Track Cleaning: How to clean track, the 2022 definitive guide

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.

Previously articles include:

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 I Wouldn’t Use

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 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 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.

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One comment
  1. Goo Gone is brilliant. Been cleaning my AC Gilbert American Flyer tracks for years with every concoction sold and Goo Gone is hands down the best. Quick, easily removes everything on the rails and inexpensive. Thanks for this tip.

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