How NOT to clean track, Part 1

how NOT to clean model railway trackThis gem of track cleaning advice was overheard in a model railway shop the other day. And it’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The conversation was heard between two customers, not the staff I hasten to add, in Bristol Antics.

Both were looking at Hornby OO track and the older of the two mentioned that he was looking for some track to replace old and worn rails.

A simple enough discussion. And I was about to go on my merry way when I heard the other customer suggest that the rails could be salvaged and cleaned with WD-40.

If I’d been drinking I could have choked!

WD-40?!? Whhhhatttt?

Don’t get me wrong, I love WD-40. All most as much as I love Duct Tape. The two are never far from hand.

And there are lots of things you can clean track with – I covered this here – but WD-40 and rails? No. Just no.

WD-40 contains oils and while it’s fantastic for just about everything else and some obviously think it’s a “good thing” for cleaning model railway track it’s actually the exact opposite.

The oil will leave a nasty coating on the rails that’ll clobber the traction of locos and will be a pain in the rear to clear.

If you’re interested, there’s a post on the perils of track cleaning on NewRailwayModellersUK.

Instead, follow these tips for cleaning rails and leave the WD-40 to other maintenance duties.

I interrupted my fellow customers, gently explained the problems and went on my way. Maybe next time they’ll read Model Railway Engineer or talk to the shop staff – the Antics Bristol team are always very helpful and would have undoubtedly been able to offer a choice of track cleaning solutions.

What mistakes have you made when maintaining your model railway?

Please share your tales of woe in a comment below and help other readers here avoid the same mistake.



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6 comments
  1. I had a Hornby Dublo 3 rail layout in the old attic bedroom of my cottage for 31 years. I used Wrenn track from the 1950s. Over time the points broke up and repairing them with superglue was no longer viable. I always used the Peco track rubbers. A visit to Pendon in June allowed me to talk to the guys operating the layouts. They were vehemently opposed to the track rubbers and other abrasive solutions. They showed me a piece of hardboard that was affixed under a wagon and towed around the tracks. You could clearly see the two black lines on it where it had lifted dirt from the track. I’ve now scrapped the 3 rail LMS layout and rebuilt it to 2 rail GWR finescale 1940 with kit built locos, wagons and GWR Exley carriages. The old stuff was ebayed by my partner and raised far more than it cost me to buy new stuff. Having invested £143 in new track and points, I’m not going to ruin it with track rubbers. I’ve bought IPA and cotton buds. Will use these on the loco wheels too.

  2. Try aluminium foil simply fold a small square of foil and rub the rails, it is nonabrasive will not leave any residue dose not damage plastic, it can be labour intensive though! I have used this technique for a while with no problems

  3. Another peril of WD40. After a can lost its propellant, I transferred the liquid into a plastic bottle. I intended to apply it with a small brush. Imagine my surprise when, after a fortnight,I went to fetch the bottle from the shed only to find a badly deformed, molten heap with a lid on, where the bottle should have stood. Later, a friend of mine mentioned that he was going to clean his dirty Z gauge track with WD40. I advised him not to and related my bottle experience. He ignored my advice and went ahead. Within approx. a fortnight, his track started to fall apart.
    Don’t use the stuff on plastics!

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