How NOT to clean track, part 2

how not to clean model railway track 2Cleaning track is a fundamental maintenance task on a model railway but it’s surprising how badly wrong it can go.

As I covered in part 1 in how not to clean your track, there some chemicals you should never use on your railway track. But cleaning fluids aren’t the only thing some people get wrong. Catastrophic errors can also be made by using the wrong tools.

A case in point is a Dremel. Like WD-40 in the last post.

For the right kind of job a Dremel is hard to beat and one should be in every modeller’s toolbox but never fit one out with a sanding disc for track cleaning.  There’s a great discussion here covering the story of one hobbyist mistakenly using a Dremel in this way to clean their track.

But the worst mistake I’ve seen in track cleaning was a few years back.

Yes, he did

An acquaintance had inherited a large quantity of old OO gauge track that needed a lot of TLC.  Unfortunately, the technique this DIY fanatic choose was anything but tender.

The track had been found in a dark, spider-infested, shed and having been left there unprotected for some time had rusted.

Not understanding the mechanics of rails or how delicate they are but faced with long stretches of metal to clean Paul went to work with DIY power sander.

Yep, a sander!

His rationale being that sandpaper would shift the crap off the rails and a using a sander would speed up job, saving himself hours of work.

Sadly, by the time he called me it was too late.

At best, his railheads were scored and scratched and in some places had even been sanded away leaving nasty drops in track height. After a quick inspection, I had to tell him to throw out the majority of the track although

He wasn’t happy!

What he should have done

Hopefully, no one reading this will make the same mistake but I do hear of other sad sandpaper exploits. Save yourself the frustration and never let sandpaper near your rails. It’ll scratch the metal making dust and dirt far harder to clean in future.

Instead, click on any of the following and take a look at

for practical advice on keeping your track clean, the safe way.

> 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 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. If your cleaning block has shiny things in them, use it to polish anything but the rails. Why? Take your “bright” block and cross-rub your rails on a piece of scrap track, that is, the same direction of the ties/sleepers. It will show you a “cross-grain” set of scratches. These scratches are not as noticeable when rubbing parallel to the rails. They are scratched! I use most any paper fiber product to clean my rails. A light application of certain lip-balm then gets applied. And a quick check at frogs and certain wheels that picked up any gunk from hard to reach areas is next. I rarely have to clean my track.

  2. Andy, the block of wood sounds like it might do the trick for the rail heads but my problem is where the track and the plastic base meet.(Bachman EZ Track).
    There is a red substance on a lot of the track that I was told may be acrylic paint.
    But I also find this same red on parts from Bachman that are in areas that would normally never have paint of any kind. ( IE-switch joints) And yes, I will write to Bachman but was wondering if you know about this as well as a cure.

    • Hi Michael, hmmm. I can understand your frustration. I’m not aware of any easy way of getting into those areas to clean them. I’ve had to do this before and ended up scraping the paint out with a cocktail stick (slow work!). Have you considered painting over them with a rail coloured paint? Andy

  3. Appreciate your thoughts on track cleaning. But, what DO you recommend for a cleaning solution ? I have purchased (sight unseen) track in bulk and it has red acrylic paint along the area.where the rail and track mount meet– (Bachman EZ track) I was told mineral sprits may do the trick but I think that would leave an oily film on rails. Any suggestions?

    • Michael, If you have paint on the railheads run a block of wood over them a few times. Being wood this won’t scratch or damage the rails (as some abrasive blocks do) but will still rub away the paint. After this, a quick application of IPA will remove dirt etc left behind. It’s simple to use, give it a go here. Andy

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