There are different ways to clean railroad track, but usually the most obvious ways will damage your railroad track.
First up, let’s talk about where this build up on your track comes from, and then you will have a better idea of how to clean your railroad track.
Over lubrication, humidity, heating, cooling and passing current between dissimilar metals all provide an environment which will oxidize the railroad tracks and the wheels of your locomotive.
The level of this oxidization will vary from layout to layout but you will notice decreased engine performance, erratic locomotive operation, dim and flickering lights, scratchy sounds and DCC that doesn’t work correctly.
Dust, hair, sawdust, smoke and other particles can add to this oxidization and make the problems worse.
Scratches on the track or locomotive wheels from excessive cleaning will magnify your problems, as they give the dirt a place to build up.
Over time, the dirt will build up on and around the wheels of rolling stock. This build up of dirt tends to be worse on the plastic wheels. I believe this is because the steel wheels make it easier to see the dirt, so people tend to clean them more often.
So, how do you clean your railroad track, locomotive wheels and the rolling stock wheels?
The best, and one of the easiest ways, is to frequently run a non-abrasive wet rail and wheel cleaning car in front of your locomotive, and a dry one at the back to pick up the dislodged dirt. It usually takes several passes, but will make a big difference.
The wet rail and wheel cleaning cars tend to use a solvent based fluid which is non-toxic and slow evaporating. They will not harm the plastic components of your model railroad. You should never use thinners, acetone or anything that is toxic or flammable.
Clean your railroad track enough to get the job done well. You should have a clean metal track, which will give you the best locomotive performance, great traction and good low speed operation.
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Watch This Video To Learn How To Make Your Own Cleaning Car