Are you looking for an ultrasonic cleaner to speed up your miniature painting and modeling workflow? Efficiency is important for a productive and fun hobby. If you’re a scale modeler or miniature painter, you know how frustrating clean up can be. Cleanup takes up a lot of time. Airbrush maintenance, cleaning 3D printed miniatures, stripping model paint all require a lot of labor. An ultrasonic cleaner can help speed things up!
In this article, I share with you the key things you need to know about ultrasonic cleaners. I also review the 7 best ultrasonic cleaners for cleaning your airbrush and models.
What is the best ultrasonic cleaner for airbrush and miniature cleaning?
Best 7 ultrasonic cleaners for airbrushes and hobbyists:
- InvisiClean Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner Machine
- Nexttechnology Ultrasonic Cleaner
- CO-Z 3L Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner with Digital Timer & Heater
- Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner (InvisiClean)
- Magnasonic Professional Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner with Digital Timer
- Digital Ultrasonic Gun Cleaner Heated
- Sonix 4 Ultrasonics
What is an ultrasonic cleaner?
An ultrasonic cleaner sends sound waves through a liquid bath to produce microscopic cavitation bubbles. The formation and explosion of these many bubbles “scrubs” an object.
Ultrasonic cleaning uses cavitation bubbles induced by high frequency pressure (sound) waves to agitate a liquid (source). Because bubbles go everywhere, delicate parts are safe from potential damage. The washing power from an ultrasonic cleaner can reach small crevices in complicated instruments, such as an airbrush.
Another way to think of an ultrasonic cleaner is that it’s a machine that makes microscopic foam. An ultrasonic cleaner is an efficient cleaning device.
Why do you need an ultrasonic cleaner?
- No risk of part damage – Your airbrush is an investment. Although high-quality airbrushes are durable, aggressive scrubbing can lead to damage. An ultrasonic cleaner gently scrubs your tools, equipment, and models. Small delicate parts are left unharmed. For this reason, ultrasonic devices are common in the jewelry industry and in clinics, e.g., the dentist’s office.
- Multi-tasking – An ultrasonic cleaner lets you clean multiple things at the same time!
- Cleans deep – An ultrasonic cleaner is able to reach and clean those internal parts. For airbrushes or miniatures, any submerged object will get a bubble-foam wash.
- Speed – To use an ultrasonic cleaner, you merely have to place your disassembled airbrush into the fluid bath and turn the cleaner on. It’s a lot faster than using a wire brush and scrubbing parts under a running water faucet.
- Safety – You only need water in your ultrasonic cleaner. I’ve used other chemicals, like ammonia-free Windex, which works great, but water is great for most ultrasonic cleaning. Ultrasonic cleaners have timers that will automatically shut-off the system. This prevents overheating or damage to the machine itself. Note that it is not recommended to use alcohol (e.g., isopropyl alcohol, IPA, or “rubbing alcohol”) in an ultrasonic cleaner (source), which could be a fire hazard.
- Clean your miniatures, too – An ultrasonic cleaner is perfect for cleaning models. Resin miniatures, in particular, require a scrubbing to remove the mold-cast lubricants, which make for a bad painting experience. Simply, drop your models into the bath, turn on the cleaner, and come back later. Your miniatures will be ready for primer and paint!
Can you strip paint off miniatures and models with an ultrasonic cleaner?
You can strip acrylic or other products from miniatures. Paint stripping is tedious and risks damaging your model.
Using an ultrasonic cleaner is a safe way to strip paint from any surface. An ultrasonic cleaner will also remove acrylic varnish, too. It may take a bit longer, but a good ultrasonic cleaner is thorough.
Are you looking for the best ultrasonic cleaner for stripping miniatures? Check out the list below. Any of those sonic cleaners will work for stripping miniatures. The best ultrasonic cleaner for you depends on the size, power, and your budget.
Are you looking to clean resin or plastic miniatures before priming them? A lot of resin and plastic miniatures still have the thin coat of mold-release substance on them. Cleaning resin miniatures and models is a priority for those looking for a good paint job.
Mold-release is a lubricant that helps mold-makers remove the hardened parts from the molds. Unfortunately, mold-release will act as a repellant barrier to many primer and paints. You’ll need to clean off mold-release if you want an easier time painting a new model kit.
You could simply use warm water and soap with a towel, a brush, or use an ultrasonic cleaner to clean miniatures before painting them.
An ultrasonic cleaner is a great tool that will speed up the process of preparing a model for priming and painting.
What to look for in an ultrasonic cleaner?
- Size – You don’t want the machine to take up all your space. Choose an ultrasonic cleaner that has the footprint of a shoebox (11 x 15 inches or 28 x 38cm). Because airbrushes are generally small instruments, you don’t need large ultrasonic cleaning baths.
- Sound frequency – Ultrasonic cleaners can project sound with different frequencies, which affect the size of the cavitation bubbles. Low frequency sound will make bigger, more “abrasive” bubbles. High frequency sound will generate a delicate cleaning experience for your airbrush. In general, a more expensive ultrasonic cleaner may have an adjustable setting for sound frequency. This will allow you to decide how “abrasive” or “aggressive” you want to clean your airbrush.
- Wave sweep – If you want a thorough cleaning, a good ultrasonic cleaner should project sound throughout the fluid bath. You don’t want “dead zones”, or areas of the bath where a part may not be cleaned. To overcome this issue, some ultrasonic cleaners will use multiple sound frequencies from a single sound source (“wave sweep”). In other cases, higher-end ultrasonic cleaners may have more than a single transducer (or sound source), which can prevent “dead zones” in the bath liquid.
- Heat – All ultrasonic cleaners will generate heat within the bathing solution. Millions of exploding bubbles will do that. This is good! Heat can help remove dried paint and other contaminants. Some ultrasonic cleaners will have an additional heating system to speed up the cleaning process.
What cleaning fluid should I put in my ultrasonic cleaner?
Water. I’ve always use clean water in my ultrasonic cleaners for my airbrushes. Granted, I only use water-based acrylic paints, so it makes sense to use water as a “solvent” in the cleaner’s bath.
I highly-recommend using cold water for airbrush cleaning. Water is all you need. If you wanted to be more chemically aggressive, you can try ammonia-free Windex or another glass cleaning solution. These should be diluted with water.
Avoid using ammonia agents with your airbrushes, as this will corrode the metal plating. For fire safety, you should also avoid using alcohol-based solvents in an ultrasonic cleaner.
Best 7 recommended ultrasonic cleaners for airbrushes and miniatures:
This is the system I currently use. The InvisiClean Pro Ultrasonic Cleaner uses dual transducers (or two sound sources). It has a footprint of only 8.7 x 5.4 x 5.6 inches, which is a great size for a compact desk surface. The tank holds up to 800ml of water, which is also more than enough for cleaning an airbrush.
There is also a timer that allows you to set the machine to run for 90 to 600 seconds. This is great, since you can walk away and let the cleaner run for up to 10 minutes at a time.
I also happened to clean a few miniatures this ultrasonic cleaner. It didn’t matter, pewter, plastic, or resin; they all came out of the water bath ready for paint. I do not recommend using the basket (included). The basket reduces the cleaning power of the sound waves in the bath.
This Nexttechnology is a no-nonsense ultrasonic cleaner. Simple, easy-to-use. This cleaner houses a single transducer, instead of two. But, you are able to control the frequency-output of the sound waves. This allows you to calibrate the level of “abrasive” cleaning you want. This cleaner also provides a more powerful transducer that can run a lot longer (up to 30 minutes) than the InvisiClean system. It is also a bit cheaper than the InvisiCleaner. For me, it’s a toss-up between the two systems.
The CO-Z 3L Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner has a few things the other models in this list don’t have. The most obvious attribute is that it has a much larger bath. It can hold up to 3 liters (or 3000ml) of water/fluid. This would allow you to clean a lot more things around your household, including your airbrush.
This ultrasonic cleaner has two powerful 60 Watt transducers. This is incredible! Some TV home entertainment speaker systems (i.e., Bose) do not have this much power. Though I suppose it would need this power to drive sound through 3L of water.
The frequency can also be adjusted on this ultrasonic cleaner.
Finally, the neat thing about this cleaner is the convenient footprint size. It takes up almost the same floor/desk space as its smaller cousins. It’s just taller. Other aspects that I find attractive include a timer (continuous operation up to 30 minutes) and a heater.
The Ultrasonic Jewelry Cleaner (InvisiClean) is one of the smallest ultrasonic cleaners. There is barely enough capacity in its 600ml bath to fit my largest airbrush, the Badger Patriot 105 (see this airbrush on Amazon). However, it is the least expensive ultrasonic cleaner in this list (<$30 USD).
The cleaner is also small enough to fit on a desk without much trouble. It operates with a single frequency (42kHz), which is great for delicate parts with small crevices.
The timer will operate the single sound transducer for up to 10 minutes and will shut-off the system automatically.
The Magnasonic Professional Ultrasonic Cleaner is similar to #4 in almost every respect, except it has a lot more reviews on Amazon. The power output and transducer frequency (42kHz) is the same as the InvisiClean system (in #4).
There’s a reason this ultrasonic cleaner is best known for cleaning jewelry and other delicate items. It comes with a plastic basket to hold small objects, and has somewhat portable sized footprint.
You can place this ultrasonic cleaner in almost area near your workspace.
If you only need a simple ultrasonic cleaner with a timer, and you want to know that a lot of other people use this device, this is the cleaner to get.
When I was researching ultrasonic cleaners, I knew that gun owners would likely know a lot about these things. After all, guns have a lot of small parts that require a thorough cleaning. The Digital Ultrasonic Gun Cleaner is a more aggressive ultrasonic cleaner than the ones built for cleaning jewelry.
For one thing, the Digital Ultrasonic Gun Cleaner has a built-in heater for the bath. You can heat close to 80 celsius! (Note: the best cavitation temperature of water for good bubble-scrubbing action is 60 degrees celsius).
Heat combined with dual sound transducers provides incredibly powerful cleaning ability. The ability to modulate sound frequency (28kHz and 40kHz) allows you to scrub with large or small cavitation bubbles. Large bubbles are more “abrasive”; whereas small bubbles can reach into tiny crevices.
This ultrasonic cleaner also has a 2 liter bath capacity. This would make it easy to wash even the largest miniatures before assembly.
Why to buy this ultrasonic cleaner? Simple. The ability to heat the bath would is important for cleaning resin miniatures. Resin parts often have a petroleum/oil-based residue from the cast/mold-released process. Additionally, if I airbrushed with oil-based paints, as well as acrylics, I would have purchased this ultrasonic cleaner.
The Sonix 4 Ultrasonic cleaner is an ultrasonic cleaner you might find in a eyeglass store or jewelry shop. It is a fairly small, stainless steel constructed cleaner. The bath holds up to 0.8 liters, which is medium-sized compared to other ultrasonic cleaners.
What is cool about this ultrasonic clean is that it uses wave sweep technology. In a normal ultrasonic cleaner, a sound transducer projects a single frequency wave through the liquid bath. This produces “dead zones” in the tank because the waves lose energy. Many ultrasonic cleaners try and overcome this by having multiple sound transducers. However, this adds size and cost, as well as increased energy consumption.
The Sonix cleaner instead uses a single transducer that projects multiple sonic frequencies from a single source (i.e., wave sweep technology). This prevents the creation of dead zones due to lost wave energy as they travel through the liquid. A neat side effect of broadband wave generation in this cleaner is that it automatically produces larger and smaller bubbles. In effect, this provides abrasive and fine bubble-scrubbers.
For airbrushes, it could mean a deeper clean with less calibration and time. Pretty cool, huh?
As a miniature painter and fine-scale modeler, efficiency is important to me, I’m always on the lookout for ways to speed up my work. Airbrushes are one of the worst offenders because they take a lot of time to clean. An ultrasonic cleaner is a versatile device that can speed up the routine clean-up work.
Summary table of the best 7 ultrasonic cleaners for airbrushes, miniatures, and other hobbies
|I use this one. Highly-recommended for airbrushes.||Check Price|
|A no-nonsense ultrasonic cleaner. Simple, easy-to-use for airbrushes and cleaning models.||Check Price|
|Large bath (3 liters) and powerful transducers for cleaning large equipment or multiple parts.||Check Price|
|Small, compact ultrasonic cleaner but very affordable, robust features, and effective for airbrush cleaning.||Check Price|
|Similar to the Invisiclean ultrasonic cleaner (above), but great online reviews from multiple sources.||Check Price|
|Huge capacity, built-in heater, and powerful dual sound transducers. Perfect for cleaning the most soiled tools and equipment.||Check Price|
|Uses wave sweep technology in the bath for very thorough and effective cleaning action. Best for airbrushes and other delicate equipment.||Check Price|
Do you use your airbrush a lot? If you do, how do you keep them clean? Let me know in the comments!