Track Cleaning

This is something we all have to deal with. From my limited experience with DCC it appears to be even more important to get a strong non interrupted signal going out through the tracks. Over the years there have been many many different ideas on how to clean tracks. I have gleaned a bunch of these and put them here for you.

I don't condone nor condemn any of these, these are just ideas for you to tinker with. Personally I use the ole Bright Boy when needed, but recently tried a new way and it seems to be working well. I have nickel silver code 83 track laid down. I took some 800 wet and dry sand paper mounted on a small 2 x 3 sanding block and went over the tops of the rails. This not only cleaned them but took out any small scratches that may have appeared after numerous scrubbings with a bright boy.

After the sanding, (lightly mind you) I wiped down the rail head with 91% alcohol. (This has less water in it and leaves no residue to speak of. I then took a can of car Turtle Wax and a QTip and applied a thin layer of paste to the top of the rail heads. Time consuming to say the least, especially doing the switches. You don't want to get a bunch down in the rails or points ect. If you do, once it dries, you can wipe it out with another clean QTip.

After the wax dried, I took a soft clean towel and wiped the rail head off. I have noticed that I have not had to scrub the rails for over a month now. I have had to brush or wipe dust off but the oxidation isn't there. I would assume later on at some point I will have to bright boy the rails again and rewax but this seems to be working just fine.

The ideas below I don't all agree with but I posted them so you have a choice.

(NOTE: From here on the word "I" does not refer to me, but rather the person I got the notes from off the net.)


As with all matters of this nature, common sense and reading labels is necessary in order to understand the benefits and/or hazards of any fluid used for cleaning.

Ok, now all the other ideas out there from other modelers, here ya go.

Solvent-based fluids:

Generally, solvent-based fluids leave no residue and have a low flammability rating, a slow evaporation rate, don't dissolve plastics and are inexpensive. Most solvent-based fluids are acceptable for use with Centerline's products, but should be used with discretion flammability, compatibility with plastics, vapors and fumes, should all be taken into consideration.

Examples of solvent-based fluids include mineral spirits, GOO GONE® cleaning fluid, 91% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, denatured alcohol solvent, tri-chlor, electric motor cleaner, carburetor cleaning fluid, Hampton Hobby Products™ track cleaning fluid, etc.

Oil-based fluids

These fluids do leave a residue, but that may not be objectionable. Many of our customers make great claims for their favorite oil-based fluid. On the plus side, layouts that remain inactive for extended periods of time might benefit from a film of oil on the rails to prevent oxidation. Switch mechanisms and electrical contacts seem to thrive with the occasional fresh oil application. On the minus side, you may experience wheel slippage under load or on a grade. Examples of oil-based fluids include Wahl™ Clipper oil, 3-In-One™ oil, Rail Zip™, transmission oil, etc.

Water-based fluids

Leave a residue which accumulates and causes the need to clean more often. They can also corrode switch mechanisms, rail joiners and the sides of the rails (slowly) where the fluid might weep over the edge. Water-based cleaning fluids are not recommended at any time. Examples of water-based cleaning fluids include Fantastic™, Windex™, 409™ and products such as "Blue Liquid" track cleaner.

DRY CLEANING has not been eliminated.

The Centerline cleaning car and our homemade clone have greatly reduced, but not totally eliminated the need for hand cleaning with mild abrasive devices like the Bright Boy and hard-to-find typewriter erasers. For some reason known only to the gods, isolated spots of dirty track will appear and grow in spite of all the routine efforts. Just remember to wipe the dry residue from the rail head and sweep it out of switch points and frogs. A tooth brush or a compressed air hose works well. The conveniently available compressor and hose that I use is lungs and a foot of fish tank air tubing- the same system that I use for dressing ballast before gluing it :-) Some folks worry about rail head scratches but I've never been able to observe any problems in spite of all the theories, and the code 100 rail hand laid in 1965 has not yet been worn down enough to let the wheel flanges thump the spikes .


Ok, it's me again...

I strongly suggest that you avoid any product that leaves an oil or other residue. Many of these products seem great at first, but you will find in the long term that you've created a terrible mess of oily guck on track and wheels. An old fad that keeps being "re-discovered" is Wall clipper oil and a current fad is Goo-Gone. Don't do it unless you've got a small railroad with few cars that easy to clean up.