Doug Hodgdon

How to Clean Model Railroad Track: Cleaning Tips and Techniques

Doug Hodgdon
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Duration:   6  mins

Douglas Hodgdon of Model Railroad Academy and Track Talk Live and Michael Swiridow the Curator of Pine County History Museum Model Railroad Club discuss how to clean model railroad track in this video. First Hodgdon shows the different track cleaners that are available. He first demonstrates with a Bright Boy. This is an abrasive block that has been around for over 50 years. Hodgdon uses the Bright Boy on brass track which oxidizes quickly and loses conductivity.

Even after cleaning, brass track re-oxidizes so quickly that this track material is no longer commonly used today. A foam track cleaning block is another method of how to clean model railroad track. They come in different grits and can be cut down to the shape needed. Doug scratch built a track cleaning car using this material with weights on top to bear down the foam block under the car’s body. The space between the block and the rail can be adjusted to best fit the track. This cleaning car is great to clean portions of track that are not easily accessible.

Some modelers don’t like abrasive materials because they makes tiny scratches on the track. A lighter method of how to clean model railroad track includes a paint stirring stick with a paper towel taped around the end and dipped in lacquer thinner. Modelers also use Goo Gone, an oil based cleaner that can remove dirt but leaves an oily film behind on the track. Some modelers prefer their track dry, while others prefer this way of how to clean model railroad track because the oil helps to prevent oxidation and improves electrical contact on the rail.

Another cleaning material is Rail Zip which is an automatic transmission fluid that contains a chemical meant to prevent further oxidation. Swiridow uses a system for how to clean model railroad track that is hard to access called the Tidy Track cleaning system. It is able to rotate and comes with different pads that can be attached including abrasive pads that are grooved to slide along the rail. Modelers can find it hard to clean around switches, so Swiridow suggests using electrical contact cleaner with a q-tip or paper towel.

To learn more about how to clean model railroad track such as cleaning train tracks and wheels and how to clean an old model railroad scene, visit the Model Railroad Academy Website.

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4 Responses to “How to Clean Model Railroad Track: Cleaning Tips and Techniques”

  1. John Anning

    I've tried everything from alcohol to track cleaner with only moderate short term results. I read an article on the internet showing the dielectric number of many chemicals. It turns out WD-40 is one of the best dielectric solutions, so I tried it. It's been over six months since I used it and there is no hesitation in my locomotives even at the lowest speeds. This includes a few older brass switch tracks (almost all of my track is nickel-silver). I apply it with a "Centerline" track cleaning car and Woodland Scenics hand held applicator. I now swear by WD-40. I'm sure the "Electroclean" contact cleaner also works well as it is dielectrically superior, too.


    Foam block wrapped with a clean rag, spray with CRC 2-26 electrical cleaner cleans track perfectly and leaves a slight residue that prevents oxidation and repels dust. CRC is like 4 bucks for a giant spray can compared to very expensive hobby store cleaners. Not just an opinion but a proven technique that has been in the industry for many many years.

  3. Joe

    I use HO scale nickel silver track exclusively. If it needs an abrasive (paint on the rail, etc.) I use 400 grit wet'n'dry sandpaper moistened with 70% denatured alcohol, followed by wiping with a 'blue Jean' material, again, moistened with the alcohol. For normal cleaning, I have made a track cleaner car that has a piece of masonite, rough side down, that I place behind the loco and run the train around each section of track at least four times, crossing all of the turnouts. The piece of masonite is easily changed. Then, as above, I wipe it all down with the cloth moistened with alcohol. I also have a 'blue jean' pad mounted on a 4 ft. piece of 1" wide ½" plywood to reach the hidden track. I placed openings along the ends of the layout to reach in and do the cleaning.

  4. PABLO

    good video, thanks.

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