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Cleaning large quantities of budget arts and crafts tools by hand in a sink is a chore. Is it safe to load them into an ultrasonic cleaner with warm water and just leave it to do its thing, or is it likely to damage them?

I'm primarily referring to bulk packs of brushes, metal/wood clay sculpting tools, silicone sculpting tools, and plastic cookie cutters that can be bought for under $10 in a craft store for a set of maybe 6-8 tools/brushes and used for children's artistic play rather than professional artists tools.

Cheap, but not single use.

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    If the tools are made of hikaru dorodango, I wouldn't trust it. Otherwise, if they're washable, you should be safe. But the cleaner will be useful only if what you want to wash out breaks up in water with a little cleaning solution. Natural clay will fall apart and shake loose, and fresh acrylic paint. But probably not something that's no longer affected by water and mechanically well stuck. e.g., a tool tip encased in plasticine, or dried acrylic paint in a brush, unless you use an appropriate safe solvent in the cleaner. The ultrasonics just provide some agitation.
    – fixer1234
    Nov 13, 2022 at 3:25

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I use ultrasonic cleaners in work quite a bit, and have also used them for cleaning bike parts and tools, so here are some thoughts from that:

  • Anything made as one part (cookie cutters, some sculpting tools) will almost certainly be fine.
  • Where one part is moulded over another, or if they're screwed together, probably fine.
  • Paintbrushes may well suffer, whether crimped with a metal collar or with bristles moulded into the plastic.

Note that you should fill the bath with water, and put your tools in an inner vessel (glass jars work well) in which you may use water (with or without detergent) or solvent. Don't put flammable solvents in the bath itself (unless the instructions explicitly permit this - very rare) and don't get the bath dirty.

Note also that for things like paint dilution matters - whether or not you use ultrasound, a mixture of paint and water can still gum up brushes, so you might find that the ultrasonic bath makes a good start but you still need plenty of rinsing.

Some loosening of dried-on (but not really stuck) material is to be expected, but you'll generally need to use a compatible liquid, which could be water, brush cleaner etc.

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  • A lot of good advice here. But curious about your concern for brushes. The question doesn't mention whether this will be done in an industrial cleaner or a home version. I've never tried cleaning brushes in an industrial cleaner, but have never run into a problem of the bristles falling out with a home cleaner. The bristles need to be secured pretty well just to keep them in during use.
    – fixer1234
    Nov 14, 2022 at 18:12
  • @fixer1234 I haven't tried paint brushes in the one in work, but some of the brushes here shed bristles if you so much as look at them funny (the same sort of toy quality that the OP mentions), often onto the workpiece. Others, equally cheap, seem far more robust.
    – Chris H
    Nov 14, 2022 at 19:43
  • That suggests that you should clean the brushes first in an ultrasonic cleaner to get all the loose bristles out before using them to paint with. :-)
    – fixer1234
    Nov 14, 2022 at 20:48
  • @fixer1234 yes, and if there aren't many left after that you probably shouldn't be using it at all. I keep thinking about buying an ultrasonic bath, but mainly for bike parts
    – Chris H
    Nov 14, 2022 at 22:29
  • So you'd wash them first, and if the teeth fall off the gears, you wouldn't use those?
    – fixer1234
    Nov 14, 2022 at 23:01

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