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Plasma Cleaning: What Is It And How It Works

Updated: Apr 15

Fighting organic matter through the use of plasma at the nano-level sounds like something straight out of science fiction. However, with 21st-century technology, scientists have been able to harness the new plasma cleaning process for everyday usage.

In general, plasma cleaning is an environmentally friendly, cost-effective, and powerful method of removing unwanted contagions from objects. Let's take you through all you need to know about vacuum plasma cleaning and whether it's right for your needs.

What is Plasma Cleaning?

Plasma is usually defined as the fourth state of matter. Even though everyone understands the first three states of matter being: solid, liquid, and gas, plasma is often not well understood. To use a simple definition, plasma is an ionized gas. That is a gas that contains free electrons and positive ions.

Plasma cleaning involves using plasma to efficiently remove contamination from the surface of an object. It is considered an environmentally safe process as it doesn’t release any harmful chemicals in the environment in substantial quantities. It can easily remove organic matter as the plasma cleaning process is able to break down the organic bonds of the surface contamination that needs to be removed.

The reason plasma cleaning is rising in popularity is due to its high effectiveness and its advantages over traditional industrial cleaning methods. For example, chemical cleaning can remove unwanted contaminations but leaves behind residues that will alter the surface. Plasma cleaning, on the other hand, leaves the treated surfaces completely exposed and does not leave any form of residue.

Plasma cleaning has major advantages in that it is entirely non-toxic to the user, it does not pollute, and it leaves behind absolutely no trace. Due to the nature of plasma cleaning, it will even reach areas that solvents are unable to.


More Plasma Cleaning Reads:


How does Plasma Cleaning Work?

The objects that need to be cleaned are placed into a vacuum chamber. The vacuum chamber is typically a metal enclosure where all the air is pumped out with the help of a vacuum pump until the desired level of vacuum is reached. For plasma cleaning applications, the vacuum level is typically between 0.1 - 1.0 bar (75 - 750 mTorr).

After the correct vacuum is established, one or more process gases will be introduced in the plasma chamber, these gases will be the starting materials to generate the plasma (the ionized gas).

To generate the plasma, a current source is used. This source can be

  • DC (Direct Current),

  • MW (Microwave at 2.54 GHz), or

  • RF (Radio-Frequency typically at 13.56MHz)

The current source is able to break down and ionize the process gas generating the plasma.

The plasma, being highly reactive, will start to interact with the objects’ surfaces and especially with the contamination breaking down its chemical bonds. The by-products of this physicochemical reaction are smaller organic molecules that can be vaporized at the operating vacuum pressure of the process.

This means that these molecules will leave the objects’ surfaces and go into the gas phase immediately after. They will be removed by the gas flow through the vacuum pump exhaust.

In simple terms, plasma cleaners vaporize the contamination that should not be on an object through the help of plasma. This leaves behind no residue, chemicals, or toxicity.

3 Types of Plasma Cleaning Processes

1. Oxygen Plasma Cleaning

The oxygen plasma cleaning process involves generating plasma starting from pure oxygen gas. The characteristic of oxygen plasma is that it is highly oxidative.

This means that it will easily break down organic contaminants as the plasma works with chemical reactions similar to those involved in combustion.

Being highly oxidative, the oxygen plasma should not be used when the objects to be cleaned are made out of sensitive materials like copper or silver or, in general, when the object should not have an oxidation layer after the plasma cleaning process.

2. Hydrogen Plasma Cleaning

The hydrogen plasma cleaning process involves generating plasma starting from pure hydrogen gas. The characteristic of hydrogen plasma is that it is highly reductive, which is the opposite effect of what oxygen plasma would do.

Although hydrogen plasma produces a reducing environment, it can still be used to remove organic contaminants. The chemistry involved will be different, but the overall mechanisms are the same: hydrogen plasma will produce smaller molecules that will evaporate from the objects’ surface and be removed by the gas flow.

An important application of hydrogen plasma is oxide removal. Since the hydrogen plasma will promote reduction reactions it is able to reverse the oxidation reactions that lead to the presence of surface oxides.

In oxidized metals, this means that after the hydrogen plasma process, the metal will be brought back to its pure form, exposing its surface directly to the environment.

3. Argon Plasma Cleaning

Argon plasma cleaning is a bit different than oxygen or hydrogen plasma as the argon plasma does not chemically react with the organic contamination but simply exchanges energy through inelastic collisions.

Argon is a heavy element compared to carbon, oxygen, or nitrogen, the components of organic contamination. Argon-positive ions present in the argon plasma can be accelerated and targeted to the organic contamination breaking it down into smaller molecules. These molecules, like in the other processes, evaporate and are removed by the process gas flow.

The argon plasma cleaning process, with its small variants, is the most used process in the semiconductor and automotive industries. The argon plasma process produces outstanding results in terms of adhesion.

Plasma Cleaning Equipment and Resources

Many people struggle to picture what plasma cleaning would even look like. Luckily, we have resources that help us envision the process. SCI Plasma has expertly written guides in addition to its plasma cleaning equipment.

Curious people and prospective buyers can peruse plasma cleaning equipment solutions which include vacuum process technology such as Batch Plasma, Inline Plasma, or Strip Plasma.

Regardless of one’s specific needs, there will be a specialized solution. Because there are so many different machines and techniques to achieve one’s goals, it would be best to consult an expert to discuss what the best path forward is. That way, a prospective client can get a specialized resolution for their precise issue.

Low-Pressure Plasma Cleaning

One of the primary benefits of low-pressure plasma cleaning is its ability to thoroughly clean complex geometries and delicate materials, making it essential in sectors like semiconductor manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, and medical devices. 

The use of plasma cleaning offers several advantages, including the elimination of organic residues and the activation of surface areas to improve bonding and coating processes. Integrating low-pressure plasma cleaning technologies represents an advancement in precision cleaning and surface preparation.

Contact SCI Plasma today to explore how we can enhance your productivity and product quality together.

Automotive Industry

Its application spans a wide range of automotive components, from engine parts to interior and exterior trim, enhancing paint adhesion, ensuring the longevity of coatings, and improving the overall quality of finishes.

This process significantly enhances surfaces' cleanliness and adhesion properties, which is crucial for critical components that require high reliability and durability. Also, plasma cleaning processes are highly efficient and can be easily integrated into automated production lines, improving throughput and reducing operational costs.

Electronics Industry

The ability of plasma cleaning to operate at the atomic level makes it uniquely suited for the electronics industry, where even the smallest particle of dust or residue can compromise the functionality and reliability of the final product.

Plasma cleaning ensures the high degree of cleanliness required for critical processes like wire bonding, soldering, and the application of conformal coatings, thereby enhancing the performance and longevity of electronic devices. This can be precisely controlled and integrated into existing manufacturing lines, offering a scalable and efficient solution that can keep pace with the rapid advancements and miniaturization trends in the electronics sector.

Plasma Cleaning in the Manufacturing Industry

Plasma cleaning technology has become a cornerstone in the manufacturing sector, known for its efficiency in cleaning, activating, and etching surfaces at the microscopic level. This process ensures the highest standards of surface cleanliness, crucial for the manufacturing steps such as bonding, painting, and coating, directly influencing the quality and durability of the final products.

Also, its adaptability to automation and compatibility with continuous production lines enhances operational efficiency, reducing downtime and increasing throughput. Plus, plasma cleaning allows for the precise removal of contaminants and preparation of surfaces across a wide range of materials including metals, plastics, ceramics, and glass.

Contact our team at SCI Plasma today and take the first step towards superior quality and performance.

Plasma In The Semiconductor Industry

Plasma cleaning enables the effective removal of organic residues, oxides, and other impurities, which is essential for the reliability and functionality of semiconductor devices. The process supports various manufacturing steps, including lithography, etching, and deposition, by improving adhesion and reducing defects. 

Its compatibility with automated manufacturing lines enhances efficiency and throughput in semiconductor production. Plasma cleaning is a critical process in semiconductor manufacturing, used for surface preparation and contamination removal at the microscopic level. 

Plasma Cleaning for Optic Lenses

This process is essential for ensuring the clarity and performance of lenses used in various applications, from cameras to microscopes and optical instruments. Plasma cleaning removes particles, organic residues, and thin film deposits without damaging the lens surface, supporting high precision and quality in optical components.

It is compatible with different lens materials, including glass and polymers, making it versatile for the optic lens industry. Plasma cleaning enhances the adherence of coatings applied to lenses, such as anti-reflective or hydrophobic coatings, contributing to the functionality and longevity of the optical components.

Plasma Cleaning in the Aerospace Industry

Plasma cleaning is a process used in the aerospace industry for surface treatment of various components. Plasma cleaning prepares surfaces for bonding, coating, and assembly, contributing to the durability and longevity of aircraft and spacecraft. It can be precisely controlled and integrated into manufacturing lines, improving efficiency and reducing production costs.

Plasma Cleaning in 3D Printing

Plasma cleaning in the 3D printing industry involves the use of ionized gas to prepare and clean the surfaces of printed objects. This process is critical for improving the adhesion of post-processing coatings and paints, as well as for ensuring the cleanliness of the print bed and printed parts. It removes residues and potential contaminants that can affect the quality and appearance of the final product. 

Plasma cleaning provides a uniform, high-quality surface that is essential for advanced 3D printing applications. The process is compatible with a wide range of materials used in 3D printing, such as metals, plastics, and composites.

Plasma Treatment For Disinfection

This technology leverages the antimicrobial properties of plasma to destroy bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens without the use of chemicals or high temperatures. It provides a rapid, effective method for disinfection, crucial for maintaining hygiene standards and preventing the spread of infections. 

Plasma treatment can be applied to a wide range of materials and complex shapes, making it versatile for different applications. The process is environmentally friendly, reducing the reliance on water and chemical disinfectants. It offers a safe, residue-free alternative to traditional disinfection methods, supporting efforts to enhance public health and safety.

Plasma Cleaning of Silver, Copper, and Other Metals

Plasma cleaning of metals such as silver and copper is a process used in various industries to enhance the surface properties of these materials. For silver and copper, which are widely used in electrical, electronics, jewelry, and antimicrobial applications, plasma cleaning ensures optimal conductivity, reflectivity, and surface hygiene. 

The process supports the preparation of metal surfaces for further processing, including soldering, coating, and bonding, by improving adhesion and reducing the likelihood of defects. Its application in the manufacturing and maintenance of silver and copper components is driven by the need for high-quality, reliable, and clean metal surfaces.

Plasma Cleaning Market Overview

The plasma cleaning market has demonstrated remarkable growth, with its valuation rising from USD 432.05 million in 2022 to an anticipated USD 679.75 million by 2028. This upsurge underscores the expanding role of plasma cleaning technologies across a variety of sectors, including automotive, electronics, PCB manufacturing, and the medical field. 

The Plasma Surface Treatment System market, along with the broader Plasma Cleaners and Treatment Systems sectors, is set to witness substantial growth. f plasma cleaning technologies across a variety of sectors, including automotive, electronics, PCB manufacturing, and the medical field is expected to expand.

Final Thoughts

Most cleaning materials will leave behind residue, which can be toxic for both humans and the environment, but this problem can be fixed through modern 21st-century technology.

Plasma cleaning offers a secure, environmentally-conscious, and efficient means of removing undesired materials from any object's surface. By employing plasma, the process breaks down oils and contaminants and removes them as gas, resulting in a cost-effective solution.


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