A guide to model railway track cleaning

02 September 2020
trackcleaninglead-70161.jpg Track Cleaning
We explore the different methods you can apply for cleaning your model railway in ten helpful tips.

Maintenance, together with careful design, are two important factors in achieving a good running layout. Routine maintenance will help deliver smooth and trouble-free running most of the time and model railway track cleaning is an important consideration.

A dirty track can be a frustrating problem for many modellers. As dust settles on the rails and oil and other dirt accumulate, electrical conductivity between wheels and rail deteriorates to the point where reliable current supply to the motor and onboard systems is no longer possible. The result is inevitable; jerky running, flashing lights and generally disappointingly poor performance.

Here we explore ten top tips to model railway track cleaning.

Ten top tips to model railway track cleaning 


1. The first thing to do is check if your track is dirty by taking a piece of white kitchen towel and simply run it along the rails. If it picks up what appears to be dark grey greasy muck, it is safe to assume that the track needs cleaning.

2. Traditional track rubber is great as a model railway track cleaner and ideal for picking up tough dirt on the rails, including paint following track detailing. Try to choose one that has a soft texture and make sure you don’t rub too hard to avoid eroding the rail top. Always make sure you vacuum up the rubber dust afterwards.

Model Railway Track Cleaning

3. If the layout has not been used for some time, tarnish could be a problem. Rub a fibreglass stick gently on the rail surface and the inside edge, because model locomotives will pick up electrical current from the side and the top of the rail.

4. Another method for cleaning railway track is using a lint-free cloth soaked with isopropyl alcohol. This is the gentlest method of cleaning model railway track for removing oil and dirt without scouring it.

5. If your layout is DCC, a track cleaning car can be a useful tool and there are several available. They are designed to be filled with model railway track cleaning solvent and either pushed or hauled by a locomotive around the layout until all the track has been cleaned. The cleaning action is achieved through a soft pad on the underside of the track cleaning car, which is fed with a steady stream of solvent as it is used. There are similar track cleaning cars which rely on abrasive action on the rails and these are also very successful. For advice on building your own model railway track cleaning car, check out our guide here.

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6. Dust, fluff, hairs, and dirt all make a layout look uncared for and untidy. Vacuum the layout regularly and use a small clean paintbrush to dust scenery and buildings.

7. Paint and glue left on trackwork can collect on the rail edge and is best removed with grade 1200 wet and dry paper.

8. Make sure you check the turnout switches and clean where appropriate. Look for tiny pieces of wood splinters in the hole that may be enough to prevent the point motor from doing its job properly.

9. Following a cleaning session, apply a rail head treatment such as ‘Track Magic’ or ‘Rail-Zip 2’. Apply in small amounts using a clean soft cloth and leave overnight. It should improve electrical conductivity too, plus helps prevent the effects of dirt contamination due to arcing between locomotive wheels and rail together with corrosion and tarnishing.

10. Simple soft covers light enough to avoid damage to trains and structures are a great idea for protecting the layouts. Fit portable layouts with hardcovers that not only make handling easier but will protect structures and scenery from damage during transport.

So that’s it – ten top tips to model railway track cleaning. If you’d like some more advice, take a look at the BRM Techniques page for all our latest guides and advice articles.