How to Use an Ultrasonic Cleaner to Restore Electronics and PCBs

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What is Ultrasonic Restoration for Electronics and PCBs?

Ultrasonic restoration is a cleaning technique that uses high frequency sound waves to remove dirt, grime, corrosion, and other contaminants from electronic components and printed circuit boards (PCBs). The ultrasonic waves create millions of microscopic bubbles that rapidly form and collapse, generating intense scrubbing action that can penetrate into tiny crevices and hard-to-reach areas.

Ultrasonic cleaning is particularly effective for restoring old or damaged electronics and PCBs because it can safely remove stubborn buildup without damaging delicate components. It is often used by hobbyists, repair technicians, and professional restorers to bring vintage electronics back to life or salvage parts from corroded boards.

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Benefits of Ultrasonic Cleaning for Electronics Restoration

There are several key advantages to using an ultrasonic cleaner for restoring electronics and PCBs:

  • Thorough cleaning: Ultrasonic waves can reach into tiny spaces between components and under chips that are difficult or impossible to clean by hand.

  • Damage-free: Unlike abrasive cleaning methods, ultrasonic cleaning is gentle enough for fragile electronic parts.

  • Time-saving: Ultrasonic cleaners can dramatically speed up the restoration process compared to manual cleaning.

  • Effective on heavy corrosion: Ultrasonic waves can break up and remove thick oxidation and corrosion.

  • Eco-friendly: Ultrasonic cleaning uses biodegradable cleaning solutions instead of harsh solvents.

What You Need for Ultrasonic Electronics Restoration

To get started with ultrasonic restoration, you will need the following equipment and supplies:

  1. Ultrasonic cleaner: Choose a model with a tank large enough to accommodate your biggest PCBs and a strong enough power rating (measured in watts) for heavy-duty cleaning. Heated cleaners are best for removing stubborn contamination.

  2. Cleaning solution: Use a cleaning solution specifically designed for electronics and PCBs. Avoid harsh chemicals that can damage components.

  3. Rinse bath: Set up a separate container filled with distilled water for rinsing cleaned items.

  4. Drying station: Prepare an area for air drying cleaned boards, such as a rack or absorbent towels.

  5. Personal protective equipment: Wear gloves, safety glasses, and an apron to protect yourself from splashes.

  6. Tools: Have basic electronic repair tools on hand, such as tweezers, screwdrivers, and a magnifying lamp for inspection.

Step-by-Step Guide to Ultrasonic PCB Restoration

Follow these steps to ultrasonically restore an electronic device or PCB:

  1. Preparation
  2. Disconnect power and remove batteries from the device.
  3. Disassemble the device and remove the PCB, taking photos to document the original configuration if needed.
  4. Inspect the PCB for visible damage and make any necessary repairs.

  5. Pre-Cleaning (Optional)

    • If the PCB has heavy contamination, soak it in a bath of cleaning solution for 5-10 minutes before ultrasonic cleaning.
    • Use a soft brush to dislodge loose debris.
  6. Ultrasonic Cleaning

  7. Fill the ultrasonic cleaner with electronics-safe cleaning solution according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  8. If your cleaner has a heater, set the temperature to 50-60°C (120-140°F) for best results.
  9. Place the PCB in the cleaner basket, making sure it is fully submerged. Do not overload the basket.
  10. Run the cleaner for 5-30 minutes, depending on the level of contamination. Check periodically and remove when clean.

  11. Rinsing

  12. Remove the PCB from the ultrasonic cleaner using tongs or gloves to avoid skin contact with the cleaning solution.
  13. Immerse the PCB in the rinse bath of distilled water to remove any remaining cleaning solution.
  14. Gently agitate the board in the water for 1-2 minutes.

  15. Drying

  16. Shake off excess water from the PCB and place it on a drying rack or towel.
  17. Use compressed air or a hair dryer on the “cool” setting to blow moisture out of tight spaces and speed up drying time.
  18. Allow the PCB to air dry completely for several hours or overnight before reassembly.

  19. Inspection & Testing

  20. Visually inspect the PCB under magnification to check for any remaining contamination or damage.
  21. If the PCB appears clean, reassemble the device and test its function.
  22. Repeat the ultrasonic cleaning process if needed until the desired level of cleanliness is achieved.

Ultrasonic Cleaning Solution Comparison

Using the right cleaning solution is crucial for achieving optimal results and preventing damage during ultrasonic restoration. Here is a comparison of some popular options:

Cleaning Solution Description Pros Cons
Isopropyl Alcohol 90%+ Inexpensive and readily available general-purpose solvent Effective on light contamination, evaporates quickly Flammable, can damage some plastics
Branson EC Concentrated all-purpose cleaner for electronics Biodegradable, removes wide range of soils Must be diluted, moderately expensive
Liquinox Aqueous detergent for critical cleaning of PCBs Residue-free, excellent wetting properties May require heating, limited availability
MicroCare ‘Citra-Satz’ Citrus-based electronics cleaner Fast-evaporating, eliminates need for alcohol rinse Strong odor, moderately expensive

For most PCB restoration projects, a 50/50 mix of 99% isopropyl alcohol and distilled water provides good cleaning performance at low cost. More heavily corroded boards may require a specialized electronics cleaner like EC or MicroCare for the initial cleaning, followed by an alcohol rinse.

Tips for Successful Ultrasonic Restoration

  • Start with the mildest cleaning solution and shortest time that gets the job done to minimize the risk of damage.

  • If a PCB has batteries or electrolytic capacitors, remove them before cleaning to avoid leakage.

  • For best results, preheat the cleaning solution to 50-60°C (120-140°F). Avoid exceeding 70°C (160°F) as this can damage some components.

  • Rotate or flip the PCB halfway through the cleaning cycle to ensure even coverage.

  • If the contaminants are not completely removed after 30 minutes, empty the tank, refill with fresh solution, and repeat the cleaning cycle.

  • Use only distilled water for rinsing to avoid introducing new contaminants.

  • Make sure boards are completely dry before applying power to prevent short circuits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can ultrasonic cleaning damage electronic components?

When used properly with the correct solution, ultrasonic cleaning is safe for most electronic components. However, it is possible to damage parts by using overly aggressive chemicals, excessively long cleaning times, or high temperatures. Always start with the gentlest effective method and monitor the cleaning process closely.

How often should I change the ultrasonic cleaning solution?

The cleaning solution should be changed when it becomes visibly dirty or loses its effectiveness. Depending on use, this may be after 10-20 cleaning cycles. Dispose of spent solution properly and clean the tank thoroughly before refilling.

Can I use tap water instead of distilled water for rinsing?

Tap water can leave mineral deposits or introduce new contaminants to the PCB. For best results, always use distilled or deionized water for the rinse bath.

Is ultrasonic cleaning effective for removing solder flux?

Yes, ultrasonic cleaning with a suitable solution can remove solder flux residue from PCBs. For heavy flux buildup, a pre-soak in isopropyl alcohol followed by ultrasonic cleaning may be necessary.

Can I use my ultrasonic jewelry cleaner for PCBs?

Jewelry cleaners often run at higher frequencies and use different solutions than electronics cleaners. While it may work for light-duty cleaning, a dedicated ultrasonic cleaner designed for electronics will provide better results and a lower risk of damage.


Ultrasonic cleaning is a powerful tool for restoring electronics and PCBs to like-new condition. By using the right equipment and techniques, even heavily corroded boards can be salvaged.

Remember to always use electronics-safe solutions, monitor the cleaning process carefully, and thoroughly dry boards before applying power. With practice and attention to detail, ultrasonic restoration can save time and money while extending the life of valuable electronic devices.