Here’s a little secret.
I despise track cleaning and to get myself in the right mood I play a 70s children’s TV programme in the background when doing it.
Nope, it’s not Ivor the Engine (although that is a firm favourite), or Thomas. No, the programme I have on is Bagpuss. And specifically, when the little mice are washing, cleaning and singing their song:
It never fails to put a smile on my face and track cleaning doesn’t seem such a chore when I hear those squeaky voices.
But it’s still laborious. This is one of the reasons I’ve written so many articles on different techniques over the years: I’m always testing products to find easier, quicker and more thorough ways to get my track spotless.Previous articles include:
- Quick and safe track cleaning
- Budget techniques to clean track
- How NOT to clean track, part 1
- How NOT to clean track, part 2
- 7 Tips that will make your train run smoothly
- How do I keep my track clean
But after almost five years of writing this blog (and many more years tinkering with OO and N gauge track), I settled on two products and approaches that I’ve found work the best.
Things not to use for track cleaning
Before getting to those, however, a quick word on things I’ve been asked about or tried that DEFINITELY don’t work.
The most common substance I’m asked about is WD40 and I can’t stress enough not to use this (as mentioned in part 1 of how not to clean track above). Sandpaper is another absolute no-no as it’ll damage the rails, leaving them scratched. I’m also sceptical of the hard track rubbers for the same reason. I do still use them (see below) but sparingly.
So what do I use now?
During construction or on really dirty track
When still building a layout, all manner of dirt can get onto the rails. In the worse cases, this can include glue, paint and even and even grease from power tools.
During such periods, I keep a track cleaning rubber and a can of Goo Gone handy.
The track rubber is used to shift caked-on deposits such as paint and glue from the rails. For the reasons mentioned above, I only use this for really tough-to-shift dirt on the rails (a block of wood often works just as well).
After this, I then run an application of Goo Gone over to pick up particles and dirt left behind from the rubber and from the rails. This is formulated to cut through particularly sticky adhesives and greasy residue and works a treat on really dirty rails.
For regular ‘light’ cleaning
Once the layout is complete, the rails will still need regular cleaning but only to remove dust and light buildup of dirt. For this something cheap and easy is required so it can be done frequently.
My number one solution for this is Isopropyl Alcohol, 1lt bottles of which are available via eBay for under £10.
Here’s my video on how to use it.
The IPA I recommended above is also ideal for mixing with white glue when ballasting etc.
One final word.
There is rolling stock that features various cleaning mechanisms held between or in front of the wheels, that reportedly clean the track as they’re pulled around. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never really found these very effective. I’ve heard of others being very happy with them but they haven’t worked for me and hence not including them here. As always, by all means, give them a go and let me know your experiences.
Lastly, if you’ve cleaned your track and your locos still struggle they probably need their wheels cleaned. Read my guide on the best wheel cleaner.
> 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.
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.