“Never put electronics in water” is a message that has been drilled into us from the time we were small children. Electricity and water do not mix. Since there is no way an ultrasonic cleaner will work without a solution then you cannot use ultrasonics to clean electronics, right? Nope! That’s not the case.
Myth Buster: Electronics and Water CAN Mix!
That statement can be true, as long as your electronics are not plugged in. Unplugged electronics can be placed in water. The trick is in the ultrasonic drying. If electronics are cleaned with water, then contact points can be contaminated with any dirt and debris that is knocked loose. In order to prevent dirt from drying in place, use of chemicals during the drying process will eliminate that dirt.
You may have heard that if you use deionized water instead of tap water, your electronics will be safe. Just like with regular water, the minute you start using deionized water to do your cleaning it becomes full of dirt, dust and the contaminates you are trying to clean electronics.
The proper process after the electronics are removed from the water is what is important. There are a few chemicals that can be used in order to eliminate deposits after washing.
After removing the electronics from the water, any contact points must be cleaned with a chemical cleaner. This cleaner must function as a water displacer as well as a lubricant. This will prevent contamination of critical contact points that can cause issues with the electronics.
Do Not Worry About Those Solder Joints
It might seem that the vibration that is used in ultrasonics might damage the very delicate solder joints that are present in electronics. Fortunately, that is not how ultrasonics clean.
Ultrasonic cleaners work by creating small bubbles that appear and collapse over and over again. This process is called cavitation. Since the bubbles are what are doing the cleaning, the solder joints are safe.
A chemical used during soldering, called flux, is cleaned off of motherboards by ultrasonics at their manufacturers.
Watch Your Frequency
The one thing that you must be very careful with is the frequency. Generally, frequencies between 27 and 40 KHZ are appropriate to clean electronics. If the frequency is set too high, damage might occur.
If you are unsure what frequency you are using, or there may be some error in your ultrasonic cleaner’s settings, do not use your cleaner to clean electronics until those problems are resolved.
Experimentation to Clean Electronics May Be Necessary
Due to the wide and varied geometry of electronics, there is no one universal setting suitable for everything. You may have to experiment a bit in order to find the right mix of solution, temperature and frequency to clean electronics correctly.