in my small one and it seems to work just fine. I'm now wondering if this would work in the large workshop machine also.

  6. #6
    word. Altmangf's Avatar
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    I used to work at a shop that had an ultrasonic cleaner, and I loved it. Sorry, but I can't remember the model or manufacturer of the machine. It looked like a stainless steel deep fryer, complete with basket. The unit heated the cleaning solution, and ran it's cycle on a timer. I was told that the cost of the machine was around $800USD.

    The degreasing fluid was detergent based, so there was no objectionable odor associated with it's use. To use the machine, the operator would place the parts to be cleaned in the basket, close the lid, and turn the dial. Run time for cleaning a load of parts was around ten minutes. After the cycle had run it's course, the parts would be rinsed under a strong jet of water, then dried with compressed air. This would remove any residual dirt and grease. Last, you'd lubricate and reassemble parts as needed.

    Using the ultrasonic cleaner made cleaning parts less of a chore. No more tedious picking and flossing at small crevices, and no drain bamaging brake cleaner fumes. Get a large unit, big enough to fit cranks and chain rings into the basket, you won't regret it.

    Our parts cleaner was similar in appearance to this model;
    http://www.amazon.com/Gallon-CP1100H.../dp/B00195WJ68

    I don't know if the parts cleaner was cost effective. I've always been particular about maintaining a high level of cleanliness during an overhaul, and having access to that tool made the work easier. In many cases, it allowed me to get components cleaner then doing the job by hand. It's too bad that I can't convince management at my current place of employment to buy one of these machines.

    I have never used an ultrasonic lubricator. I too am curious as to how well it would work with bicycle parts.

  7. #7
    Senior Member Iowegian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shimagnolo View Post
    http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/cta...112&zmap=95563

    $60 plus shipping.
    I found the exact same unit elsewhere under 3 different brand names for up to twice the cost.
    I LOVE it!
    I use it with Simple Green.
    +1. I have this model as well. I'd consider it too small for shop use, but for RD's, FD's, etc the parts come out clean as new. Normal cycle time is 3 minutes but you can adjust that if needed.

  8. #8
    Member foodman's Avatar
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    MY shop has one and it sucks! don't get one. I still use the old varsol auto parts cleaning machine, works so much better. Really you don't even have to change the varsol all that often either. Or you can use citrus varsol substitute to be more environmentally friendly.

  9. #9
    DRF aka Thrifty Bill wrk101's Avatar
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    I was planning on buying one of those HF units. Wish there was more of a consensus on the topic.....

  10. #10
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    I bought a Haier jewelry cleaner from wal-mart. I just use it on my chains and it does a great job. In a shop you would need a large comercial unit.
    I think you would still at least wipe the heavy stuff off before going into the cleaner.

  11. #11
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    The new REI shop in Robinson Township, PA (just outside of Pittsburgh) has a large ultrasonic cleaner in it's bike repair shop and the mechanic there seemed quite enthusiastic about it when I last talked to him. You might give them a call and get his take first hand. He should be able to tell you the make, model and cost of the unit they have as well as what cleaning fluid they use.

    Here is the store location and phone number:

    Settlers Ridge REI Store
    600 Settlers Ridge Center Drive
    Pittsburgh, PA 15205
    (412) 747-1180

  12. #12
    elcraft
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    I have used a number of Ultrasonic cleaners in my years as a Jeweler. Although I have no experience with the Harbor Freight unit, I have used a lot of professional units that a Professional shop might want to invest in. These are much more expensive than the Harbor Freight units- they are generally $250 and up! There is a critical ratio of transducer to tank size that seems to require at least 3/4 gallon size, in order to be effective (anything smaller limits the size of component you can put in, anyway!). I have used various 1/2 gallon sizes and have found the cavitation action too feeble. The brands I like best are Branson, Healthsonics (also privately labeled for the Gesswein Co. in Conn.), and Crest. Some of the imported makes like the Italian Ceia and German-made Elma units work really well, but are not as user serviceable. I haven’t been terribly impressed with any product by L & R.
    I try to get the types that have heaters, but not built-in timers. The timer control units seem to get crudded up and are less than reliable. I try to look for units that have easily replacable, end-user friendly designs; something like only having to remove a single panel to gain access to the switches. The switches, of course, are the part that wears out on a regular basis. If the personnel in the shop cannot easily replace the switches, then the units will need to be shipped to a repair facility. Clearly, this will not be conducive to their intended mission!
    As for a cleaning solution, almost anything will work. There is a powdered green/orange degreaser used in commercial garages that works really well- I don't know the name of the product. I use a re-branded version, specific to the Jewelery trade, called “Magic Green”. If I come across its more common garage- degreaser name, I will post it later. Simple Green is quite effective, as well.
    There are essentially three ingredients that make for a successful cleaning solution; #1 degreaser, #2 detergent, and #3 a surfactant or wetting agent . You can use something as simple as ammonia (if you can stand the smell) as a degreaser and even Dishwashing or automatic dishwasher soap as the detergent. The easiest type of surfactant/wetting agent to get one’s hands on is none other than Jet-Dry. This is the stuff used in automatic dishwashing machines. Actually, “Mr. Clean” and “Top Job” have this necessary triple formula.
    I absolutely love using my ultrasonic to clean the drive train components! Cassettes and chains are literally “surgically clean”. If you let the solution settle, you can pour off the clean part and dispense with the crud and residue in the bottom of the ultrasonic separately.

  13. #13
    Senior member Dan Burkhart's Avatar
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    I bought my Omegasonics unit about 5 years ago. It's a table top unit, model 950. They have made changes to the lineup since then.
    The nearest comparable unit size and capacity wise is the 7800.
    http://www.omegasonics.com/industrial/table_top.shtml
    It definitely is a labour saver. I've used it on some pretty gunked up parts, and the results are impressive. I have some before and after pictures somewhere on file here, at least I thought I did, but I can't seem to track them down.
    When I ordered the unit, I bought a 5 gallon container of Omegasonic's solvent with it, but when that was used up, I bought my solvent from Safety Kleen, whom I also contracted as my disposal agent for the waste fluid.
    I had a connection with Safety Kleen, as they were my employer for 17 years before I opened my shop. They also sold ultrasonic machines, but even as an employee with discounts, their machines were several times more expensive than the Omegasonics unit, and I was not convinced it was worth the premium.
    I've been very happy with the Omegasonics, with the only issue being a blown fuse on the heater. The fuse was a type I could not readily find a replacement for, so I just spliced in an in line fuse. Been working fine ever since.
    Only thing I'd do different if I were doing it over? Get the bigger one.
    Gearhubs demystified and other cool stuff.


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  14. #14
    Senior Member masi61's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Burkhart View Post
    I bought my Omegasonics unit about 5 years ago. It's a table top unit, model 950. They have made changes to the lineup since then.
    The nearest comparable unit size and capacity wise is the 7800.
    http://www.omegasonics.com/industrial/table_top.shtml
    It definitely is a labour saver. I've used it on some pretty gunked up parts, and the results are impressive. I have some before and after pictures somewhere on file here, at least I thought I did, but I can't seem to track them down.
    When I ordered the unit, I bought a 5 gallon container of Omegasonic's solvent with it, but when that was used up, I bought my solvent from Safety Kleen, whom I also contracted as my disposal agent for the waste fluid.
    I had a connection with Safety Kleen, as they were my employer for 17 years before I opened my shop. They also sold ultrasonic machines, but even as an employee with discounts, their machines were several times more expensive than the Omegasonics unit, and I was not convinced it was worth the premium.
    I've been very happy with the Omegasonics, with the only issue being a blown fuse on the heater. The fuse was a type I could not readily find a replacement for, so I just spliced in an in line fuse. Been working fine ever since.
    Only thing I'd do different if I were doing it over? Get the bigger one.
    thanks for actually providing brand names. I'm interested in the Branson brand ones. The 8510 looks like it would be great for bike parts but full retail is like $1600. There is an ebay seller that is selling a line of ultrasonic cleaners which are made in USA. The largest one holds 14 liters of fluid and includes a drain. It retails for $450. Here's the auction for it: http://cgi.ebay.com/PROSONIX-3-5-GAL...#ht_974wt_1167 . It looks like a nice unit and the feedback for this seller has been good. The only thing stopping me from trying it out is the fact that these guys have no website and the brand is not established like Bransonic or Crest. Has anyone used one of these? Would the 14Liter one be best for chains, cassettes and cranks?

  15. #15
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    I have a Branson 5510, one step down in size from the 8510. (2.5 gal vs. 5.5 gal) I use Liqui-Nox detergent for cleaning all my parts. Usually 10-20 minutes is enough to get anything clean. It's especially good at getting dirt and grit out of small nooks and crannies. I would suggest getting some small wire mesh baskets to clean small parts in, and maybe a couple of glass beakers. The beakers are nice for cleaning really nasty parts (e.g. chains) because you don't contaminate your entire tank. In fact, I usually fill the tank with water and put the detergent in just the beaker. You use much less detergent and there's less mess that way.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by operator View Post
    I'm polling for general information on anyone who uses ultrasonic cleaners. In particular i'd like to hear from anyone who's used one in a shop environment or at home.
    What did you end up deciding?

    I have two ultrasonic cleaners now: a 1.6 gal one with heat and a drain (both highly recommended features!), and a cheap HarborFreight 1 pint unit I just picked up for ~$30 (which has neither). I was thinking about using the little one to degrease my wheel bearings before repacking....

    I found this old thread which suggests Simple Green - are folks still using that in their ultrasonic cleaners?


    Quote Originally Posted by operator View Post
    2) How well it cleans really gunked up mud/dirt (we're a road shop so nobody is fording muddy streams)
    3) Whether ultrasonic lubrication is equivalent to or as good as overhauling and *greasing* a component
    4) Whether it was worth the cost
    I've only used my larger unit for cleaning firearms, but I can answer in that context:
    2) VERY well! Parts look new or better than new.
    3) NO - I use an ultrasonic lube just to displace the water but lube everything as normal after that. The u/s lubes I've experience with are no substitute for a "real" lube. They're effective at getting SOME kind of lube everywhere, but do NOT hold up like your favorite real lube.
    4) Oh yeah! Cleaning time may or may not go down, but cleaning EFFORT is way down.

    Richard

  17. #17
    cab horn
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    Quote Originally Posted by rsolomon View Post
    What did you end up deciding?

    I have two ultrasonic cleaners now: a 1.6 gal one with heat and a drain (both highly recommended features!), and a cheap HarborFreight 1 pint unit I just picked up for ~$30 (which has neither). I was thinking about using the little one to degrease my wheel bearings before repacking....

    I found this old thread which suggests Simple Green - are folks still using that in their ultrasonic cleaners?




    I've only used my larger unit for cleaning firearms, but I can answer in that context:
    2) VERY well! Parts look new or better than new.
    3) NO - I use an ultrasonic lube just to displace the water but lube everything as normal after that. The u/s lubes I've experience with are no substitute for a "real" lube. They're effective at getting SOME kind of lube everywhere, but do NOT hold up like your favorite real lube.
    4) Oh yeah! Cleaning time may or may not go down, but cleaning EFFORT is way down.

    Richard
    We ended up deciding on getting a unit big enough to dunk an entire crankset into - we're going to make the full investment. It's about ~ $10k for the entire unit.
    Mes compaingnons cui j'amoie et cui j'aim,... Me di, chanson.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by operator View Post
    We ended up deciding on getting a unit big enough to dunk an entire crankset into - we're going to make the full investment. It's about ~ $10k for the entire unit.
    I think you'll LOVE it - congrats! At that size/volume you may want to contract with a service - we poor home users just filter and re-use

    Richard

  19. #19
    Senior Member Shimagnolo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by operator View Post
    We ended up deciding on getting a unit big enough to dunk an entire crankset into - we're going to make the full investment. It's about ~ $10k for the entire unit.
    Oh, that would be sooo....nice to have one that size!
    I have the larger Harbor Freight unit.
    I just cleaned two really grubby cranksets recently, and it was such an annoyance to have to disassemble them.
    And of course the two larger chainrings had to be scrubbed by hand.
    Can't see springing for $10K just for personal use.

  20. #20
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    Quick tip:

    Put the dirty part, and cleaning fluid of your choice, in a disposable container (Glad, old peanut butter jar, margarine tub, whatever) that fits easily within the cleaner, and couple to cleaner with plain water. For my bike parts, I borrow the services of our lab unit, and this method keeps it clean enough for general use. Note: have the fluid level of the container match that of the cleaner for proper coupling.

    If your cleaner doesn't have a heater, just pre-heat the container full of cleaner in the nearest microwave, add dirty part, and hit "go".

  21. #21
    Senior member Dan Burkhart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by operator View Post
    We ended up deciding on getting a unit big enough to dunk an entire crankset into - we're going to make the full investment. It's about ~ $10k for the entire unit.
    You should know that aluminum will be slightly discoloured by the process and the discolouration will not be consistent.
    Careful about putting the whole cranksets in. I just do the chainrings.
    Gearhubs demystified and other cool stuff.


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  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Staggerwing View Post
    Put the dirty part, and cleaning fluid of your choice, in a disposable container (Glad, old peanut butter jar, margarine tub, whatever) that fits easily within the cleaner, and couple to cleaner with plain water.
    Wow! What a great idea!!! I'll have to try that myself! That might make the drain more of a don't care....

    What are folks using for cleaning fluid? The last thread I found on the subject suggested Simple Green - either full strength or 50/50. It wasn't clear to me if "full strength" meant undiluted at all, or at the 1:10 ratio the bottle lists as "full strength".

    Richard

  23. #23
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    hi...I'm a rep for CMR Sales..our ultrasonic tanks are the ones currently in over 90 REI shops...there are a lot of junk ultrasonic cleaners out there that give ultrasonics a bad name...as well as not following instructions correctly...our product and procedure is pretty impressive if you follow the procedure correctly...just ask any REI shop...if anyone has questions visit our website where you can find my contact

    www.bikecleaners.com
    greg

  24. #24
    Senior member Dan Burkhart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bikecleaners View Post
    hi...I'm a rep for CMR Sales..our ultrasonic tanks are the ones currently in over 90 REI shops...there are a lot of junk ultrasonic cleaners out there that give ultrasonics a bad name...as well as not following instructions correctly...our product and procedure is pretty impressive if you follow the procedure correctly...just ask any REI shop...if anyone has questions visit our website where you can find my contact

    www.bikecleaners.com
    greg
    Your units bear a strong resemblance to Omegasonics machines. Is that your source or is that one of the junk brands you referenced?
    BTW, I have an Omegasonics and I am very happy with it.
    Gearhubs demystified and other cool stuff.


    Rule #12: The correct number of bikes to own is n+1

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