Ultrasonic Cleaning – A Gift from Heaven for a Guy Like Me

Sewing machine restoration is a time consuming process. The details matter to get the best presentation from a sewing machines finish that is 50 to a 100 years old.

These are the machines that have lacquered finishes and decals. These are the machines that have accumulated layers of dirt, dust, and grime over the decades. These are the machines with the shiny steel, nickle and chrome plated pieces that have become dull from the buildup of varnish (that coffee colored coating you notice on the needle and presser foot bar) caused by oil aging over the years.

You have to be concerned about what the best outcome can be for the parts you are working on, and then choose the cleaning processes that best achieve that goal. People tend to concentrate on the painted finish and decals, and there is a lot of information about how to clean these surfaces. But what about the shiny bits? The presser foot, the needle plate, the covers, the small shiny screws and fittings, the presser foot bar and needle bar. Then there is the bobbin case, the tension assemblies, and the rocking and rotating parts. All of these must be cleaned. All of these require different cleaning methods than the paint and decals.

Fine #0000 Steel wool and wire brushes may seem to be appropriate in some places, for example where there is corrosion or pitting. These should be the last resort methods where nothing else will work. Realize that these abrasive methods will result in creating fine scratches that will ultimately dull an otherwise shiny surface that must be polished later to restore their shine.

Removing grease and varnish on the shiny bits can be accomplished with alcohol and acetone using cotton swabs and cotton balls. This method represents the majority of work in a restoration, but must be done cautiously. A drip of alcohol or acetone on a painted surface will damage the finish. So, cleaning the shiny bits is a tedious and time consuming process. It would not be unusual to use a hundred or more cotton swabs to accomplish the task.

Enter the ultrasonic cleaner… this wonderful appliance has saved me countless hours of hand cleaning small (and larger parts). It is now my go to method for any unpainted part that can be removed from the machine.

The theory behind ultrasonic cleaning has been used for a long time in industry. Its simple… a dirty part is submerged in water. The cleaner creates a high frequency wave in the water. Small microscopic bubbles form on the parts surface. The bubbles implode and create a high pressure (though microscopic) vaccum called “cavitation”. The dirt is sucked off of the surface without damaging the part.

My cleaner is large enough to accommodate the face plate, the inspection covers, neele plate, bobbin cover plate, feed dogs, tension parts, and all of the small miscellaneous shiny bits such as screws, and levers, Rotating parts and rocker arms are also effectively in the ultrasonic cleaner.

Mine heats the water to about 150 degrees, and with a small amount of degreaser and a 15 or 20 minute cleaning cycle, they come out looking almost like new. The following example is the best I can offer…

Before Ultrasonic Cleaning
Part from a Vintage Singer Model 15-90 Manufactured in 1938
Same Part After Ultrasonic Cleaning

Following a rinse and a bath in WD-40 to displace any water left behind, it is a simple matter of wiping the cleaned part with a clean shop towel. Tension parts get a final soak in alcohol to remove any trace of the WD-40, we don’t want any lubrication here.

If you are interested in getting a great result on these shiny parts, and want to save yourself a LOT of time, ultrasonic cleaning is the way to go. By the way, in the absence of oil buildup, water is all you really need to use to get great results. Soap or degreasers are not necessary. It is great for many other applications such as cleaning jewelry, sunglasses, dental implants, carburetors, etc… So you can get one and justify the very reasonable price!

Tell me what do you think?

Published by pungoliving

First and foremost, I decided to share some of my experiences with vintage all metal sewing machines. It is a natural progression of my life experience exercising my hands and my mind. My background is a simple story... graduating High school, I wanted a trade. I landed an apprenticeship at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in welding. 5 years later after earning certification and working in many different environments, I decided to enroll in College and earn an Engineering. At the same time, I married a wonderful girl and started a new life. Graduating College with a degree in Structural Engineering, I began a 35 year career in the Federal Government. Along the way, we were blessed with 3 beautiful children. Earning a Masters degree in Engineering and registration as a Professional Engineer I worked for the benefit of my family and my Country. Over the years, I have pursued many different hobbies... woodworking, car mechanics, astronomy, and taking apart and putting together all sorts of things. Pretty much anything I could put my mind and my hands into. So now, many years later, I am retired and finally able to wile away my days at home with the love of my life. Her interests have always been in sync with mine, but spending so much free time with her, I realized how broad her talents are! One interest she is particularly fond of is sewing. It didn't take me long to put 2+2 together and realize that I could do something with this. So, acquiring, adjusting, servicing, and restoring sewing machines was a win-win. I have a hobby that is detailed, involves tinkering with precision engineered high quality manufactured machines, while she has an opportunity to sew on various different makes and models of sewing machines. While there are many that have information on line, and what I have to say more than likely has already been said, I wanted to contribute to that conversation and learning gleaned from my experience and research.

2 thoughts on “Ultrasonic Cleaning – A Gift from Heaven for a Guy Like Me

  1. Great post. I recently found your blog and am thoroughly enjoying learning from your detailed tutorials and tips! I like the idea of an ultrasonic cleaner and am beginning to research options. What size (fluid volume) do you find sufficient to clean the largest parts you need to clean? Thanks!


    1. Thanks Scott,

      The ultrasonic cleaner I bought is a Costway VGT-6250 and it is a 2.5L capacity. It is a great cleaner and I like the heat option. It has been used a lot and I am very happy with it. I would buy a larger unit next time because it is about 2″ short for the longest part (the rockers). It really poses little problem though. I just flip them around to get both ends clean. There are lots of options out there, and price is generally about the same models.

      It was recommended to me and a lot of folks on the Forums find it favorable.

      I’m glad you like my blogs, each machine is a little different, so while the content always covers certain things, the differences are worth talking about.

      I hope this helps!


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