As many of you know, I wear quite a few hats as a jewelry designer, bench jeweler and professional musician. Recently, I was approached by a musician colleague who wanted to know more about ultrasonic cleaning. In particular, he wanted to know if parts of a trumpet (which are plated) could be cleaned safely using an ultrasonic machine. I consulted with a technician at Rio Grande today on this matter and was told the following:
Ultrasonic cleaning removes dirt and grime only. It is generally safe for all plated metals. However, if the plating is extremely thin, it is possible that some metal could be worn off.
I would suggest always erring on the side of caution. In this case, I would contact the instrument manufacturer to verify whether it is safe to clean the metal with ultrasonic cleaning.
Inexpensive small home-use ultrasonic machines and cleaning solutions are readily available for cleaning jewelry and eyeglasses. Please note: you should never clean porous stones, treated stones, or those with inclusions or cracks. In addition, emeralds, pearls, chrome diopside, kyanite, kunzite, opals, peridot, sunstone, tanzanite, topaz, and turquoise should never be ultrasonically cleaned. Also, snake chains will be ruined by ultrasonic cleaning. (I found this out the hard way myself. At my first job as Design Associate for David Liska, I wanted to take advantage of his ultrasonic and steam cleaner to clean some of my own jewelry. After a cycle in the ultrasonic, my snake chain came out all kinked and was ruined!)
Bottom line – be safe and check with your jeweler if you have any doubts about the safety of the material you are cleaning!