Whether you are cleaning full-length rifles or just a pile of brass for reloading, one tool that can be incredibly helpful is an ultrasonic cleaner. While ultrasonic cleaners have been around since the 1950’s, they have only recently been introduced and specially made for the gun market. While they are primarily used for cleaning electronics, jewelry, or other small objects, more and more people are discovering that they are excellent options for cleaning gun parts, and especially brass for reloading. In fact, several big manufacturers of reloading equipment (particularly Hornady and RCBS) have rolled out ultrasonic cleaners specifically designed to clean dirty brass! The world of ultrasonic cleaning can seem a bit daunting at first, but the technology behind them is actually really simple and easy to understand. If you want to learn more about ultrasonic cleaners in 2020 and find the best one for your needs, then keep reading!
Short On Time? Here Is The Bullet List
- For Brass: Hornady Lock-N-Load Sonic Cleaner
- For Large Jobs: Lyman Products Turbo Sonic Power Professional
- Ultrasonic Cleaner: Famili FM800WW Ultrasonic Cleaner
- For Large Parts: Hornady Lock-N-Load Hot Tub
- For Gun Parts and Brass: RCBS Ultrasonic Case Cleaner 2
**Below are our more detailed reviews. Click the links above to see current prices or read customer reviews on Amazon.
How An Ultrasonic Cleaner Works
Before we dive into specific features and add-ons that you may look for in an ultrasonic cleaner, we need to understand how they work! At first, an ultrasonic cleaner can seem a lot like magic. You put the parts in dirty, set the timer for a few minutes, and they come out clean! An ultrasonic cleaner works by first filling the tub with a liquid. While this liquid can be just plain old water, it is usually a good idea to add some sort of cleaning agent. Most manufacturers also sell a concentrated cleaning detergent to add in, but many people elect to use a mixture of LemiShine and Dawn Dish Soap to help give their brass an extra bit of shine. This also has the added bonus of decreasing the tension in the water, which makes bubbles easier to form.
Wait, hold up! Bubbles? You mean to tell me that this fancy cleaner is just a glorified foot spa? Well, yes and no. Ultrasonic cleaners use what is called a “transducer” (kind of like a high-frequency speaker) to produce ultrasonic waves in the 20 to 400-kilohertz range. The sound is so high-pitched, that it is impossible for humans to hear it. What this incredibly high-frequency sound does is agitate the cleaning solution that your parts are submerged in. This creates millions of incredibly tiny bubbles in your cleaning solution via a process called “cavitation.” When these microscopic bubbles pop, they create incredibly high amounts of heat and pressure. However, since the bubbles are so small, they do nothing more than remove contaminants that are adhered to the surface of your gun parts or brass.
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Ultrasonic Cleaning and Pets
If you have ever owned a cat or dog or played around with a dog whistle, then you know that pets are often bothered by noises that humans can’t hear. Many common ultrasonic cleaners operate in the frequency that is audible to dogs and cats. Some animals seem to be bothered by this, while others don’t. There really is no settled science as to whether ultrasonic cleaners are bothersome to your animals. If you are concerned about irritating your pets anytime you run your cleaner, there are a few simple things that you can do. First, you can isolate the cleaner from your pet. Putting it in a separate room with a closed door, or out in the garage is a great solution. You can also do a quick test to see if your animals are bothered by the noise. If your dog regularly barks at things such as the vacuum cleaner or a doorbell ringing, you can try doing those things while the cleaner is running. If the dog reacts normally, odds are he couldn’t care less about the cleaner. If he does nothing or has an otherwise abnormal reaction, it might be a good idea to relocate the cleaner.
What To Look For In An Ultrasonic Cleaner
Now that you know a bit about how an ultrasonic cleaner operates, it will be much easier to understand why you will want certain features. When it comes to selecting an ultrasonic cleaner specifically for firearm and brass cleaning, there are a few things that you will want to be sure that you get.
One of the most important extra features to look for in an ultrasonic cleaner is going to be a tank heater. The simple fact is, your parts are going to get a lot cleaner if your cleaning solution is warm. Most of the ultrasonic cleaners made specifically for gun cleaning are going to have a heater in them, but if you elect to go with a smaller, cheaper model then it might not.
When your cleaning solution is heated, it is much more effective. This is due to the increased solubility of heated water. When water is heated, it becomes much easier to dissolve all of your dirt, gunk, and fouling in it. It also makes greases and oils much less viscous and easier to dislodge. In many tests, the heated ultrasonic cleaner was far more effective at removing fouling from brass cases and gun parts than the unheated cleaner.
While ultrasonic cleaners for guns are generally in the 40-kilohertz range, it is important to know what the frequency range does and why it matters for your gun cleaning equipment. As frequencies go up, the ultrasonic cleaner produces more, smaller bubbles, which means that the space in between the cavitation points gets smaller. This becomes very handy as you clean very small, intricate parts.
While this may be beneficial for detailed pieces of jewelry or eyewear, it is not really necessary for firearms cleaning. Gun parts are much larger and less detailed than your grandmother’s eyeglasses or your wife’s diamond bracelet, and as such do not require a high-frequency cleaning. Really, just about any frequency of ultrasonic cleaner is going to be more than enough to get into pin holes and primer pockets for a truly deep clean. This may be an important issue for you if you are wanting to use your ultrasonic cleaner for things other than gun parts, but most of us won’t have to worry about it.
Tank size is another huge factor when it comes to selecting an ultrasonic cleaner, and is going to be entirely dependant on what you want to use it for. There are ultrasonic cleaners that are designed to clean brass, and those will have large, square baskets. Cleaners designed for gun parts, on the other hand, will typically be long, skinny, and shallow to allow you to fit barrels, receivers, frames, and other components in them.
Since firearms and their related parts usually aren’t a common, easy to work with size, this is where specifically designed ultrasonic cleaners have a huge advantage. Your basic, cheap ultrasonic cleaner from harbor freight is not designed to fit a huge load of empty brass or your AR-15 barrel. True, you may be able to fit a few handgun parts or a handful of empty cases in there, but with a setup like that, you are nowhere close to getting the full benefits of an ultrasonic cleaner.
A final important feature to look for is a timer. Since ultrasonic cleaning is usually a fast process, it’s not a great idea to leave your brass in the cleaning solution overnight like you would do with a dry media tumbler. Also, since gun parts usually have vastly different levels of accumulated filth, they will take wildly different times to clean. Some of the cheaper models of ultrasonic cleaners will only have one or two cycle lengths. After, for example, 5 minutes is up, you would be forced to go back and restart the cleaner for another cycle if your parts are not cleaned.
This is another place where specifically designed cleaners have a huge advantage. While 5 minutes may be plenty of time to clean a necklace or a ring, it is nowhere near long enough to clean the barrel of your 1911 that is covered in filth. When a manufacturer such as Hornady makes an ultrasonic cleaner, they know what you are going to be using it for and have designed it in such a way to make it the most effective at cleaning your brass and gun parts.
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Best Ultrasonic Cleaners on the Market in 2020
Best Value Ultrasonic Cleaner For Brass:
If you are looking for a great cleaner to work on your dirty brass or small gun parts that is also a great value, then this ultrasonic cleaner from Hornady may be for you. Ultrasonic cleaners are perfect for cleaning brass since they clean all surfaces, inside and out. This ultrasonic cleaner from Hornady is certainly no exception. It has a large square tank that can hold up to 300 .223 cases at once, and the timer is adjustable from 5 to 30 minutes to ensure that your cases or parts are only in the solution exactly as long as they need to be.
This unit is not without its downsides, however. While the square tank is excellent for cleaning large quantities of brass, it can be difficult to fit many gun parts, especially barrels or other elongated parts. It is also quite a bit more expensive than a basic ultrasonic cleaner, but all that extra money certainly isn’t being wasted. With this cleaner, you are getting an ultrasonic cleaner that is specifically designed to clean brass and to do it very well. You get a much larger tank capacity, an 80-watt tank heater, and legendary Hornady quality and customer service. If you are looking for a good ultrasonic cleaner to primarily clean your dirty brass, then this may be the option for you.
- Specifically designed for brass
- Tank heater
- Large tank capacity
- Won’t work for longer gun parts
Best Ultrasonic Cleaner For Large Jobs:
If you have a lot of cash to burn or are a professional looking for a commercial quality ultrasonic cleaner to put in your gunsmithing shop, then this Lyman product could be an excellent option. This is a massive cleaner that is incredibly powerful, and quite frankly overkill for most home operations. This unit features an extra long heated tank that is big enough to fit almost any barreled action, upper receiver, or other gun parts. There is very little that won’t fit into this ultrasonic cleaner for a good scrub down. And speaking of scrubbing down, this unit used 10 (yes you read that right, ten!) industrial grade transducers. Now that’s a lot of cavitation!
Unfortunately, all of this high performance comes at quite the price. This unit is by far the most expensive on this list. Will this cleaner get the job done on just about anything you need? Absolutely. Are you going to be eating ramen noodles for a month just to afford it? Absolutely. That’s certainly not to say that this unit isn’t worth the cost. If you are making money doing cleaning and gunsmithing for other people, then this unit is almost a no-brainer. For most small home operations, however, there are much cheaper options that will work almost as well.
- Large tank
- Heated tank
- 10 transducers
- Very expensive
- Large and takes up a lot of space
Best Budget Ultrasonic Cleaner:
If looking at the last ultrasonic cleaner almost gave you a heart attack, then this ultrasonic cleaner from Famili should go over much easier. If you are not certain you are really interested in ultrasonic cleaning and want a cheap way to get your feet wet, then this no-frills, small ultrasonic cleaner just might be the ticket. This 35-watt unit operates at 42KHz, and while it is primarily designed for eyeglasses, jewelry, or other small items, will also do a great job of cleaning your brass.
When it comes to gun friendly features, however, this unit quickly drops to the bottom of the list. It has no tank heater, and the automatic timer tops out at 600 seconds, meaning that it is probably going to take several cycles to get your brass clean. Additionally, it’s 600ml capacity means that you will only be able to clean a handful of brass at a time. While all of these things will certainly make it very difficult for you to effectively use this cleaner for gun cleaning, you also need to remember that this unit comes in at a fraction of the cost of all the other cleaners. Is it going to be a huge pain to clean lots of brass or larger gun parts? Yes. Is this a great, inexpensive way to get your feet wet in the world of ultrasonic cleaning? Also yes. If you are on the fence about trying an ultrasonic cleaner and just can’t justify spending the money on a fancy unit, then this is a great way to try it out for yourself.
- Compact design stores easily
- No tank heater
- Low wattage transducer
- Small tank capacity
Best Value Ultrasonic Cleaner For Large Parts:
If you are looking for an ultrasonic cleaner that is loaded on features without the price of a commercial unit, then this may be a good option for you. This large hot tub cleaner from Hornady was certainly designed with the gun owner in mind. The basket is large enough to fit an entire 16-inch AR-15 upper receiver, which is an incredible feature. This means that this ultrasonic cleaner is enough to clean your entire AR-15, with only a basic field stripping required. It’s 9-liter heated tank has 5 temperature settings, ranging from 100 to 140 degrees, and it’s 4 transducers provide ample cleaning power.
While this unit is a fraction of the price of a commercial unit, it is still pretty expensive. You are going to pay a lot more for an ultrasonic cleaner of this size than you will for a smaller one designed to clean only brass. This is due primarily to the need for not only a larger tank, but more transducers as well. All things considered, this ultrasonic cleaner is an excellent value if you hope to clean full-length rifles as well as brass.
- Large tank can clean full-length rifles
- 4 transducers
- Lots of accessories
- Higher priced
- Large unit takes up a lot of space
Best Ultrasonic Cleaner for Gun Parts and Brass:
If you are looking for a good ultrasonic cleaner that is equally effective on brass and larger gun parts, then look no further than this ultrasonic cleaner from RCBS. Its six-liter capacity gives you plenty of room for a large load of brass, and the 11-inch wide basket will fit just about any gun parts (obviously excluding rifle and shotgun barrels) with a bit of disassembly. This model also adds an extra heater and transducer to help with the larger load.
While this ultrasonic cleaner certainly does have a place in the market, it is far from the best option. Usually, products that try to do 2 things at once end up doing neither of them very well. While this is certainly a good ultrasonic cleaner, the price point puts it roughly in the same category as the hot tub from Hornady, even though it is a much smaller size. However, if you are wanting a cleaner that will accel at cleaning large quantities of brass and large handguns, then this may be a good option for you.
- 2 transducers
- 6-liter capacity
- Adjustable timer
- High price
- Basket isn’t large enough for rifle and shotgun barrels
Best Ultrasonic Cleaner Final Thoughts
Let’s face it: if you want to invest the money into a cleaner that can do it all, then an ultrasonic cleaner is the way to go. Even though it did take a while for this technology to enter the firearms industry, once people started to discover how useful it is, it took off like a rocket. Now, the market is flush with excellent offerings from every company, and finding the best one for you can be a bit of a challenge. If you want the best ultrasonic cleaner for guns, you are going to want one that is large enough to fit almost all of your gun parts, as well as cleaning large quantities of brass. You are also going to need one with multiple powerful transducers, and a good heating element is an absolute must. While most of the ultrasonic cleaners above will fit all of this criteria, there is one that stands out above the rest. 9 times out of 10, the Hornady Lock-N-Load Hot Tub cleaner will be more than adequate to suit your needs, all at a price point that is really pretty reasonable. Now that you have all the information that you need, you can go out and purchase the perfect ultrasonic cleaner for you today!
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Dan is an avid outdoorsman and shooter who developed a passion for firearms at an early age. When you can’t find him in the field chasing birds or big game, you can find him at the range shooting various competitions such as 3-gun, IPSC, and IDPA. He also enjoys manufacturing his own ammunition, as well as both working on, and building his own firearms. Dan has many years of firearms experience, and enjoys helping people find the right gear and sharing his extensive firearms knowledge.