I’m getting sick of trying to clean off polishing compounds without
destroying the polish I have spent time achieving and am wondering if
an ultrasonic cleaner is the way to go. Unfortunately I know nothing
about them! Is there another way and if not any recommendations on
what the features to look for in an ultrasonic bath are? There seem
to be a lot on the market and a huge variation in price. I am a
hobbyist but may go professional one day so don’t want something that
will die after a couple of years.
Thanks in anticipation.
Ultrasonics are not without their problems. The main advantage is
speed, and that they really get into all the crevices. But a faster
more powerful one can also literally etch into the high polish,
particularly on soft metals. Cast silver seems an especially frequent
example. And a good ultrasonic is pricey.
You might consider the “old” way. Before ultrasonics, jewelers used
what’s called a “boil out pot”. Boiling or near boiling hot, water
with strongly alkaline cleaner. TSP works, lye works even better.
Nasty strong cleaners, but they’ll cut right through the polish
compound, and most stones and all metals are not affected. If you use
TSP, you might add some ammonia too. If you want gentler (and you
will, if you’ve got poor ventilation), then use BCR commercial mix or
a similar cleaner. If the brand you choose does not already have
noticable ammonia, add some. These things are specifically made to
clean polishing compounds off. They will not harm the metals (like
you will if you get impatient and start scrubbing. You just need to
be patient and let it soak long enough in the boil out. And the temp
is important. Just warm solution won’t do it. Boiling or almost
boiling is necessary to sufficiently soften or liquify the compound
Steam cleaners are also pretty handy to help clean up whatever dregs
you don’t seem to be able to get out of crevices, without needing to
resort to abrasive scrubbing. Also pricey. If you don’t have one, but
have an espresso maker with a milk frother, you can use the lower
pressure steam jet that will generate as a poor man’s substitute.
Doesn’t work as well or as fast, but is better than nothing.
Also, if you find problems with water spots after cleaning, (which
steam cleaners tend to help avoid, but which can be a problem if you
don’t have such), then an old trick I learned from the watchmaker at
the first store I worked at may be worth remembering. After all
cleaning was done, the work was rinsed in distilled water, and then
dipped in clean denatured alcohol to rinse off water. Then removed
and placed in a strainer (use a plastic one to avoid scratching). An
old coffee can with both ends removed had a light bulb mounted
inside. The strainer would be allowed to drain for a moment till
alcohol stopped actually dripping, and then would sit on top, over
the light bulb, being gently warmed up by the warmth of the bulb. Five
minutes of that was enough to then evaporate the last bits of the
alcohol, leaving the work clean, dry, and spot free. This was being
done with watch cases, so the water free bit that the alcohol
insured was important for the health of the watch movements that were
then replaced in the cases. If you don’t need to be quite so sure,
then the distilled water might be enough.
Rio used to sell, and hopefully, still sells a liquid called
"Polishing Compound Remover." Works like a dream.
Metalsmith, Certified PMC Instructor
Hard to Find Tools for Metal Clay
There is definitely another way. Ultrasonics are great if you have
pleny of time to let your pieces sit in there for awhile, and you
still usually have to scrub them with a toothbrush (I like to use the
electric kind) to get the more stubborn spots. The ultrasonic has an
easy time with dirt, but particles bound by greasy polishing
compounds often take a lot of time.
Most degreaser-type cleaning products you have there in the UK,
along with an old toothbrush will work wonders for cleaning compounds
from your pieces. My favorite product here in the US is Simple Green,
a non-toxic, biodegradable degreasing cleaner. There isn’t a rouge or
tripoli that can stand up to it. Failing that, I’ll use Windex
window cleaner or diluted ammonia. Lemon juice will also cut through
the greasy binders that keep our rouges in stick form.
James S. Duncan, G.G.
James in SoFL
I agree with Peter that the ultrasonic for sterling silver can
"muck-up" a good polish. I like the idea of the boil-out pot. I
would recommend Simple Green household cleaning product (carried at
all chain grocery stores) mixed with water for removing the
compound. It’s a degreaser and is environmental. Also there is an
inexpensive (about $45) steam cleaner called Jewel Jet that works
great for small jobs and helps blast out compound in the hard to
reach areas. I bought my Jewel Jet through a jeweler friend, but I’m
sure you can find one if you search the web.
All the best,
All, Those expensive and not easily mailed solutions that are
proposed for use in ultra sonic baths are, indeed, excellent for the
purpose intended. However, you can do quite well using much less
expensive concentrated detergent solutions with periodic additions of
simple straight ammonia.Ammonia is the key, but it has to be
freshened a couple of times during the workday.
Ron Mills, Mills Gem Co. Los Osos, Ca.
I use Jewel Brite that I found at the Gem and Jewelry Shows. It’s a
little pricey, but I like the way it works. It’s also “all natural”,
or so they claim. You can filter it as well and continue to use it.
Has anyone else used this and do they like it?
One of the easiest and cheapest substances to use in an ultrasonic
for removing polishing or other greasy residues is Turpentine
substitute or ‘white spirit’ as sold for cleaning paint brushes. In
the watchmaking trade this is sold at a highly inflated price as
’ultrasonic rinse’. Strangely enough, the cheaper the version of the
product used, the better it is as I think they put some kind of oil
into the dearer brands which prevents it drying spotless. Anyway, I
usually test a new batch by leaving a little in an open glass pot
and seeing if it evaporates completely without leaving any residue.
This is one of those strange products where there is no definitive
formula for what chemicals it must or must not contain - hence the
difference between different brands. In the ultrasonic I usually use
for jewellery work, I periodically clean the solution by passing it
through a coffee filter. As usual, look at the hazard warnings on
I first heard about a boil-out pot in this thread and thought it
might be a good option for me. At the supermarket today I saw some
Slow Cookers (some were called Rice Cookers) - An enclosed cooking
unit with a removable pot - I think the removable pot was corning
ware on the one I was most interested in. I’m wondering if this sort
of set up would do the trick. I am hesitant to get a hotplate as the
facilities manager seems nervous about this kind of thing… there
is a definate rule in the contract about no gas cookers in the
building… but I discussed this a long time ago and he wasn’t very
keen on electric hotplates either because he feels they are too easy
to leave running because you mightn’t realise they are on. My
argument with the rice cooker would be that it has a light on if its
running - so its easy to see that its on…
So, would a rice cooker have enough heat to use as a boil out pot -
does anyone already use one for this purpose? I was also thinking I
could get a spare bowl to keep pickle solution in for those times
when you’re in a hurry and prefer a hot solution… in this case I’d
need a lesser heat… I’ve never used a rice cooker and there was a
lack of instructions or on the packaging - can anyone
shed any light on whether this set up could work for a boil out pot
and pickle pot?
If you’re looking for a pickle pot…the slow-cooker or crock pot
is a practical and inexpensive choice, It comes in enough sizes to
suit just about every need, and the glazed removable inner pot is
easy to clean. Most of the slow cookers have a light to indicate when
they are on. Rice cookers can be a problem, because they are geared
to shut off automatically when the rice is done. Also, most have
metal inner pots, which might not be suitable for your purpose.
Plug the hotplate or crockpot or whatever into a timer switch
(available at a hardware store)…this way you can set it for your
hours in the shop…hopefully your facilities manager would be ok
with this resolution