Many scientists use an ultrasonic cleaner to remove grunge from glassware and more. This method uses high-frequency waves to create fast-growing bubbles that burst in contact with a surface, and that causes cleaning.
“Customers purchase ultrasonic cleaners for a variety of reasons,” says David Hayes, global product manager at Cole-Parmer (Vernon Hills, IL). “They are used in a wide variety of industries and applications.” Typical samples include hard metals, ceramics, glass, and plastic. “Almost any non-porous item that can normally be immersed in water can be cleaned,” adds Hayes.
In a lab, an ultrasonic cleaner is commonly used for “cleaning labware and glassware by removing dirt and grime, which would normally require tedious manual cleaning,” Hayes explains. Many companies make these devices, and they come in a wide range of models. When asked what features of an ultrasonic cleaner are the most important, Hayes provides a list:
- Degas mode for improved cleaning efficiency and easy sample preparation
- Multiple power settings that handle normal or delicate cleaning
- Controls for temperature, surface tension, viscosity, and density of the liquid
- Sturdy rubber feet that prevent movement during use
- Leakproof housing
- For larger size units (6 liters or more), external drains are ideal for easy replenishment of cleaning solutions
- Perforated or mesh trays to suspend items to prevent transducer damage
When designing a new lab or renovating one, look for the features in an ultrasonic cleaner that best complement the work done in the lab. To expand the applications of a single ultrasonic cleaner, also consider the accessories, such as trays of various sizes, shapes, and designs. As noted in an example below, the fluid used in an ultrasonic cleaner also impacts its efficacy.
Ultrasonic cleaners are suited to an extensive range of applications other than cleaning. “Ultrasonic cleaners are also used for cell separation, sample preparation, and degassing of liquids, such as degassing of HPLC solvents, emulsifying, and dispersing,” Hayes says.
Then, some even more unexpected applications arise. As an example, scientists in India used an ultrasonic cleaner in making a barium stannate-graphitic carbon nitride nanocomposite (BSO-gCN). The scientists noted that the material developed with this method “could be a potential candidate for electrochemical sensor applications.”
In China, scientists used an ultrasonic cleaner set at various frequencies—28, 45, and 100 kilohertz—in preparing a food called peanut sprout, which contains resveratrol. Some studies connect this polyphenol with a range of potential health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-tumor activity. The team of scientists in China concluded “ultrasound treatment combined with germination can be an effective method for producing enriched-resveratrol and poor allergic protein peanut sprout as a functional vegetable.”
Beyond preparing peanut-based foods, an ultrasonic cleaner also has applications in pathology. In Japan, scientists filled an ultrasonic cleaner with a decalcification fluid and used it to prepare hard tissues, such as bones, for histopathology. They noted the procedure was effective for decalcifying hard tissue with minimal damage.
From peanut processing and pathology to sensor studies and more, ultrasonic cleaners go far beyond cleaning. That said, these platforms should not be underestimated for cleaning capabilities—uses that are required in basic and industrial research, as well as health care applications, such as cleaning surgical instruments. So, think of ways to shake up the research in a lab. It might trigger more than cleaner beakers.