First Look: Ultrasonic Cleaner

Does the sci-fi-esque Jaycar Ultrasonic cleaner rival a traditional scrub 'n' wipe clean?

Jaycar ultrasonic cleaner

If you’d like a bit more sci-fi in your life, how about an ultrasonic cleaner? Simply submerge an object in the cleaner’s water tank, and it’s bombarded with high-pitched sound waves that leave it shiny and clean.

Commercially, ultrasonic cleaning is used on everything from golf clubs to car engine parts. Home machines can theoretically clean almost any small non-absorbent object from dentures to DVDs, but they’re usually tasked with sprucing up metal trinkets such as jewellery or glasses.

I bought a 550ml ultrasonic cleaner from Jaycar, and gathered a stack of grubby items to find out how well it works.

When I added a few drops of dishwashing liquid, the results were better than for items cleaned by the power of sound alone.

When I dropped a pair of what I thought were fairly clean glasses into the tub and hit start, hidden grease and grime immediately liquefied into what looked like plumes of rising smoke. It was certainly an impressive, if slightly sickening, sight. An ultrasonic cleaner’s sound waves are supposed to be outside the range of human hearing, but this one produced an irritating clicking buzz – clearly, not all the waves were ultrasonic.

The cleaner did its best work at the beginning. Almost all the toothpaste residue on an old toothbrush was blasted away in the first two minutes of cleaning, only for the rest to stubbornly cling on for the remaining two-and-a-half.

The manual says cleaning fluid can be added for “enhanced cleaning”. When I added a few drops of dishwashing liquid, the results were better than for items cleaned by the power of sound alone. That said, none of my objects emerged from the ultrasonic depths sparkling clean. Some of the softened muck remained attached to a bracelet, because the agitation was so weak, and a good wipe was needed to remove the last of it.

Above: before cleaning.  Below: left half after cleaning without detergent; right half after cleaning with detergent.
Above: before cleaning. Below: left half after cleaning without detergent; right half after cleaning with detergent.

To test the cleaner’s limits, I threw in an oily bicycle chain ring on the machine’s longest setting. One half was immersed in plain water and saw little improvement, and while the half with detergent looked better, it was still far from clean.

This model has a nice LCD screen and seems reasonably well constructed, though the plastic exterior looks a little cheaper than I’d expect from a $100 appliance. Its functionality is limited to three buttons (power, timer with five settings from 1½ to 7½ minutes, and start), which were stiff to press. The instruction booklet is hopeless, so learning to use the machine is like flailing in the dark – thankfully, there isn’t much that can go wrong.

With that said, the manual warns not to clean pearls as they will dissolve. However, it neglects to mention that soft stones like opal and emerald are vulnerable to damage too. Check for loose prongs before and after cleaning jewellery as well, as the vibrations can shake stones out of their settings. I’d probably avoid cleaning my expensive trinkets altogether.

Ultrasonic cleaning may suit businesses dealing with large or filthy objects, but it’s a heavy-handed way to freshen up your household items. It will probably do the job, but my advice is to try low-tech solutions first – a microfibre cloth here, a toothbrush there – before you pay $100 for some nifty visuals.

Specs: Domestic Ultrasonic Cleaner YH5408
Availability: Jaycar
Price: $96
Basket dimensions: 145x125x40mm

First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

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