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Parts washers are industrial machinery that clean more than just grease; they can remove all sorts of debris and contaminants from a piece of equipment.

Cleaning parts is a quality control process with newly-manufactured materials. Removing residue from fabricated, forged, or machined parts can reveal hairline cracks and flaws. These contaminants may include abrasive debris, burrs, chemicals, cutting fluids, lubricants, paint, and more.

The business case for the type of parts washer to choose depends on the size of the parts, the number of parts washed at once, and most importantly, the cleaning fluid used inside the industrial machinery.

Solvents are hazardous cleaning chemicals used to dissolve contaminants. Solvent-based parts washers were introduced to the automotive repair industry in the 1950s. Since the adoption of solvent-based parts washers in the 1960s, the safety and wellbeing of people working with solvents and their environmental impact spurred industry innovations for safer alternatives.

In the 1970s, high-pressure aqueous (water-based) parts washers were developed to degrease auto parts. Environmental regulations during the 1980s banned chlorinated solvents for parts washing, eventually making aqueous cleaning systems a more attractive solution.

The choice of solvent-based or aqueous parts washing remains today. However, global sustainability initiatives are driving the phase-out of toxic solvents for low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and environmentally responsible aqueous cleaners; these reduce harmful greenhouse gasses and improve worker safety. The benefits of a safe degreaser are indeed, quite numerous.

User safety and environmental stewardship take precedence when choosing a parts washing system.

How Does a Parts Washer Work?

Whether cleaning manufacturing debris from new parts or stripping away oily grime from used engine parts in auto repair shops, the size of the part, and the volume of the parts cleaned at one time determine the type of machine to use. Types of parts washers range from manual “sink on a drum” to complex, touchless automated industrial machines that pump cleaning fluids into cabinets, through baskets, or onto conveyors.

Modern industrial technology combines a cleaning and finishing through immersion or spraying to distribute a chemical or water-based fluid that dislodges contaminants from surfaces to clean and prepare parts. Mechanical parts cleaning systems load, wash, rinse, dry, and unload parts.

The risks of parts washing stem from chemical solvents used in volatile high-temperature and high-pressure conditions. Solvents are toxic chemicals that require added attention to avoid accidents and injury to system users.

Additionally, environmental regulations for wastewater treatment are driving demand for non-toxic cleaning agents.

Parts Washer Design & Components

An industrial parts washer can contain many parts, including a water heater, filtration system, one or more pumps, scrubbers, brushes, power nozzle, and more. Parts washer design considers part dimensions and intricacy, cleaning capacity, and the category of cleaning degreaser product used.

Enclosed parts washer designs eliminate exposure, splashing, or vapor and keep workplaces clean while improving user safety. Some systems include conveyor belts, monorails, rotary drums, and cabinets. Automated parts washers eliminate the need for manual scrubbing.

Components that make parts washers safe and efficient include:  

  • Cabinet – Applying cleaning solutions under high pressure to clean parts can occur inside a cabinet that can feature a conveyor belt for additional safety. A cabinet-style parts washer must tolerate the continual presence of a cleaning degreaser under intense pressure.
  • Filtration System – When the system is powered, the cleaning solution or water flows through two filters; one strains large particles, and the second skims small particles.
  • Low Water Shutoff – Should the water level inside the cleaning solution storage tank become low enough to expose the heater, an automatic low water shut-off valve turns off the machine and prevents restarting until restoring the water level.
  • Pump – The pumps used in a parts washer can be submerged in cleaning solution, operate continuously, and flow water from the storage reservoir to the cleaning tank. Industrial parts washers flow 115 gallons per minute (GPM) at 65 psi, operating at 185° F. If these conditions are not maintained, the cleaning solution may not flow properly.
  • Scrubbers – Brushes or sprayers can act as scrubbers in a parts washer. A pump flows the cleaning degreaser from the storage reservoir to the scrubber mechanism for parts cleaning.
  • Water Heater – Quickly raising the temperature of cleaning solutions accelerates chemical reactions through electric, gas, or steam heating units reducing cleaning process time.

Maintenance Requirements of a Parts Washer 

The cost of water-based parts washers can be as high as a million dollars representing a significant investment that requires maintenance. Bi-weekly maintenance of a frequently used parts washer ensures optimal operating performance.

Knowing the internal components of a parts washer and how they work helps identify the source of any malfunctions that can create operational problems.

  • Batching – Overloading parts washers can lead to insufficient cleaning and repeating the cleaning process.
  • Burring – Chemical-based solvents, aqueous solutions, and heat remove burrs from parts.
  • Filter – Any clogs can impact filters in a parts washer. Filter replacement can be monthly or more, depending on machine use. Pre-cleaning parts before using a parts washer can extend the life of a filtration system.
  • Leveling – Part of the installation process of a parts washer is ensuring leveling for proper functionality. If a parts washer malfunctions, checking the level is part of the troubleshooting process.
  • Pump – Pressure to the parts cleaning system comes from pumps that require inspection for alignment and necessary adjustments. Regularly checking that pump bearings are appropriately lubricated is part of maintenance.
  • Solvent or Cleaner – A chemical solvent or an aqueous cleaning degreaser is required to remove contaminants from part surfaces. Ensuring that the solvent or cleaning solution addresses the contaminant saves time and improves efficiencies.
  • Super Saturation – If the amount of grease or oil in cleaning solutions exceeds the level of contaminants on a part, the cleaning solution is saturated. Using a skimmer or a sludge scraper can improve the quality of the cleaning product. However, it does not eliminate the need to clean out the parts washer tank.
  • Spray – The lowest cost parts washer incorporates sprayers in a simplistic design. High water pressure is required to ensure complete coverage of the cleaning solution, checking spray patterns regularly.
  • Turntable – A cabinet parts washer has a turntable to enable 360-degree cleaning. The turning mechanism has gears and bearings that are checked during regular maintenance to avoid slippage. Monitoring the turntable weight capacity avoids damage. Cleaning multiple parts can be achieved if the turntable weight capacity and the pump’s ability to flow cleaning fluid for sufficient coverage occur.
  • Waste – Most regulatory agencies monitor the wastewater of industrial processes to eliminate toxic chemicals, including preventing hydrocarbons from entering the environment. These toxic industrial waste byproducts affect the health of people, aquatic life, plants, and animals.

Solvents & Eco-Friendly Parts Washer Technology

A variety of parts washing solutions are available. However, specific types of parts washers require certain products. Chemical solvents and safer water-based products are available for spray, immersion, and ultrasonic parts washer machines.

Parts Washer Alternative

Alternative Degreasers – As the world seeks safer alternatives to traditional toxic solvents, non-toxic degreasers are an effective means of cleaning parts with products that are non-combustible, non-flammable, and non-hazardous.

Parts Washer Biodegradable

Biodegradable – Environmentally-responsible cleaning solutions reduce harmful toxins. Implementing biodegradable “green” cleaning and degreasing solutions prevents hydrocarbons from negatively impacting people and the planet through wastewater that is a byproduct of the parts cleaning process.

Parts Washer Water-Based

Water-Based – Bioremediating systems use water-based parts washer cleaning fluids with neutral pH that are non-flammable, non-irritating, and non-toxic.

Detergent – Water-based parts washers pump a cleaning product through jet sprayers and power washers. Detergents are solvents that incorporate a defoaming agent that floats effectively above the cleaning fluid surface.

Ultrasonic – Different ultrasonic parts cleaning degreasers include acidic, alkaline, or mildly alkaline, neutral, highly caustic, deionized water, and enzymatic products. Also, ultrasonic cleaners can be demulsifying (must be drained from the tank after cleaning) or emulsifying (suspends contaminants in the tank). Reusing either demulsifying or emulsifying cleaners can lead to pollutants clinging to parts upon removal from the parts washer.

Parts Cleaning Laws

Wastewater disposal is a hidden cost that results from using water-based parts washers to remove grime and oils from inside the parts washer cabinet or tank. The waste consists of the skimmed contaminants filtered through the parts washing process. Hazardous waste byproducts from parts washing are collected from the cleaning machinery and require special storage and waste disposal to comply with environmental regulations.

While the cleaning product is in use, these active products are not waste. It is hazardous waste material only after removing a used cleaning degreaser product from the parts washing equipment.

Government agencies that oversee environmental protection provide a reference list of many hazardous waste chemicals. Toxic materials contain more than the allowed amount of chemicals, including:

  • Corrosives – Caustics and strong acids are corrosive. Measuring the pH of the waste liquid determines the level of corrosiveness.
  • Cyanide – Metal treatment from electroplating creates cyanide.
  • Flammable or Explosive – Most chemical-based solvents with less than 140° F flashpoints are considered explosive or flammable. These chemicals may include alcohols, aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, ketone, mineral spirits, naphtha, paint thinner, toluene, or ketone.
  • Heavy metals – The waste material generated from parts cleaning are contaminated cleaners, oven ash, shot blast, and sludge containing cadmium, lead, and mercury; all are heavy metals.
  • Organic Solvents – Chlorinated hydrocarbons are organic solvents such as methylene chloride or carbon tetrachloride that harm the environment.
  • Toxic – Petroleum-based solvents are poisonous chemicals that are flammable and can explode under extreme conditions.

Federal government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and state-level regulatory bodies regulate additional toxic and hazardous substances.

Businesses that produce smaller amounts of hazardous waste, compared to industrial operations, can be required to comply with federal, state, and local mandates for storage, transport, treatment, and disposal of hazardous waste materials.

Some water-based parts washers can evaporate the cleaning solution reducing the volume of wastewater. Evaporation can reportedly reduce up to 1,000 gallons of wastewater and 50 gallons of sludge, translating to cost savings with mandated hazardous waste disposal.

Petroleum-based cleaning systems use is declining due to stricter regulatory mandates of hazardous chemicals such as mineral spirits, VOCs, and chlorinated solvents (benzene, trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, and xylenes). These chemicals quickly dissolve oil, grease, grime, and burnt-on carbon but they’re toxic. As a result, water-based cleaning systems have gained popularity worldwide.

There are plenty of common uses for degreasers. As a matter of fact, the automotive industry in North America is the largest user of degreasers. Both Europe and North America are phasing out environmentally-damaging degreasers that contain VOCs that are harmful greenhouse gases. As all industries and businesses face the arduous task of reducing carbon emissions to a neutral level by 2050, switching from chemical-based cleaners and degreasers to water-based biodegradable solutions is a way to account for carbon reductions.

Design Types of Parts Washers

The spray enclosures often found in automotive repair shops help clean transmission housings, engines and engine parts, and other basic components. Different design types include:

The sink on a drum is the most basic and common washer design featuring a drum with a sink, brushes, and a pump that connects the chemical solvent or water supply line. The design is ideal for individual and small quantities of parts.

Immersion parts washers use an oscillation or agitation system in a bath, submerging parts in solvents or aqueous cleaners. Once coating the parts with the solvent, a vibrating action creates turbulence in the solution to clean parts.

Cabinet parts washers use a high-pressure, heated, aqueous spray to clean a variety of part sizes, including heavy, oversized ones. Loading is through a front door into a basket, so parts rotate in a high-powered spray that contains solvent cleaners, aqueous solution, or detergent. These multi-purpose spray cabinet parts washers create efficiency and convenience with low volume loads of parts.

 Conveyor washing systems have an enclosed automated transport system that moves baskets of parts through each phase of the cleaning process. The system design differs depending on the functions of each stage of cleaning. Automated touchless conveyor systems send parts baskets through the wash, rinse, and dry cycles, improving user safety.

For high-volume small parts cleaning, rotary drum parts washers are ideal. High-pressure spray and immersion agitation reach inside part tubes and hollows.

Thermal deburring removes material left behind during the final cleaning of a manufacturing process and is effective with low thermal conductivity materials. Thermal deburring uses a flammable gas that is usually methane or hydrogen. Methane is a greenhouse gas, and the GHG footprint of fossil fuel-produced hydrogen is substantially larger than coal.

Complex parts can have contaminants and oxidation that high-pressure sprays or immersion can clean. Ultrasonic parts washer systems use cavitation bubbles produced by high-frequency sound (20-400 kHz) to agitate the cleaning liquid for these applications. The force of the agitation goes deep into the holes, cracks, and crevices of the part to remove contaminants. Ultrasonic parts washers can be benchtop, or high-volume, large capacity designs.

Green parts washers are environmentally-responsible, eco-friendly cleaning machines. Parts placed in a heated washer containing a pH-neutral solution contact a microbe colony that breaks down the contamination, transforming hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water. Cost savings come from rarely having to replace the cleaning solution.

 Tunnel parts washers are designed for linear parts washing on a conveyor system based on part shape, size, frequency, and process type, including degreasing, phosphating pre-treatment, rinsing, rust inhibition, drying, or cooling.

Similar to the conveyor, the carousel parts washer is designed for high-volume operations, conveniently leveraging a small footprint and integration capability with automated load and unload functions for single user control.

Depending on the solvent cleaners used for parts washing, chemicals with low flash points can trigger an explosion or fire. Explosion-proof parts washers withstand explosions from gases and vapors.

 Acid parts washing systems contain components that withstand the harmful effects of caustic solvent cleaners.

When an access canopy is part of the parts washer design, its easy removal provides access to internal system parts, avoiding disassembly during regular maintenance procedures.

Parts Washing Systems

Solvent-based parts washing systems contain gallons of chemicals in a settling pan at the bottom of a parts washer. Immersed in the solvent is a small electric liquid pump that skims clean solvent from the top portion of the settling tank. The cleaning fluid pumps at low pressure via a nozzle onto a metal grate above the liquid onto the parts. The used solvent contains dissolved contaminants that settle at the bottom of the tank. Highly flammable chemicals used in solvent-based parts washers may include petroleum distillates (diesel fuel, gasoline, lacquer thinner, kerosene).

Solvents that produce VOC emissions are a source of atmospheric pollution. These toxins create long-term health risks, and exposure can trigger respiratory conditions, circulatory failure, and death.

Petroleum-based solvents are hazardous materials that are flammable and explosive, requiring precautions to prevent accidents during use, storage, and waste management.

For safety, atop chemical-based parts washers can be a large cover that props open with a lead fusible link that, in the event of a fire, melts and slams the lid shut before causing damage to the surrounding area or building.

In contrast, aqueous parts washing systems use heat and a safer water-based cleaning degreaser solution. Parts washers that use aqueous solutions can be jet spray or power washing systems. Parts rest on a turntable inside an enclosure. As the turntable rotates, a stream of heated cleaning degreaser is provided. After the cycle is complete, the user removes all washed, rinsed, and dried parts.

In high-pressure parts washers, a combination of high-pressure heated aqueous solution and multi-directional sprayer nozzles point at the parts resting on a low RPM turntable.

Factors that affect the results of aqueous parts washers include the cleaning solution, mechanical energy, temperature, and time.

High temperature and high quantities of mechanical energy are required to shorten the cleaning cycle. The source of mechanical energy in a parts washer is the pump system; most water-based parts washers have an electric motor and a centrifugal pump that produce this transformational energy.

Centrifugal pumps use energy from pump motors to generate maximum mechanical energy throughout the parts cleaning process. The bulk load of the parts and the power density must align to achieve its full effect. High horsepower parts cleaning systems are larger industrial machines for high-volume work environments.

Businesses seeking safer parts cleaners must consider machine design and degreasers corresponding to individual part size and bulk quantities for current and future operations.

Parts washers can use newer, advanced cleaning degreasers to eliminate fire hazards, improve work environments, and protect the planet. Diluting concentrated products to fit the requirements of parts that require decontamination is possible; check product labels.

Reducing Operating Costs with Aqueous Degreasers

Costs associated with industrial parts washing include the machine, the chemical-based solvent or alternative cleaning solution, wastewater treatment, storage, transport and disposal, plus the cost of human labor.

As the world shifts from fossil fuels to electric automotive fleets, aqueous parts cleaner systems are ideal for new part manufacturing and assembly.

Overall, parts washing equipment is a significant business investment protected by regular maintenance. Solvent-based and aqueous parts washers fulfill business requirements by removing contaminants from newly manufactured parts, remanufactured parts, and other materials.

Large industrial applications for safer aqueous parts washing systems and biodegradable cleaning degreasers include:

  • Aerospace

  • Agriculture

  • Automotive

  • Aviation

  • Car washes

  • Electronics

  • Food preparation

  • Food service

  • Facilities maintenance

  • Marine vessels

  • Medical

  • Mining

  • Pharmaceutical

  • Precision parts manufacturing

  • Printing

  • Railroads

  • Refinery

  • Property maintenance

  • Service stations

Ignite Industries

Choosing the right product with no harsh chemicals makes it much safer to remove corrosion, dust, films, stubborn grease, oil and lubricants, or paint from virtually any surface. Main qualities to seek in new, safer degreasers and cleaners include:

  • Biodegradable
  • Non-caustic
  • Non-combustible
  • Non-corrosive
  • Non-flammable
  • Non-fuming
  • Non-toxic
  • Water solubility

Concentrated, biodegradable industrial liquid degreasers and cleaners now quickly and safely remove coker charge, asphalt tar, paraffins, drag-reducing agents, crude oil, and tenacious soils from surfaces.

Each business has unique customer-driven requirements. A parts washer configuration depends on the size, shape, and volume of individual pieces or bulk loads. Specific attributes of these parts that require decontamination include its angles, blind holes, closed sections, surface area, and weight all influence the purchasing decision of part washer systems.

New technology offers a safe alternative to hazardous chemicals, including alkaline detergents, butyl-based products, caustics, and mineral spirits.

Finally, products that are designed for regulatory compliance do not affect the water treatment processes, which is a considerable cost factor for industrial manufacturing and other industries. Advanced cleaning degreaser products can help industries and businesses prove wastewater treatment compliance and supply chain transparency and accountability.

Trust Ignite™ Industrial Technologies deep-cleaning liquid degreasers to amplify cleaning power, get the job done, and be a safer solution for people, processes, and the planet.

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