Track and wheel cleaning

In the following post I discuss using lighter fluid (naptha) to clean track and loco wheels. I want to point out that naptha does pose certain health risks, which are documented both on the Zippo can, and extensively on the internet. Here are links to a couple of such documents:

Here is the equipment that I use to clean my track and loco wheels:

That's lighter fluid (naptha), piece of cloth (cut from an old bed sheet), block of wood and a toothbrush. The boxcar is just for size reference.

To those familiar with their N scale history the boxcar is actually one of the original "Class of '72" boxcars from (then) Kadee. (It just happened to be handy when I took the photo.)

To clean track I wrap the cloth around the block of wood, and then squirt on some lighter fluid:

Then I gently wipe it over the rails. I take care with the point blades of turnouts as the cloth can catch on the blades, and dislodge them if I'm not careful.

Regularly squirt on more lighter fluid.

This gunk came from just a few metres of track which I thought was pretty clean beforehand.

Notice how the threads have been pulled by catching on point blades. From time to time, threads will be completely pulled out, so when I'm done I vacuum the layout to remove them (and any other debris) before they get caught up in loco trucks, turnout point blades, etc.

To clean loco wheels it's important that you use thin cloth so it can conform to the corner between the wheel tyre and the flange.  Lay the cloth across some track and turn the throttle up to full. Then hold the loco so that one truck sits on the powered rails and the other on the damp cloth:

Gently move the loco truck from side to side between the rails so as to clean the entire wheel surface and the flange. When the wheels on one truck are clean, swipe the rails, and then repeat the process on the other truck. When you're done the wheels should be clean, and the cloth should like something like this:

Now for the toothbrush, which I use to clean between the point-blades and the stock rail on turnouts. If there's a really stubborn problem I squirt on some lighter fluid before brushing.

Finally, here is a video of my track-cleaning train in action. The centre car is an old Roco track-cleaning car, and the cars flanking it are home made sliders. With this sort of arrangement it is important to clean the loco wheels regularly as they seem to gather a lot of the dirt.

For those who have been following the discussion on polar vs non-polar cleaners, naptha has a dielectric constant of 1.8, making it a non-polar cleaner.

Well, there it is. I hope it helps somebody.


  1. Hi Ron - I use No-Ox which works very well - it has reduced the frequency of cleaning the track down to maybe once a month from every week.

  2. I've gone over to the Naptha side lately, using a CMX(?)tank car from Tony's Trains. I think one of these little buffing cars might be a good addition.