Keeping the rails clean is a necessary evil in model railroading. And for decades, modelers have been searching for the best way to keep the rails shining. To see if your track needs to be cleaned, just rub you finger across the top of the rail. First, you’ll probably want to run to the sink and wash your hands. Then come back and clean your track.
There are many liquid cleaners on the market, including in Lionel’s maintenance kit (6-62927). These can be applied with a soft cloth or paper towel.
There are some household cleaners that will work as well. Through our extensive testing on our own test tracks, we recommend a cleaner like Goo Gone ®. This is strong enough to cut through the grease, it’s easy to find, and wipes up cleanly. Plus it will leave your train room smelling like oranges.
You can also use this cleaner on wheels. Simply put some on a paper towel and lay it across the track. Drag your cars back and forth across the wet towel to remove most of the dirt. Finish on a dry towel. For locomotives, place the towel under one set of wheels at a time and apply power to the rails. Let the locomotive do all the work! Of course you can also install the simple wheel cleaners we showed in an earlier blog and you’ll minimize your need for this chore.
Sometimes the most effective cleaner is a little grease – elbow grease that is. Track cleaning blocks or erasers can be found at most hobby shops. One is also included in the Lionel maintenance kit.
These cleaning blocks are rubbed across the top of the rail to remove stubborn oil and dirt. They are designed to be stiff enough to clean the track, but not abrasive enough to scratch it, which would result in even worse electrical conductivity.
When choosing a track eraser, look for something designed for this purpose. Sand paper and steel wool may seem to make the job go faster, but they’ll do a lot more damage in the long run. Steel wool can leave tiny metal shards which get pulled into the armatures of your locomotives’ motors (not to mention your fingers!)
These erasers are also helpful for cleaning in the small spaces between switch points where the sides of the rails need to stay as clean as the top.
Track Cleaning Cars
Nobody likes to clean track – so why not let the trains do it for you? Lionel has made several different track cleaning cars over the years. Other manufacturers have too. Some of these use liquid cleaners, some an abrasive block.
To get the best results from any cleaning car, there are two things you must do. First, run it regularly. These cars do best when only taking a little dirt off at a time. If the track is allowed to get too dirty, they won’t keep up or potentially even operate at all.
Second, change the cleaning pads often. When working by hand, it is easy to see when it is time to grab a new cloth. With cleaning pads often out of sight on the cars, it is tempting to just let them run and run and run. But a dirty pad only spreads the grime around.
Like most chores, it is easy to put off cleaning your track until the next time you run your trains. But doing it frequently will make each job not only faster but more effective. So, have you checked your rails lately?