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The effects of different standoff distances during ultrasonic cavitation peening are first investigated.The optimal standoff distance is deduced theoretically.The experimental optimal standoff distance increases with the increase of the vibration amplitude.Ultrasonic cavitation peening is a novel surface treatment technology which utilizes the effect of cavitation bubble collapses to improve the properties of metal surfaces. In order to obtain high impact during ultrasonic cavitation peening, a small standoff distance between a sound radiator and a rigid reflector (the surface of treated specimen) is necessary. However, the effects of different standoff distances on the capability of ultrasonic cavitation peening are not yet clear. In this paper, a simplified model was developed to evaluate the cavitation capability at different standoff distances. Meanwhile, to validate the theoretical model, the plastic deformation or erosion on the peening surface before and after treatment were compared. It was found that at a very small standoff distance the impact pressure generated by cavitation bubbles did not cause much deformation or erosion, as the dynamics of cavitation bubbles was limited. At a large standoff distance, due to much attenuation of sound propagation in the bubbly liquid, little impact pressure was generated by the collapse of cavitation bubbles and reached the treated surface. A fixed vibration amplitude, however, corresponded to a standoff distance which caused the largest deformation or erosion on the treated surface.