Wheel Cleaning Made Easy

When it comes to maintaining our models, the most important and routine task is cleaning the rails and wheels. As important as it is, it is a project that nobody really enjoys. What if there was a way to keep your wheels clean while you run your trains? Here is a solution so easy you’ll want to give it try!

These easy-to-make wheel cleaners can be adapted to any type of track, including American Flyer two-rail (you’ll just need one less wire!) All you need is some solid 14 gauge (or similar) wire, and paper towels.


Four wire staples provide an anchor for an easy wheel cleaner.

First, cut four (3 for 2-rail) lengths of wire about 2 inches in length. Make a 90 degree bend about 1/2 inch from each end, forming a “U” shape.

These large staples will go on the outside and in between each of the rails. Drill holes in the roadbed, or your benchwork, between the ties and press the wires into the holes. For fast track, about a 3 tie spacing works well. Be careful not to drill through the bus bar or any electrical connections on the underside of the base. With 14 gauge wire, a 1/16″ drill will provide a perfect fit.

The tops of the wires should be below the tops of the rails. Make sure the wires do not touch any of the rails either.


An ordinary paper towel is an effective cleaning pad.

Now, cut an ordinary paper towel into 1 inch wide by about 3 to 4 inch long strips. Thread the paper towel strip under the wires and over the rails.

As you run your trains, the paper towel will remove a little bit of the dirt from each wheel as it crosses. As the dirt builds, just slide the paper towel a little to the left or right to give a clean pad. When the towel is too dirty or ragged to use, just pull it out and replace it.


To clean your wheels, just run your trains! You can slide the pad over for longer use as it gets dirty.

Simply remove the paper towels when you want to take pictures or video of the layout and the wires will not be very distracting. To make the cleaners a little less conspicuous, you can paint the wires flat black. (Or you could pull them out all together.)

You can put these in multiple locations around your railroad for more effective cleaning. The more you run your trains, the more you’ll clean your wheels. And cleaner wheels mean better running trains. Plus, you’ll find yourself cleaning the rails a little less frequently too.

4 responses

18 09 2014

Thanks for the tips, but how do you clean trucks, where the rod connects to the trucks? I put it in light oil for lubrication, but the oil collects dust and it’s very difficult to get into. Some rolling stock trucks are metal and some plastic and some look like the rod into the truck was soldered in place.

18 09 2014

The best way to clean the axles of the wheels and the journals is to carefully remove the wheelset from the truck. In some cases, the sideframes will spring back enough to allow this with little disassembly. In others, you may have to partially disassemble the truck. Once the wheels are out, wipe the excess dirt away from the axle ends and from the inside of the journal with a paper towel or cotton swab. Lubricating the trucks is a good idea, but use as little as possible to prolong times between cleaning.

18 09 2014

Thank you for the quick reply [and the correct naming of the the parts 🙂 ] I’ll see what I can do without hopefully breaking/snapping anything!

10 12 2016

I have some older post-war cars that I’ve decided to clean. The wheels have what appears to be a black rubberized coating that one can scrape off in the depression of the wheel that rests on the track. I assume this to be a build-up of crud; however, just to make sure, I trust that this wasn’t some type of rubber coating placed there by Lionel when the cars were originally manufactured. Please advise. Thanks.

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