How Does Ultrasonic Cleaning Work?

Ultrasonic cleaning relies on the mechanical agitation from sound pressure that disrupts the surface boundary layer to allow particles to detach and flow into the bulk fluid.

There are 3 primary forms of ultrasonic pressure that contribute to this:

  1. Direct Field Pressure (P0)

    Vibrations from oscillating transducers mounted to the cleaning tank are transferred to the cleaning liquid to create acoustic pressure waves. These sound waves oscillate at the drive frequency of the tank, rapidly changing in pressure (P+ to P-) and creating cavities or “cavitation” within a liquid.  The cavity size is a function of the Fundamental Frequency (F0).

  2. Stable Cavitation Pressure (Ps)

    Micro-bubbles (or cavities) in the liquid, generated from the direct field pressure, oscillate in size and shape causing the surrounding fluid to move. This results in strong shear forces in the vicinity of a solid surface, removing particles. This form of cavitation is also known as non-inertial cavitation.

  3. Transient Cavitation Pressure (Pt)

    When the acoustic field is strong enough (i.e., beyond the “cavitation threshold”), the cavities may oscillate to the point where they collapse resulting in shock waves that dislodge particles from a solid surface. This form of cavitation is also known as inertial cavitation.

At a given time, all mechanisms may actively contribute to particle removal overcoming attractive van der Waals, capillary, and electrostatic forces.

Please view the video that describes the various mechanisms which contribute to cleaning.

MCT-2000 Cavitation Meter Overview Video

The influence from each mechanism will depend on conditions such as the drive frequency, electrical input power, gas concentration, chemistry, temperature, and other process variables. For instance, it is generally recognized that transient cavitation is more prevalent at ultrasonic frequencies (20-500 kHz) while stable cavitation dominate at “megasonic” frequencies (> 500 kHz).  This is why higher frequencies are more common for precision cleaning processes that are sensitive to damage.