Top tips to fighting dust on your model railway


Howard Smith provides ideas to combat the perennial problem of dust on our model railways, to ensure your layout remains clean.

Don’t we all wish that our model creations, which we’ve slaved countless hours over could access the fountain of eternal youth? No chance! Just as much as the Ultra-Violet rays of the sun mute colours over time, dust forms an even coating across all level surfaces, dulling the colours of the landscape, adding a level of ‘fluff’ over building rooves and preventing reliable electrical contact between the wheels of locomotives and the track on which they run.

Though maintenance on any model railway is unavoidable because of moving parts and possible failures, the cleaning regime can be reduced by a combination of preventative measures and useful products.

Polythene Dust Sheets

Top tips to preventing dust on your model railway

‘Prevention is the best form of cure’ goes the saying and it remains valid whenever dust or dirt is involved. Though dusting ‘hard’ surfaces, such as buildings, bridges, viaducts, roads or models is a straight-forward task, the softer items such as bushes, trees, hedges and grass are far harder to revitalise from the effects of dust, without having to re-apply scatters.

Polythene dust sheets are a cost-effective method to prevent dust falling on the surface of your model railway when it isn’t in use. They can be picked up from many a D.I.Y outlet, though take care when placing these over the model to prevent damage to street lamps, signals or other sharp objects that might get caught. The sheets weigh very little, so won’t bend fragile trees, though can be blown around easily, so securing them with foldback/bulldog clips to the sides of your layout is a safe method.

Dust sheets are the sole method for preventing debris and dirt from falling across the entire layout.

Where scenery is concerned, dust sheets prevent contamination on trees and other green areas that can't be cleaned properly. Ensure they are replaced the correct way around, or the dust will simply be returned to the layout.

Nylon dusters

Top tips to preventing dust on your model railway

If your model railway is stored outside in a garage or shed, spiders are sure to find solace in your trees, sheds, platform canopies and many an awkward place. Some of the cobwebs they produce can be so fine they remain hidden from normal viewing distance, but as Andy York or Tony Wright know too well from the layout images you see in the magazine, they are visible to the camera. Even some of the best layouts can suffer from an attack of the spiders. A small dusting brush is ideal for removing the majority of loose dust from buildings and scenery, though be sure to have a vacuum cleaner to hand to collect the loose dust.

Track cleaners

Top tips to preventing dust on your model railway

This method of track cleaning is more aggressive and is falling out of favour by many railway modellers who opt for less-aggressive fluid-based cleaners, though some still have their uses. DCC Concepts is one of the few manufacturers to produce a Track Cleaner which polishes rails, without scratching them. Its (DCT-TCB) Jumbo Track Cleaner offers exceptional value for money, measuring 48mm x 20mm x 77mm. Use to remove more stubborn areas of dirt from your rails, or polish the rail surfaces of newly-soldered hand-built track, particularly the frog areas. You can also consider cleaning pads (pictured above), which attach to your rolling stock and clean the tracks with the passing of each train.

Track cleaning fluids

Top tips to preventing dust on your model railway

Dust settles on the rails of our track, whether the layout is kept indoors or outdoors. Though it might not seem much to begin with, it sticks to locomotive wheels easily and across a longer distance of track, it soon accumulates, hindering electrical contact. Regularly cleaning the rails of your layout with a non-abrasive cleaner or a less-abrasive cleaner will ensure that your locomotives perform reliably, as expected. There are a number of solvent-based track cleaning fluids available for modellers to purchase, such as Track Magic by Deluxe Materials. Using a lint-free cloth or its Track Magic Accessory Pack sponges, it can be applied to the inside of tunnel mouths, under bridges and other hard-to-reach areas.

Seal off areas

Top tips to preventing dust on your model railway

Dust comes from many sources. Indoors, it’s mostly from man-made fibres and even human skin, but outside the home, in a garage, for instance, a regular culprit is cement dust. The concrete surface disturbed by feet generates dust, which is easily blown around by air currents that creep around garage doors. Strip material can be sourced from numerous D.I.Y. outlets and is ideal for sealing gaps around doors or garden sheds, reducing the likelihood of spiders and air currents from entering. You can also consider sealing the floor and walls with a paint or sealant to reduce the dust.

Cleaning Compounds

Top tips to preventing dust on your model railway

A recent innovation is cleaning compounds and these have become more accessible to railway modellers. Cyber Clean from Busch (available from Golden Valley Hobbies) is a cleaning compound that easily adapts to the surface of models and attracts dust and grime from hard-to-reach areas. Unlike cleaning with a brush or cloth, dirt isn’t smudged or smeared, but contained in the cleaning material. It is ideal for uneven surfaces such as rooftops, rough road surfaces, ballasted track, locomotives or rolling stock. Avoid touching smaller, more fragile details with the compound and avoid using a wiping motion. Dust and dirt are absorbed and trapped into the material and some of these have a disinfectant too.

Other considerations

Top tips to preventing dust on your model railway

Dust is far easier to remove from your layout if it hasn’t been exposed to moisture. Humidity from damp air will ensure that dust sticks firmly to your buildings - the worst culprits being card buildings, which are affected the most when damp. Indoor layouts that have locomotives fitted with smoke units are prone to an accumulation of the vaporised smoke fluid over surfaces, to which dust and dirt can readily stick. Ensure that your space is well-ventilated when these are in use, to reduce fallout and remember to keep your layout covered when not in use.

Looking for some tips on how to repair scenery? Our useful guide here should help...

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