A newly developed photomask final cleaning system, STEAG HamaTech's Advanced Single Substrate Cleaner, ASC 500, was assessed and optimized at the Siemens mask shop in Munich, Germany, under production conditions within the Esprit European Semiconductor Equipment Assessment programme (SEA). The project was carried out together with the active participation of Compugraphics Intl. Ltd. (UK), DuPont Photomasks, Inc. (Germany) and Photronics-MZD (Germany). The results of the assessment are presented, focusing on the cleaning performance at the 0.25 micrometer defect level on photomasks, equipment reliability and Cost of Ownership data. A reticle free of soft defects on glass and on chrome down to the 0.25 micrometer level requires an excellent cleaning process and the use of high-end inspection tools like the KLA STARlight. In order to get a full understanding of the nature of the detected features additional investigations on the blank quality have been carried out. These investigations include the questions whether a detection is a hard or a soft defect and whether small defects on chrome are able to move on the reticle surface. Final cleaning recipes have been optimized in respect to cleaning efficiency while maintaining high throughput and low Cost of Ownership. A benchmark comparison against other final cleaning tools at the partner's maskshops showed the leading data of the ASC 500. It was found that a cleaning program which includes several substrate flips and a combination of the available cleaning methods acid- dispense, water pressure jet clean, brush and megasonic clean was best suitable to achieve these goals. In particular the use of the brush unit was shown to improve the yield while not adding damage to the plate.