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I am definitely not using my ultrasonic cleaner correctly (novice)

Alecofsometrades

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Bit of a confession to start this post off- I am definitely way over my head in watchmaking right now. I have a couple of old pocket watch movements that I am trying to get running and clearly buying more tools is not going to be a solution to my problem. I can get some of them kind of running for a second but then they stop and I have to keep them going with my little air blower. I bought an ultrasonic cleaner thinking that somewhere gunk is stopping the movement from running and cleaning it would solve my problem- but I just made it worse.

I ran one movement through a tap and dish soap 10 minute 50 degree cycle, then a wash in tap water, on the same settings, then a dunk in isopropyl alcohol. The pallet fork and balance wheel got a quick bath in the one dip. I pulled the train wheels and some of the keyless works out and they were rusted up. I glanced at some of the pivots and they look horrible. I suspect that I am either not drying them off properly or more likely not using good cleaning solution. Clearly the tips I found on YouTube regarding my ultrasonic cleaner were not good, so here I am, trying another corner of the internet for advice.

Any help would be appreciated. You will likely find me on here asking more novice questions in the future.

Thanks,

Alec
 

Skutt50

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Welcome to the forum.

It is not clear if you ran the complete movement in the US or if you had the watch disassembled .

You need to strip the movement and clean (and inspect) each part. If you run the movement assembled in the US you are likely to leave pockets of water behind that will cause corrosion. Specially in the setting mechanism, in the mainspring barrel and the canon pinion region.

After you dip the parts in alcohol (to draw away the water) you need to dry the parts with warm air. If not the evaporating alcohol will cool the part and new condensation with water from the sourounding air will develop on the parts, causing corrosion.

Also you need to take the movement apart to make sure the corrosion was not something that occured before you got your hands on the movement........

Your choice of cleaning solution is not what I would use. You should buy a solution made for cleaning watch movements. On a side note I do not run parts for 10 minutes in a US. This is too long and may discolor guilded parts (remove the gould) and may even cause pits on aluminium parts. (Try cleaning a piece of aluminium foil in the US.)
 

glenhead

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TL/DR coming:

If it's been a long time since a timepiece was serviced it's almost certain that it was lubricated with natural lubricants, i.e., oils made from dinosaur juice or plants. Natural lubricants oxidize and evaporate over time and leave a residue that's danged tough to break down. The addition of dust and whatnot makes it even tougher. Tap water and soap is going to have a really hard time cutting dried out and caked on mineral-oil-based lubricants. You have to use a solvent that's closer to the stuff that dried out of the lubricant.

You don't have to get exotic with cleaning solutions. Clock or watch cleaning and rinsing solutions are another one of those things that are stupid-expensive ($50-70/gallon plus heavy shipping) once you find out what's in them. Granted, that doesn't mean I'll stop using them, but for a beginner you can roll your own easily and cheaply.

The fancy-schmancy cleaning solutions are all various blends of petroleum byproducts (to replace the stuff that evaporated from the lubricants in the first place) and some sort of soap (which latches onto the grunge once it's been released and keeps most of it from settling out). The fancy-schmancy rinsing solutions are the same petroleum byproducts without the soap. Some manufacturers add other things to the cleaners to make themselves "different", like a tiny bit of ammonia or alcohol, but those don't really add that much function. The ultrasonic cleaning machine is basically your microscopic toothbrush to scrub at the grunge and loosen it so the soap can bind to it.

To pretty nearly replicate the fancy-schmancy you need mineral spirits and Murphy's Oil Soap. That's it. You can find and buy oleic acid if you'd rather use it - it's what's in the fancy-schmancy - but Murphy's Oil Soap is available at the grocery store. Mineral spirits are available for less than $15 per gallon at Lowes-Depot. (Whatever you do, DO NOT get the "green" version of mineral spirits. I don't know what trash they add to good-old mineral spirits so they can market it to the yuppies as "green", but it ruins a perfectly good solvent.) Split the gallon of mineral spirits in half, add 1/3 cup of Murphy's to one of the halves and shake vigorously - ta daa, you have a half-gallon each of home-made fancy-schmancy cleaning and rinsing solutions.

Three to five minutes in the cleaning solution in your ultrasonic then another three minutes in rinse in the ultrasonic will get things nice and clean. Especially if you start off by pegging the holes to physically break the grunge loose. If you want to be extra careful you can do two rinses, using fresh rinse for the second rinse. That'll make more sure you don't have any residual grunge.

Straight mineral spirits dries quickly and residue-free in warm air flow. (Think a hair dryer on low speed and medium temperature.) If you want to use a quick dip in alcohol as a final-final rinse before drying that's fine, but not strictly necessary. If you do, be sure it's just a quick dip - don't want to dissolve the shellac holding in the jewels.

Hope this helps.

Glen
 

S.Humphrey

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Ultrasonic machines are not for cleaning watch movements. Together, or apart.
They are typically far to aggressive for the delicate parts in a watch and are only used to clean specific, robust components, like the case.

This video from Chronoglide is very instructive, I think.
I hope it's ok to share it here.

 

Alecofsometrades

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Sep 4, 2021
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Ultrasonic machines are not for cleaning watch movements. Together, or apart.
They are typically far to aggressive for the delicate parts in a watch and are only used to clean specific, robust components, like the case.

This video from Chronoglide is very instructive, I think.
I hope it's ok to share it here.

Thanks for sharing the chronoglide video! I have seen some of his stuff on oiling movements and they were very informative and well done. I didn't see this one so maybe I should continue to peruse his channel for more stuff. As for using the ultrasonic, I have a watch cleaning machine on my list of things to buy and is only a temporary solution. That being said, another thread mentioned that 10 minutes is perhaps too long to spend in the cleaner and that I should only use it for about half the time, which makes sense to me.
 

Alecofsometrades

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Sep 4, 2021
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TL/DR coming:

If it's been a long time since a timepiece was serviced it's almost certain that it was lubricated with natural lubricants, i.e., oils made from dinosaur juice or plants. Natural lubricants oxidize and evaporate over time and leave a residue that's danged tough to break down. The addition of dust and whatnot makes it even tougher. Tap water and soap is going to have a really hard time cutting dried out and caked on mineral-oil-based lubricants. You have to use a solvent that's closer to the stuff that dried out of the lubricant.

You don't have to get exotic with cleaning solutions. Clock or watch cleaning and rinsing solutions are another one of those things that are stupid-expensive ($50-70/gallon plus heavy shipping) once you find out what's in them. Granted, that doesn't mean I'll stop using them, but for a beginner you can roll your own easily and cheaply.

The fancy-schmancy cleaning solutions are all various blends of petroleum byproducts (to replace the stuff that evaporated from the lubricants in the first place) and some sort of soap (which latches onto the grunge once it's been released and keeps most of it from settling out). The fancy-schmancy rinsing solutions are the same petroleum byproducts without the soap. Some manufacturers add other things to the cleaners to make themselves "different", like a tiny bit of ammonia or alcohol, but those don't really add that much function. The ultrasonic cleaning machine is basically your microscopic toothbrush to scrub at the grunge and loosen it so the soap can bind to it.

To pretty nearly replicate the fancy-schmancy you need mineral spirits and Murphy's Oil Soap. That's it. You can find and buy oleic acid if you'd rather use it - it's what's in the fancy-schmancy - but Murphy's Oil Soap is available at the grocery store. Mineral spirits are available for less than $15 per gallon at Lowes-Depot. (Whatever you do, DO NOT get the "green" version of mineral spirits. I don't know what trash they add to good-old mineral spirits so they can market it to the yuppies as "green", but it ruins a perfectly good solvent.) Split the gallon of mineral spirits in half, add 1/3 cup of Murphy's to one of the halves and shake vigorously - ta daa, you have a half-gallon each of home-made fancy-schmancy cleaning and rinsing solutions.

Three to five minutes in the cleaning solution in your ultrasonic then another three minutes in rinse in the ultrasonic will get things nice and clean. Especially if you start off by pegging the holes to physically break the grunge loose. If you want to be extra careful you can do two rinses, using fresh rinse for the second rinse. That'll make more sure you don't have any residual grunge.

Straight mineral spirits dries quickly and residue-free in warm air flow. (Think a hair dryer on low speed and medium temperature.) If you want to use a quick dip in alcohol as a final-final rinse before drying that's fine, but not strictly necessary. If you do, be sure it's just a quick dip - don't want to dissolve the shellac holding in the jewels.

Hope this helps.

Glen
Thanks for putting the time into this very informative post. I have been on esslinger.com numerous times shopping for tools and have seen those unbelievably expensive cleaning solutions, hoping that there would be some way to avoid buying them. I will definitely give the Oil Soap/Mineral Spirits solution a go, for a little less time in the cleaner. Thanks again!
 

Alecofsometrades

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Sep 4, 2021
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Welcome to the forum.

It is not clear if you ran the complete movement in the US or if you had the watch disassembled .

You need to strip the movement and clean (and inspect) each part. If you run the movement assembled in the US you are likely to leave pockets of water behind that will cause corrosion. Specially in the setting mechanism, in the mainspring barrel and the canon pinion region.

After you dip the parts in alcohol (to draw away the water) you need to dry the parts with warm air. If not the evaporating alcohol will cool the part and new condensation with water from the sourounding air will develop on the parts, causing corrosion.

Also you need to take the movement apart to make sure the corrosion was not something that occured before you got your hands on the movement........

Your choice of cleaning solution is not what I would use. You should buy a solution made for cleaning watch movements. On a side note I do not run parts for 10 minutes in a US. This is too long and may discolor guilded parts (remove the gould) and may even cause pits on aluminium parts. (Try cleaning a piece of aluminium foil in the US.)
Thanks for taking the time to respond to my thread. Don't worry, I did take the time to disassemble the movement before putting it in the cleaner. I think your tip about drying with warm air is most likely the culprit to my rust problem, and I've got a cheap hair dryer on order.
 

Al J

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Ultrasonic machines are not for cleaning watch movements. Together, or apart.
They are typically far to aggressive for the delicate parts in a watch and are only used to clean specific, robust components, like the case.

This video from Chronoglide is very instructive, I think.
I hope it's ok to share it here.

Pretty much every watch company on earth would disagree with the idea that ultrasonics are not to be used on watch movement parts.

It is used routinely in every brand service center I've ever been to, in movement cleaning machines with ultrasonics included (typically along with agitation). You certainly don't want to leave plated bridges and plates in one for hours or anything, but the few minutes they are in the ultrasonic portion of the cleaning machine is fine.

Cheers, Al
 

gmorse

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Hi,

I regularly use an ultrasonic to clean old pocket watches, some over 300 years old, and I've never had any problems with parts being damaged. I use L&R 566 and I don't run it for more than 2 minutes, and of course, never on mainsprings or balance springs. The solutions are in glass containers, as demonstrated in the video, with just water and a dash of washing-up liquid in the tank, which is run for a few minutes first to de-gas it, which improves the sound transmission.

However, most of the parts in watches this old are mercury gilt, which is an extremely robust surface, and I can see that more modern, thinly plated items might not survive the frequencies involved, (42 to 56 kHz), so well. My tank doesn't have a heater, but the technology does produce a heating effect purely from the cavitation action.

I think the argument about the foil test, which is certainly a valid way of checking that the machine works at all, is a little misleading; if watches contained components only a few microns thick, then you certainly wouldn't expose them to that, but how many watches do have parts that delicate?

Regards,

Graham
 
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Skutt50

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I agree with you Graham. Really old watches have a very thick and robust gold lauer and can handle an ultrasonic.
When it comes to newer movements I personally have had guilded brass wheels loose its gold, I have had guilded plates of pocket watches change color depending on what they rested against in the tank and I have seen an Omega wrist watch movement that had lost most of its guilded surface after a some 5 minutes in an ultrasonic. I still use an ultrasonic but only in short intervals.
 

Al J

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I agree with you Graham. Really old watches have a very thick and robust gold lauer and can handle an ultrasonic.
When it comes to newer movements I personally have had guilded brass wheels loose its gold, I have had guilded plates of pocket watches change color depending on what they rested against in the tank and I have seen an Omega wrist watch movement that had lost most of its guilded surface after a some 5 minutes in an ultrasonic. I still use an ultrasonic but only in short intervals.
If the Omega was one of the copper toned plated movements, they are somewhat notorious for that plating coming off in some movements. Likely issue with surface preparation, because I've seen patterns in how the plating has come off some of them where it appears that another part may have been stuck to the bridge during cleaning - leaves a "shadow" of the other part there, indicating that cleaning in that area wasn't properly done.

Most modern cleaning machines will have at least one ultrasonic portion in them, which has been appropriately designed for movement parts, so not too strong. The automated machines limit how long the parts can be in each station.
 

karlmansson

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I think most of the time when platings come off it is a sign of previous issues with the plating. Oxidization of layers underneath the plating will create those parts “a few microns thick”.

I’m interested to see that no-one took a bite into the “home brew cleaning solution”-sandwich this time! I would stick with commercially available cleaners if I were you. I agree that the cleaners are ridiculously expensive for what they are, mine was even more so as they had to be imported and being considered both toxic and flammable that was not a cheap affair.

For clock parts I use a water based, ammoniated cleaner from concentrate and then IPA as a rinse. As others have said before me, you need to make sure that the liquid does not evaporate from the parts or in an temperature that is higher than ambient to prevent condensation forming.
 

John Runciman

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Ultrasonic machines are not for cleaning watch movements. Together, or apart.
They are typically far to aggressive for the delicate parts in a watch and are only used to clean specific, robust components, like the case.

This video from Chronoglide is very instructive, I think.
I hope it's ok to share it here.
normally his videos are quite good but I think this one is misleading? my interpretation is that he is attempting to suggest that a tank type cleaning machine is not suitable for cleaning watch parts. It would've been nice if he had shown a picture of a commercial watch cleaning machine commenting that they are designed to clean watch parts with ultrasonic energy. As opposed to the blanket statement that ultrasonic is bad no matter what. But that's my interpretation of what he's trying to show.

I snipped out an image from the video that I'm going to have a link for and that word I underlined isn't that the forbidden word ultrasonic? This is a very interesting cleaning machine currently recommended by the Omega watch company for cleaning watch movements. If you want to skip ahead at 2:50 we get to the part about ultrasonic.


I’m interested to see that no-one took a bite into the “home brew cleaning solution”-sandwich this time! I would stick with commercially available cleaners if I were you. I agree that the cleaners are ridiculously expensive for what they are, mine was even more so as they had to be imported and being considered both toxic and flammable that was not a cheap affair.

For clock parts I use a water based, ammoniated cleaner from concentrate and then IPA as a rinse. As others have said before me, you need to make sure that the liquid does not evaporate from the parts or in an temperature that is higher than ambient to prevent condensation forming.
while the cost of the cleaner and the rinse may seem astronomically expensive like a bottle of watch oil is it really? if you're careful with your use of the fluids in other words you don't have to change them every single time you'll find that a gallon will last a very long time. I didn't even go through my first gallon of watch cleaning solution because it basically just went bad because I had it so long. So on a cost basis spread out over years it's actually very economical. Unless of course you're cleaning a lot of watches then it's basically the cost of doing business.

The ammonia in the cleaning fluids is what makes things bright and shiny. There's another reason you don't want to elevate the temperature though is that it becomes too aggressive. You'll even see that on the commercial fluids do not elevate the temperature. Usually for commercial watch cleaning fluids about four minutes works fine for cleaning. If you get enthusiastic and go for longer times and then elevate the temperature you get a interesting effect. That same ammonia that takes the tarnish off will start the edge the brass and the copper goes in the solution solution turns a really interesting blue-green color.

this is also where a lot of the homemade solutions that people claim are wonderful and nice but usually they're claiming that in the discussion of having cleaning problems where in real life they're not necessarily wonderful and nice. Then other than the one gallon quantity which would be nice it would come in smaller containers for hobbyists you can even purchase it from Amazon so it's easy to get.

watch cleaning ultrasonic.JPG
 
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Chris Radek

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Like I assume all professionals do, I have an automatic cleaning machine. I use the L&R solutions. The machine agitates the parts mechanically by gently turning back and forth in the solution while the ultrasonic runs. Then it spins off excess fluid and moves to the next jar, ending with a final spin off and drying with heat+fan. I put the parts in the basket, push start, and do something else while it works. I come back to perfectly clean parts except in egregious situations. The balance and the hairspring and the pallets and the jewels and the screws all go through the machine.

This has been the state of the art for at least 50 years, and I can't imagine being without it. I clean many watches that were meant to be cleaned with ultrasonic, and simply can't be cleaned any other way.

(I didn't know until this thread that the agitation probably prevents shadows on the parts.)
 
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Buffomarinus

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Interesting...

I've used an Ultrasonic machine for cleaning pocket watch parts for the last two years without any visible problems. Perhaps my technique or the old machine is faulty, hence the lack of parts damage in the form of pits or stripped plating.

I place my parts in a small DIY stainless steel basket, suspend it in a jar of mineral turps or shellite and put the jar in the water-filled tank of the ultrasonic cleaner. So far this process has worked for me and displays good results even with microscopic inspection. In many cases I've actually left parts in the machine for up to thirty minutes or more. I don't use the machine for springs, balance wheels or pallets.

I'll have to try the aluminium foil test. It's possible that the "speaker-like" vibration producing elements under the trough of my ultrasonic cleaning machine are getting a bit old or that there is a pronounced loss of energy with the separate bottle of cleaning fluid I use.

Buffo
 

Jeffrey Smith

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After reading all the replies about using ultrasonic cleaners for cleaning watch/clock parts, I had to comment. I am retired now, but spent about 25 years as the Director of Engineering for a major ultrasonic manufacturer. These machines are used to clean everything from silicon semiconductor wafers to cast iron exhaust headers. I have written on this forum in the past about using ultrasonics about how they work, and the best way to use them. Different designs are used for different applications; for example industrial machines generally use lower frequency transducers where a more aggressive cleaning is required, where microchips, precision-machined parts, or high resolution optical lenses would use higher frequencies, some as high as 400kHz.
For watch and clock cleaning any of the commercial systems will serve the user well, as long as they are used with a suitable cleaning agent. If the agent is suitable (meaning it is meant to dissolve or clean the soils and oils/grease and have a relatively low vapor pressure to allow cavitation). Both are necessary for success. Ideally the bath should be heated which will enhance the chemical activity. That said, any of the cleaning solutions offered by L&R, Branson, Zenith, or Polychem are suitable.
I wrote a comment in this forum on Jan 25, 2020 in response to some readers comments on a You Tube video where the user promoted the use of flammables for cleaning. I invite you to read my previous posting and to also go online to read white papers from the manufacturers of such equipment....'nuff said!
 
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Dave Haynes

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I remember when the first Ultrasonic machines came out. I was working for Pacific Bell and they had one in the central office. They were a novelty at that time. The guys would take your ring and stick it in there for about 20 minutes and it came out brand new. The tiniest cracks gave up their dirt.

For watch cleaning I have a couple of L&R Masters. They are cheap when you find them and using the commercial cleaners and rinses clean very well very fast. Parts come out dry and spotless. I spent about 30 years doing this stuff and I was surprised when watchmakers told me they used the same liquids for a year. I was tossing mine out way too soon. The last rinse becomes the first rinse when fresh is added. If you leave the pallets in the cleaning solution too long the shellac softens and the stones loosen up. I would advise beginners to look for an L&R, there are hundreds of them out there. I bought a German hot rod machine for use and went right back to the L&R.
I have a Bulova marked ultrasonic. I only use it for cleaning cases and bracelets. I use Simple Green in it. I then bring the cases into the kitchen and rinse in very hot water and dry with paper towels The heat assures that they will dry completely. Canned air is my friend. There is a thing about watch equipment. During WW2 thousands of guys were trained in watchmaking and used around the world. After the war there was a huge demand because 12M kids had come in off the farm and were now buying watches that were very expensive. These trained watchmakers bought all of the stuff and started doing it for a living. They were savagely raped by crystal companies and Swiss part makers into buying "assortments" so they would have what they needed on hand. The Swiss have a dirty little secret of putting the same part in a different envelope and most used ebauche movements anyway. So when you buy an old watchmakers stuff you get hundreds of crystals you will never need, staffs that are useless and glass round crystals by the hundreds that will never be used. There will also be several sets of winders gravers, as the watchmakers figured out what they really liked. Get a mainspring gauge, a jewel gauge, hand broaching tool, good tweezers and screwdrivers, don't sell anything until you find out what it is and what it's worth. I had a Bergeon pin gauge complete set and sold it for $40 when I decided that I wouldn't ever use it. Well it was worth probably 5 times that and I'd use it a lot, if I had it. Get a staking set. Spend time taking care of your tools. If you look you will find.
 

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