Ultrasonic Chip Cleaning (10 Viewers)


Dec 24, 2013
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UPDATED 2014/12/10

Is This Topic for You?:
Before we start, I consider my own time valuable, and out of respect for others, I don't want to waste YOUR time. To see if this topic is for you, mark the following statements below TRUE or FALSE:

1) I like having a little dirt and gunk on my poker chips. I think it lends some casino class.

2) I don't insist that my poker chips are 100% clean. 80-90% is good enough.

3) I enjoy scrubbing chips with a toothbrush and/or Magic Eraser and/or dental pick.

4) I don't really put any value on my time, and I don't want to spend any money. Besides, I scrub chips while watching TV, and I can focus on two things at once and still do a great job cleaning my chips.

5) I don't notice the permanent fading of my chips that occurs with some colors when I give them 15 minute or longer hot soaks in Oxi Clean, or if I notice the fading, I really don't care.

6) I have filthy Burt Co./ASM/CPC chips to clean.

7) I already own a high-end Chip Brite® ultrasonic cleaner!

If you marked ANY of the statements above TRUE, then I recommend that you stop reading now, as THIS TOPIC IS NOT FOR YOU. To borrow another member's infamous tag line, it's a "No thanks." :D


This updated topic describes a process I've used to effectively clean dirty used Paulson chips (RHC, SCV, LCV) with an ultrasonic cleaner and sodium metasilicate with a minimum of effort. I've also used this process to clean ceramic Chipcos (Hard Rocks) and Bud Jones roulettes (Aztar). To be clear, just as with traditional manual baths followed by scrubbing/wiping/brushing/etc., this process only cleans the dirt and filth from the chips, i.e. it does not remove chip marks that are a result of harsh contact with other chips, like rack checks. Photos can be found at the bottom of this post.

Please be sure to do TESTING on a small number of chips prior to using ANY cleaning process on large quantities of expensive chips!

Bottom Line Results:

This process results in completely clean chips for me, with absolutely NO brushing, scrubbing, or wiping whatsoever (i.e. no toothbrushes, Magic Erasers, etc.). Using this process, I am able to consistently clean 1,000 Paulson RHC chips (such as dirty Aztar E, Par-A-Dice, and Garden City casino chips) in an hour. This timeframe includes a 45 second ultrasonic bath for 40 chips at a time, plus the time necessary to rinse the chips in clean water, soak for 1 minute in white vinegar (5% acidity - to eliminate cigarette smoke odor if your chips have it - done while ultrasonic cleaning the next batch), pat them dry with a towel, and lay them out flat on a table for overnight drying.

Filthy Paulson SCV/LCV chips you ask? I can get 1,000 nasty Empress chips clean in 1-1/2 hours (as long as someone else hasn't previously tried to clean them, which makes the job a lot harder).

Hot-stamps? I've cleaned Casino Miami 300x gold hot-stamp fracs and 20x silver hot-stamp $10 chips with no discoloration or other problems using sodium metasilicate.

The speed is a combination of the fast ultrasonic cleaning, and setting up a good workspace and process that doesn't involve a lot of individual chip handling, walking back and forth, etc. These timeframes do not include equipment setup or cleanup, nor do they include time necessary to explain to your significant other exactly why you need to co-opt her kitchen.

Equipment and Materials:

1. Hornady "Lock 'n' Load" Magnum Sonic Cleaner - dual transducer ultrasonic cleaner with 140 W of power (currently about $200 on Amazon).

Do NOT skimp here. If you get a smaller, low power, single transducer unit marketed as a "jewelry cleaner", you WILL be disappointed.

The ultrasonic cleaner is also great for jewelry, glasses, fuel injectors, carburetor parts, filthy used chip racks from casinos, and even the stainless beverage holders in your poker table that get nasty after a few games!

2. Lundmark "TSP" (sodium metasilicate) Hard Surface Cleaner

I hate the false advertising by Lundmark and others that boldly put "TSP" on the labels of their products that are NOT trisodium phosphate, but I love the way that sodium metasilicate cleans chips.

3. A plastic "chip barrel cage" (my term) taken from something called a "Salad Spinner" (about $8 for the one I got). I found this in a local Kroger grocery store. Below is a link to a salad spinner on Amazon that is identical to mine, though it's currently about twice the price that I paid in the grocery store:

IMPORTANT NOTE: In order to get good "turnover" of the chips while rotating the cage, I added four plastic ties to the sides of the cage. This easy modification significantly reduced the amount of time it takes to clean the chips! See the photos at the end of the topic.

If you can't get the same thing, substitutions could be made here, as you just need something to contain the chips while you rotate them during the ultrasonic bath. However, I strongly recommend plastic instead of metal here, in order to prevent tearing up the stainless tank in the ultrasonic cleaner. I also recommend finding something as large as possible that still fits in the ultrasonic tank.

4. Distilled Water (around 70-80 cents/gallon) - for better cleaning, and to help ensure that others who try this process will get similar results. Depending upon the hardness of the water in your location, use of distilled water can make a significant difference!

5. A large clean bowl to use for rinsing the chips in clean water after the ultrasonic bath. I used the large plastic container that came as part of the "Salad Spinner".

6. Lots of clean towels to pat dry the chips, and to wipe up any minor splashes that occur during rotating the chip barrel cage during the ultrasonic bath. I recommend "bar mop" towels. They are great for drying chips, and even better for wiping excess mineral oil from chips. They're also very cheap if you buy a pack of them at Sams or a similar warehouse club, and they'll keep you from getting in trouble with the missus for using her nice towels for wiping chips. Here's an example at Sams:

7. Measuring cup for the distilled water.

8. Measuring spoon (tablespoon) for the sodium metasilicate powder.

This process did not damage any of my Paulson chips (including thousands of Casino Aztar Evansville, Par-A-Dice, Garden City, Casablanca, Empress, Casino Miami, and others). To the contrary, it eliminated nearly all the fading problems I was experiencing with longer/hotter Oxi baths. It also bears noting that this process, which includes tumbling the chips in a cage in the ultrasonic bath, did NOT impart any visible damage (chipping/nicks) in even the most fragile of chips that I cleaned - some near-mint white RHC Terrible's $1s that still had razor sharp edges, but had become grey from cheesy dirty hands in someone's home games! However, your own chips, equipment, and process conditions COULD yield different results, so be careful! I'm not responsible for any damage that might occur using this process, any more than any of the other helpful people at PCF & CT are responsible for minor damage (fading) I inflicted upon small numbers of my own chips when I followed some of the traditional processes noted in the forums! :D

Here we go...

0. Prepare your workspace, and be safe! This goes a long way toward speeding the overall job. I recommend locating the ultrasonic unit very close to the kitchen sink, with some space close by large enough to place a medium towel that will be used for the initial drying of 40 chips at a time. Put your large bowl for rinsing in the sink and fill it with clean warm water. Get your towels ready.

• Cover any kitchen countertops, cabinet faces, backsplashes, etc. that could be splashed with the sodium metasilicate solution. Don't forget to cover the floor nearby, too! Your personal safety is at risk if the missus finds that you've ruined her kitchen.
• Wear eye protection.
• Wear gloves. The thin latex gloves you can get at the drug store work great.

1. Heat 2 cups of distilled water in a clean measuring cup in a microwave for about 3 minutes.

2. Pour the heated water into the tank of the ultrasonic cleaner.

3. Dissolve 2 tablespoons of Lundmark "TSP" sodium metasilicate in the hot water.

4. Add 6 more cups of distilled water to the ultrasonic cleaner, for a total of 8 cups. I found that this gave me something close to the 110 F temperature that I wanted to use.

5. Plug in the ultrasonic cleaner, and turn on the built in heater if the temperature isn't yet up to 110 F. Turning on the ultrasonic transducers will heat the water even faster if necessary.

6. Put 40 chips in the chip barrel cage.

7. Set the ultrasonic cleaner timer. As a guideline, I recommend the following times:
• Lightly soiled Chipcos - 30 seconds
• Lightly soiled Paulsons of any mold - 30 to 45 seconds
• Heavily gunked up Paulson RHC chips - 45 to 60 seconds
• Heavily gunked up Bud Jones roulettes - 60 seconds
• Heavily gunked up Paulson SCV/LCV - 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 minutes

If you have some PREVIOUSLY CLEANED Paulson SCV/LCV chips that still have gunk in the rings and Hat & Cane mold, you may find that the gunk has been hardened to the point where even 2-1/2 minutes in the ultrasonic bath won't remove it. I'm not sure whether the previous cleaning process, detergent, and/or heat causes this, but I've experienced it. In any case, if you have chips like these, I recommend you give 2-1/2 minutes a shot, and if that doesn't work, give up and resort to getting the hardened gunk out with a dental pick or the back side of the point of an X-Acto knife. If you elect to trying longer baths in the ultrasonic unit, please be VERY careful to watch for fading.

8. Place the chip barrel cage with chips in the ultrasonic tank, and turn on the ultrasonic cleaner.

9. Rotate the chip barrel cage by hand for the entire ultrasonic cleaning time. I've found that 1/2 rotation per second works best. You'll note that the ultrasonic transducers add a lot of energy to the bath that's absorbed by the chips and radiated as heat, i.e. the temperature of the water will rise during the bath. I try to keep the temperature around an average of 110-115 F.


Also note that I've experimented with a lot of different rotation speeds, and alternating between rotating/waiting, etc., but the constant 1/2 rotation per second has worked best so far.

10. When the ultrasonic cleaning cycle has completed, slowly remove the chip barrel cage from the tank, give it a gentle shake, and allow the excess water to drain back into the ultrasonic tank.

11. Dump the chips into the bowl of warm clean water to rinse. Agitate the chips by hand a bit to ensure they're well rinsed.

12a. If your chips have cigarette odor, take them from the rinsing bowl, shake the excess water, and put them straight into a container of 5% distilled white vinegar (I use a cheap plastic tupperware-like container for this). Then begin ultrasonic cleaning your next batch of chips while these cleaned chips soak in vinegar to remove the odor. When your next batch of chips is clean and in the rinsing bowl, remove the chips from the vinegar bath, shake the excess vinegar, and place them on a towel to pat dry as in step 12b (you don't need to rinse them in water again).

12b. If your chips don't have cigarette odor, remove them from the rinsing bowl and lay them flat on a towel, and pat the tops dry with another towel. Remove and place the chips flat on a large towel on a table for overnight drying prior to oiling.

After patting dry, I move the chips to the "overnight drying table" (my poker table) by picking up the four corners of the bar mop towel on which they were pat dried. Over the long haul, this saves a lot of time by minimizing the handling individual chips.

13. Loop back to step 6 and repeat as necessary until you're done. Note that I use the same bath of sodium metasilicate water for 1,000 chips, and though filthy at the end, the original bath water is still effective in cleaning the last batch of chips. However, I often find that after cleaning about 1,000 chips, the sodium metasilicate bath becomes very foamy (possibly from detergents used to clean the chips at the casino) to the point of spilling over out of the ultrasonic unit. So, I usually change out the bath water about every 1,000 chips when I have more than that number to clean.

Closing Remarks:

I sincerely hope you find this process useful. If you decide to give it a try, let us know how it works for you! -Ski


The "Salad Spinner" which provided a nice inexpensive plastic "chip barrel cage" that worked really well for the ultrasonic cleaning process:

Four plastic ties on the cage to greatly improve chip turnover and reduce cleaning times:


The Hornady Magnum Sonic Cleaner with the chip barrel cage:

Some Casino Aztar Primary $5 chips prior to cleaning, under the harsh light of a flash (not flattering to the chips, but shows the dirt better):

The same Casino Aztar Primary $5 chips after cleaning and rinsing, again under the harsh light of a flash (again, not flattering to the chips, but shows how clean they are):


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Very nice Ski, Thanks for posting it over here! If I had more chips to clean I'd definitely consider getting one.
They look great! My hands are happy to see this. ;)
i can`t see pictures ... :(

It may have had something to do with this thread temporarily being accidentally removed. Can you see the pictures now?

(Gosh I need to update this thread with new pictures of the minor mods to the green chip barrel cage, and the new procedure using TSP, together which are getting 40 chips at a time clean in only 45-60 seconds! Also, I have some dirty filthy nasty horrible disease ridden disgusting slime covered Empress chips on the way, so we'll see how fast the new mods and procedure can clean *them*!)
This thread would make a good article. ;)
This thread would make a good article. ;)

Maybe, but articles need shock value. Photos of dirty filthy nasty horrible disease ridden disgusting slime covered Empress chips might help in that regard.

I'll let you know when I have them in hand (well, latex gloved hands sprayed with disinfectant). Always willing to help out. It's what I do. :rolleyes:

Many thanks for posting this. It was a tremendous help. I was able to finally clean my PCA $5's with no problem at all. I tried both the Oxi and TSP method and all that I can say is that the TSP solution is much quicker. I prefer the Oxi method; as it is not as aggressive on the chips, but if I'm in a hurry, it is TSP all the way.

Thanks again for this post. You have saved me a ton of time and elbow grease!

Will oxiclean eliminate the smell that is associated with new chips? I have a unused new rack of PNY and was wondering if I should oxi it to remove the manufacturing smell.
I took the plunge and purchased the same sonic cleaner and chip cage (aka salad spinner) as ski_ex5. I don't know why but I'm thinking of this now cleaning chips using this method. LOL :)

Everything is here except the chip cage. :( I can't wait to try this method.

Chip cage will be here today! Out for delivery. I'm off to get some distilled water.
Did you try without the chip barrel cage, is that necessary?
It helps when you do many chips at one time. All the credit goes to ski_ex5 for the idea. I've done 10 at a time without it and result were just as good.
Ok, thanks. Im going to pick one up for sure, looks like its the way to clean watches, jewelry etc as well. And as for this "Oxy free" you guys talk about, its basically a stain remover for clothing? Without bleach and perfume?

And Dawn is a liquid for doing dishes by hand?
Ok, thanks. Im going to pick one up for sure, looks like its the way to clean watches, jewelry etc as well. And as for this "Oxy free" you guys talk about, its basically a stain remover for clothing? Without bleach and perfume?

And Dawn is a liquid for doing dishes by hand?

Oxy Clean is/was a stain remover for laundry in powdered form. It contains sodium carbonate (washing soda) and lots of ethoxylated alcohols (whatever they are). It contains no bleach but is a bleach substitute in that it provides an oxidation reaction. It contains no phosphates. I don't know what Oxy Free is. It is obviously similar to Oxy Clean (same manufacturer), but I don't know what it's "free" of.

Dawn is a concentrated liquid for doing dishes by hand. It bills itself as "tough on grease" - which it is. It contains no phosphates. You can probably use any good dishwashng liquid as a substitute - maybe up the volume used a little.
Ski-- any update to this thread? How did this method work on the "dirty filthy nasty horrible disease ridden disgusting slime covered Empress chips". Very curious about this.
Ok, thanks. I'll pick up the corresponding here in Norway.
Too many positive results for not going that path...

Bought also a sonic cleaner (EMAG 20H). Now just need to find an official justification...
Dawn is a concentrated liquid for doing dishes by hand. It bills itself as "tough on grease" - which it is. It contains no phosphates. You can probably use any good dishwashng liquid as a substitute - maybe up the volume used a little.

I experimented with Dawn in the ultrasonic for Shaggy, and the bottom line is that it wasn't very effective. I tried to clean just 10 gunky white $100 Lucky Derby chips in a static (non-cage tumbled) ultrasonic batch (2 tablespoons of Dawn in 8 cups distilled water at 120F), and after 15 minutes, there hadn't been much progress. I then put the 10 chips in the green chip barrel cage and tumbled them for a full three minutes in the ultrasonic Dawn bath, and still, only five of the ten chips were completely clean. I also had a foamy mess from tumbling the chips! :) I was REALLY hoping the Dawn would work better than it did in the ultrasonic, because it's not as harsh as the others, and MIGHT be safe to use with ASM chips.

Ski-- any update to this thread? How did this method work on the "dirty filthy nasty horrible disease ridden disgusting slime covered Empress chips". Very curious about this.

Yeah, I can imagine you're very curious about this... NOT! Since you already know the results from a few Empress photos! :D Seriously, though, I FINALLY made the time to finish the updates to the procedure using sodium metasilicate, but I need Tommy to tell me how I can update my original post. I see the "Edit post" button/link just fine for this reply, but I don't see it for the original post! I'm sure Tommy will re-introduce me to Captain Obvious, and you will likely make an old age joke. Both will probably be deserved! :eek: :rolleyes:

UPDATE: Yay! Tommy already fixed things so that I could see the "Edit Post" link again. Tommy is THE MAN when it comes to quick responses for help. And now, even better, there will be no "old age" or dementia jibes! Win-win. Oh wait... but now I feel kind of bad about all those nasty things I said about Tommy in various PMs. <sigh> :rolleyes:

- - - - - - - - - Updated - - - - - - - - -

Did you try without the chip barrel cage, is that necessary?

YES, unless you want to have to wipe or scrub the chips afterwards. (I don't.)

Prior to settling on my current process, I did a number of tests with the chips in a static tray. At best, it resulted in the chip gunk being LOOSENED, but NOT REMOVED. I had to use a toothbrush to remove the gunk off after the static ultrasonic bath. Also, the chips spent a LOT longer in the static ultrasonic bath just to loosen the gunk, and longer bath times means more fading. So, YES... I always use the "chip barrel cage".

Unlike Tommy, I didn't add the nifty handle of sorts to the outside of the cage. I just use my latex gloved finger to rotate the cage.

- - - - - - - - - Updated - - - - - - - - -

Bought also a sonic cleaner (EMAG 20H). Now just need to find an official justification...
That looks like a good one, with dual transducers, and 150W of power. Folks, you don't want to skimp here. If you buy a smaller, low power unit with a single transducer (often marketed as a "jewelry cleaner"), you *will* be disappointed.
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Great info. Made a sticky.
That looks like a good one, with dual transducers, and 150W of power. Folks, you don't want to skimp here. If you buy a smaller, low power unit with a single transducer (often marketed as a "jewelry cleaner"), you *will* be disappointed.

How does this one look?:


2X 60w transducers and 200w of heating in a 2.5 litre (.66 US Gallon) tank
That drain valve is a great feature!
First off thanks for this thread and the well written procedure. I managed to get a great deal on the Magnum cleaner on eBay... new $120 shipped.

I followed Ski's procedure to a tee. Here are the before and afters for a dirty set of peach Par-A-Dice roulettes.
The chips have yet to be oiled. There is just a little bit of crud still stuck in the mold on a few chips. I can't really speak to fading or hotstamp removal. The hotstamps on all of my Par-A-Dice were pretty iffy.

I'm really looking forward to cleaning more chippies with this process. No more scrubbing.
The only thing missing from this process is a food dehydrator to bring the drying into the 21st Century.
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...and an oil application method that doesn't require wiping... like spray on of the proper quantity to soak in.

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