Budget Techniques To Clean Your Track

Looking for tools and techniques to keep your railway track clean on the cheap? ModelRailwayEngineer finds 3 popular budget solutions from model railway magicians across the Internet.

#1 The Cleanest

Perhaps the simplest and easiest first.

Railway forums across the web have numerous posts from members, such as this one on Model Railway Forum.Com, that recommend IPA Isopropyl Alcohol (available here) on a lint-free cloth.

Just dip the cloth into the fluid and run it over the track head. I covered this on my YouTube channel here.


(TheIPA mentioned can be obtained here. A 1 litre bottle will last a long time so it’s very cost efficient).

#2 The Most Common

model railway track

Involving slightly more physical effort (but not much), the gurus at New Railway Modellers suggest using track rubber. This is arguably the most common technique used by most modellers.

Track rubbers are available Amazon or model railway hobbyist stores, just rub your rail track over with this to shift stubborn dirt. Personally, I tend not to only use these for the most severe dirty track as they can scratch railheads which can ironically cause more dirt to build up.

#3 The Cheapest

Amongst a discussion on this very subject over at yourmodelrailway.net was perhaps the lowest cost option.

Use a bit of timber.

In the post describing it, a description is given of how hardboard is attached to a wagon and then pushed around but there’s nothing to stop you doing this manually and just rubbing the track surface with the wood yourself — as would be done with the cloth and IPA tip above.

Personally, I’ve been using timber blocks for ages and it can work well for small areas but when used for larger runs of track the dirt seems to build up on the wood and ends up being distributed around the track. I also find it doesn’t help with dust. It just moves it elsewhere.

That’s 3 budget tips from model railway forums, what are your favourite techniques? 

In summary: 

The easiest and quickest method, use IPA, available here.

The most common, but needs care, using a track rubber, available here.

The cheapest, a bit of old wood. Available from your shed 🙂

Share your suggestions in a comment below.

Picture credit, Orin Zebest

> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
  1. First off, thanks for the awesome website, which I discovered for the first time today. On the current topic, I want to share what works best for me.

    Rubbers – no, modified wagons – no, cloths – no (they always catch on something). The best solution I’ve found is old egg boxes. I cut them into squares, pour a little white spirit onto the rougher side, and rub up and down the tracks. Once the square turns black, move onto a new one. Not the slightest bit high-tech, but it works for me.

  2. Don’t use track rubbers!  They are abrasive, and will scratch the surface of the rails, which will enable them to pick up and hold on to dirt all the easier; some of this dirt will be picked up on the loco wheels and transferred to the mechanisms.  

    • Hi John, thanks for your input. I agree and includes a note as such. They are useful for shifting stubborn dirt/paint etc that has some how got on to the rails. When I use them I run over the track with an IPA solution to pick up the dust left behind on the rails and hoover after extensive work. Andy

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