Track Cleaning

Over the years, I have been asked for advice as to how to keep the tracks clean.

You all are running electric trains of sorts on metal tracks. After a while, the "Black Gunk", as I call it, builds up on the tracks, no matter whether you use AC or DC systems. The model scale also does not come into the picture. Employing plastic wheels on your rolling stock only makes it worse.

If you are still using a 'conventional' system (non digital), this will not be so serious, at first. In conventional mode, the tracks are only conveying track voltage (namely speed) to the loco. Simple.

Once you switch to digital operation, the tracks will suddendly take on an additional function. Now they also have to convey digital signals to the locomotive's decoder. This requires a very good electrical connectivity between track and loco. Lightweight locos are more vulnerable to this phenomenon.

Hence, this 'gunk' needs to be gotten rid of, sooner or later.

Most manufacturers offer a "Track Cleaning Car" of sorts, sometimes in multiple car sets. Any of that will work, and is recommended.

In a pinch, a dry soft piece of cloth or a soft paper towel will do the job. Drenching the cloth/paper in "Denatured Alcohol", available at any pharmacy, will shorten and greatly enhance the process.

Proses (see Reynaulds website) offers a handy device called Track Cleaner (Item #TC-001). Look it up. It works for scales Z up to 00. It's about $12.-

Cleaning cars have pads that get dirty after while. They will fail to do the job when they reach a certain stage of contamination. So do the strips that come with the Proses product. Soaking them in common soap solutions or denatured alcohol will not help. You can order replacement pads or strips. Boo! Not necessary.

There is a product available, generically referred to as a "Non residue contact cleaner". Usually a fairly large spray can.

You can find this in places such as Radio Shack. I get mine from a company called MCM (

You soak the pads/strips for a while. Bingo! It's Miller Time. Have one!

Even if you do all of the above, you may still run into a situation when your blessed loco all of a sudden stops, like an unruly donkey. At that point, don't blame whoever and whatever comes into your frustrated mind.

There could be a connection problem between the individual track segments. You cannot see it. I have experienced this. (@%#*$)

Proses offers a very handy device to check the existing track voltage anywhere on your lay-out. Available for 2-track DC or 3-track AC. Look it up!

Happy railroading, y'all!!


  • Addendum to the above. In most drug stores or pharmacies you will have to sign for 'Denatured Alcohol', or they may not sell it to without a certain license. I do not know these details.

    In this case, just get ordinary rubbing alcohol (Isopropyl). It will accomplish the task just as well. It does leave a minor residue which, for our purpose, is of no concern.

    If you run Maerklin AC rail, the surface of the pick-up shoes need to be periodically cleaned, as well. A Q-Tip dipped in the cleaning fluid will do this nicely.

    The track center studs you typically don't have to worry about.

    Some time ago, someone told me he is using the smoke generator fluid to clean his tracks. This is a bad idea. This fluid is somewhat oily. Light weight locomotives trying to pull a good drag load will just sit and spin wheels as if on a sheet of black ice.
  • For more comprehensive information go to and read the blog titled: Keep your tracks clean !
  • RandyRailRandyRail United States
       Back in 2010 when i was building my apartment floor layout.  I would was the sections of c track in the sink with dish soap and scrubby sponge used on the rails and studs of the track. It saved me cleaning the track with other products. Even though C-track is not rated for outside the washing worked to remove a decade of glunk on the track. No turnouts or other electric tracks were washed.

     Years ago with my LGB indoor layout I read that wahl clipper oil was good to use. I tried it on my level layout. I would never recommend   it to any one for the track. I lost all traction. I cleaned the track with alcohol several times till some  traction was restored.  It was a month before train lengths were restored/ It was a double track layout with a passing siding on each loop. Three trans ran around seperated and controlled by signals using the magnets and track sensors. I would go into the layout and start the lgb, And the Ho layout above on a different level. I would play computer games on a 386 cpu in the middle, while the trains raion arpound me. A total of eight trains running without control. 

    Randy Knaub
  • for all mod tec stuff that comes out , why has not set a decoder as such to work in WI FI ? or Bluetooth ? would it be better than sending the signal through the tracks ? or via through the air ?

  • Actually, it is a available right now. I saw something like this in Model Railroader while ago. However, it is bigger than a regular DCC decoder.


  • for as much they can use micro cams with pin hole views , but yet they can not make a sender receive transmitter ? i guess it is not microflops approved BAHAHAHA

  • For cleaning tracks, I used folded-up heavy-duty paper towels -- onto which glass cleaner (Windex or its generic store brand equivalents) has been sprayed. As you wipe the towel along the tracks, you can clearly see the "tracks" of black grime picked up by the paper towel. Keep folding and refolding the paper towel to use new surfaces on different section of track. You may need to add more glass cleaner. Keep going until the cleaner-soaked paper towel no longer picks up dirt.

    You will need to be careful in the area of switches and other complex track work. Check for remnants of the paper towel left behind.

    The ammonia-based glass cleaners are good at picking up oil and grease-based dirt.

    Of course do this with the track power turned off.

    The same process can also be used for cleaning locomotive wheels.

    -- Ernest

  • Ernest , i was going to say about a glass cleaner cloth , but you did for me , but what about metho on the cloth ? as metho dries very fast , but unsure if it leaves any mineral or residue around , years back i use to use surgical metho on my skin to clean the area i needed to inject insulin , but seems i can not buy it now :( and wow that stuff use to remove all the dirt oil and what ever else was there , it dries very fast as well but one would not want to splash it (soak) but on a cloth might work .

  • I use bore cleaning cotton patches and lacquer thinner. Cleans 'em up nice and shiny.

    I've tried the Roco track cleaning car, but it doesn't work well except for very light cleaning duties. The problem is the pad runs over the same area accumulating dirt in the same spot. After about half way around the layout it's dragging so bad the locomotive (with the rest of the train) can't pull it. If I wanted to go to the trouble of yarding the train and just running the cleaning car it would take longer that to just use the bore patches and LT.

    What really makes the most difference is changing furnace filters on a regular basis. This keeps most particulates out of the air and off of the rails.

  • a air purifier ? i have been using the peco rubber that looks like a ink rubber ! but even though it is rubber , i think wearing could be a thing.

  • I have found the biggest cause of dead track sections is oxidized rail joiners. You can clean the top and sides of rails until they gleam but the rail joiners continue to corrode in any environment or track condition. The solutions to this problem are either solder your rail joiners (which presents more problems when rails expand in warm weather), solder leads to EVERY section of rail, or use temporary track like Kato Unitrack or Peco Roadbead A-Track, where you can change out the old rail joiners for new ones whenever it is needed.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn


    I have soldered almost all my rail joiners. I do not have a problem with track expansion, but then the temperature n my train room only varies between 70 and 80 Fahrenheit. One solution is to solder three rail joiners, and to leave the fourth unsoldered. Just connect the soldered sections to power.


  • edited August 2021

    Track cleaning is a bit of a religion among model railroaders. Everyone has their own, and stoutly defend it. In the U.S., denatured alcohol is pennies a bottle, and I used it for a long time, especially when I was doing DCC. Only to find that when running DCC it was necessary to stop everything, and wipe down the rails every 45 minutes or the equipment would fail to respond to DCC commands: in one case, a locomotive would go renegade, and fail to stop and had to be physically grabbed before it plowed into another train. Or, they would fail to engage and remain stalled out.

    This problem finally got me out of DCC altogether; I spend more time cleaning track and wheels than I did running trains, and the candle was not worth the game. That was years ago.

    Lionel Strange, a professional model railroader, wrote an article about using Wahl Hair Clipper Oil, which I thought was mad, as everyone knows that oil does not conduct electricity and it causes slippage. Well, in desperation, I cautiously tried it, and was amazed how well it worked compared to alcohol. The effect of the oil also sharply reduced the amount of oxidization, and I was able to run analogue trains for weeks at a time before being forced to clean it all. I cannot speak to DCC, in this regard, as I had already divested myself of it.

    As to slippage, I did find some slippage with the traction tired locomotives, but if I took a little time to remove the excess with a rag from rail and rubber tired wheel, they soon performed adequately.

    The latest advance in rail cleaning has to do with a product called "No Ox." People swear up and down by it; testimonials can be Googled easily enough. They also swear it is fine with DCC and is safe on plastic, rubber I don't honestly know. Trying to find it is a trick, it apparently will need to be ordered through the mails.

    There was a laboratory study done, comparing the different kinds of cleaner, out there. The link can be found with a little research, but the upshot was that plastic wheels did no more to foul track than metal. (A lot of people swear up and down that plastic gunks the rails, over time). Additionally, abrasive cleaners create micro grooving in the track, which increases micro arcing, which in turn speeds the oxidization process.

    I will get some No Ox and report my findings. Marklin AC, what with the center studs, seems to have overcome issues of dirty rail as the studs scrape off the center pick up plate. Dirty track is the bane of our collective existence.

    Not my wheelhouse, but I also understand that modern DCC decoders have a "Don't Die" capacitor that continues to feed electricity to the chip when the current is interrupted by dirty track, and that these are quite effective.

    P.S.: perhaps DCC is somewhat more sensitive, but perhaps, too, a "Never Quit" on board capacitor can ameliorate the current interruption of a corroded rail joiner. I've had "Henley" up for a few years, and "Armadilloville" up longer than that. Every now and then I have to replace a rail joiner. Heat kinking, from ambient air temperatures routinely over 100F, here in the desert, is a real factor, so I am loath to solder rail joints, speaking for myself.

  • BR42BR42 Auburn
    edited August 2021


    I do not see why DCC should have more problems with certain track cleaning methods than DC. Locos with decoders are somewhat sensitive against power interruption than analogue locos. My experience is exactly the opposite, track does not appear to pick up junk as fast with DCC than it did with DC. Others had made the same observation. Also since there always is a full voltage of 15V on the track with DCC even if the loco moves slowly, tiny dirt spots are less of a problem than they would be for 5V DC.

    I have been running DCC for almost 15 years now, and did not change my track cleaning routine at all when I switched from DC to DCC: I usually do not clean my track at all. The only problem may be accumulated fine dust after a very long break. If necessary, I run a Roco track cleaning car over the layout a couple of time, and that usually solves that problem. Once a year or so, I vacuum things with a shop vacuum.

    Very seldom, I find spots that need extra attention. A little lighter fluid on a cloth does the job most of the time, if not I use the Roco abrasive block. I did not find that the track gets dirtier faster after using the abrasive pad. I do not put any material on the track that may contain oil or other substances that reduce friction. Therefore, steam generators are off limits since their condensation contains oil and interferes with electrical contacts.

    The only track that needs more attention are my Fleischmann Modellgleis switches. Most of my track is Nickel Silver, but the Fleischmann switches are bass. When NS oxidizes, the resulting oxide conducts electricity, while the brass oxide does not. Therefore, the brass switches need to be cleaned with a Roco pad if I have not run the layout for some time. They are in the stub-end station where a lot of switching occurs, so conductivity is an important issue there. I have one Fleischmann switch in the hidden storage yard, which has not needed any cleaning in 10 years, but locos run through that area relatively fast.


  • edited August 2021

    Useful observations. I would have thought that the higher constant voltage of DCC would surmount the electrical fouling, but
    what of the very low voltage (do I have that correct?) of AC is another story? Please, clarify. I'd not heard of lighter fluid before, that would be kerosene, by any other name, no? If left wet, are the results illuminating? Sounds like one might have a really hot operating session?

  • BR42BR42 Auburn


    Lighter fluid is what they sell to refill cigarette lighters and consists of Naphta, not kerosene. Analogue DC runs by regulating the voltage on the track, with engines starting to move at around 4V or so, with a maximum voltage of 12V - 14V. For slow switching operations, you may need 5V - 6V. If you running AC, the same principal applies. In DCC a fixed voltage of around 15V is on the track. This higher voltage makes it easier for the current in DCC to overcome very thin layers of oxidation or dirt.


  • Yes, the question is the low signal voltage of the AC, does that have transmissibility issues with dirty track?

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