Thursday, 3 January 2013

Track and Wheel Cleaning

An update incorporating 12 month's experience since the original post is at
A further update showing repairs to the track cleaning tool is at It Broke and the final chapter in the saga is at Track-cleaner v3.0

I find track and wheel cleaning to be real chores but are maintenance tasks that must be done regularly if we want our expensive locomotives to operate as they should. I'm really looking forward to the day when locomotives are powered by rechargeable batteries and controlled by radio signals. Where all this will fit in a HO scale locomotive, I don't know, but I have read some articles suggesting that it's coming. However I digress.

We all have our favoured means of cleaning. I have tended to use either a cork sanding block or champagne cork saturated with white spirit for the track. For the wheels, I used a combination of  a cotton bud again dipped in white spirit and/or running the locomotive over a piece of masking tape fixed to the track. The track cleaning methods worked reasonably well but I consistently ran foul of any object that projects more than about 20mm above the track. The wheel cleaning worked to some extent but I was never sure that I had cleaned the whole wheel, and it was very tedious.

I went searching to see what might be available as a relatively inexpensive solution and happened on two products put out by Woodland Scenics to tackle track and wheel cleaning respectively. Both were purchased over the Christmas period but unfortunately Santa didn't help with either.

I though it may be useful to provide some first impressions of both tools.The manufacturer's web site provides details of each product so I won't attempt to repeat that information here. These can be found at: and 

Firstly to the wheel cleaning tool. The product was set up as per the manufacturer's instructions. Several locomotives, both diesel and steam, were cleaned but the results were inconclusive. Each locomotive had similar results. There was some slight evidence of wheel dirt on the white cleaning pads but there was also traces of dirt on the cotton wool ball (soaked in white spirit)  that I wiped over the bottom of the driving wheels after the initial clean. ( It is the white object above the last right hand driving wheel of 5131). Either the wheels of my locomotives were cleaner than I thought, or the product did not work as well as it was intended. The jury is still out and I think I may have to fiddle with it a bit to see if I can get a better result.

The track cleaner is a different story. I found the swivel handle to be a real positive although it does take some concentration to stop it slipping off the track.

There are four different types of pads provided. Two are felt and two are a rubberised compound similar to pencil and ink erasers. I have tended to use the white rubberised pads for most of my regular cleaning activities. The pads are reversible with one side grooved to allow it to follow both HO and N scale track. This process works reasonably well for code 100 track but I found that my ballasted code 83 track caused the pads to foul. The manufacturer recommends that the flat side of the pads be used to clean point work but I have found it best to use this configuration across all of my track.

The kit also includes a bottle of cleaning fluid. It does clean the pads but I don't think it will last too long. I'm not sure what it contains but I think I'll be looking for substitutes.

I believe this is a handy tool for track cleaning and it will certainly get regular use on Philip's Creek.

As I said at the start, there are many ways to clean tracks and wheels. As a final point, if you are interested in purchasing either product,  I recommend that you do some comparisons between suppliers as I found a wide variety of pricing.

Happy New Year to all.


  1. Phil

    The task of keeping track & wheels clean is one of those rotten jobs that have to be done constantly & certainly a painful one at that.

    Some time ago I purchased a track cleaning car from Atlas, as yet I have not used it as it needs a decoder to be installed & then pushed by a loco. There are several accesories that come with it, & one is a very fine abrasive disc, also there is a polishing pad & a mini vacuum cleaner with it, & room for cleaning fluids. I know of one modeller who says it works well.

    Almost ever member of the operating group that I am member of primarilly use CRC 2-26 as both a cleaner & agent to help with the electrical conductive aspects of the layouts. I have to say I was sceptical of using this product owing to it being oil based & that it may create problems with my loco's slipping on the grades.

    However, I now swear by it, & it really works well. What I do is to use a piece of 38x18 pine with 3mm cork glued to one side, spray the CRC onto the cork, after it has soaked in, spray another small lot onto the cork & then run it over the tracks, much as the same way as with that handle cleaner from Woodlands.

    In areas where you cannot reach give a quick spurt of the CRC on the track & run a loco around the inaccesable tracks. On my first train, the first wagon behind the loco has one of the Noch/Hechi track pads that clip onto an axle, & that goes around all the track work prior to operating sessions.

    Once the various sections of the layout are finished scenic wise, I will be using the Atlas machine with grinder & then with the pads. CRC will continue being the track fluid of choice.

  2. Col,

    Thanks for the comments

    I had not seen the Atlas product before but wonder about the logic a bit. I suspect it is more of a regular maintenance tool rather than something to tackle a really dirty section. It certainly seems to have some 'bells and whistles'.

    I hadn't heard of CRC 2-26 as a cleaning medium. I had tried the hair clipper oil but like you, was always nervous about traction issues. I had used cork, either a sanding pad (without sandpaper but sometimes with masking tape fixed to it) or a champagne cork. Both of these were moistened with white spirit. It works reasonably well when done frequently but I always found access was an issue. The primary advantage that I have found of the woodland product to date is the flexibility of the handle and ability to maintain a good downwards pressure while cleaning hard to reach locations. Over time, I sure that other materials will be used for pads.

    cheers Phil

    1. Phil

      The CRC is very much a maintenance type thing, most go over their tracks with it prior to a main operating session & rarelly have need to do other work than a redo by cork coating or as I have also done, just a short squirt on the tracks before running a loco/train over it.

      Certainly it does not remove thick gunk, like glues or the like, but reccomend giving it a go. Repco sell it but may have to order in. NRMA members get a discound there also that helps.

      The Atlas machine is much like a lot of other cleaners such as CMR & centreline, with the added advantage of the grinder, which I would only use once on when a new area has been finished & trains operating over it. The vacuum cleaner is I understand fairly powerful & will pick up a lot of rubbish & even tacks which can be picked up by motor magnets.
      The ordinary felt pads do the same polishing type work that is done by hand, & as I have some areas of acessibility problems I see it as an advantage.

  3. Thanks, I will give the CRC a try. I did have a can a while ago but it's nowhere to be found now.

    By the way, I have become a bit more disenchanted with the wheel cleaner. I pulled it apart last night to see how it works and I think I'm going to have to look at a bit of product improvement. Just one more job for the list.

    1. Phil,
      I have one of those Woodlands Scenics wheel cleaners too. Like you, I initially found that it didn't do as good a job as I had hoped. I now use it whenever a loco seems to stutter...BUT....I give the white pads a squirt of the CRC 2-26 that Colin has been talking about. I realise these conversations are now several months old and you may have already bought the CRC; just make sure it's not the "usual" CRC 5-56 we all tend to use (same as WD-40 and RP7) is not. The 2-26 is an electrical contact cleaner, not a water dispersing agent.

    2. Bill,

      I have been unable to locate a can of said 2-26 in any of the local automotive shops in my area (Hornsby, Waitara). If you know of any other suppliers, it would be appreciated. However, I can understand how it would improve the arrangement. Unfortunately, the wheel cleaner still receives little use. On the other hand, the track cleaner is used constantly

      cheers Phil

  4. This is very informative. One thing I've learned while reading this post is that, it is very important to maintian the cleanliness of the track and wheels. Aside from being safety, it also gives cleanliness and neatness of the unit. Great job!
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    1. Kaye,

      Thanks for your comments. As an update, I continue to use the track cleaning tool before each operating session and it continues to work well. However, the wheel cleaner has not been used. It is a disappointment. Hopefully, by keeping the track clean, I reduce the demand for wheel cleaning.

      Some railway modellers also swear by CRC 2-26 (see Colin Hussey's comments above) but I have not been able to locate it in my local auto spares shop.

      cheers Phil

  5. Hi Phil

    Do you also clean all your rolling-stock wheels? This can also be a pain to do.


    1. Shelton,

      The short answer is no. As you say, it can be a pain to do and I believe that the effort probably outweighs the benefits. I may, on occasions, clean the wheels of a particular wagon if I noticed a build-up of grime but that doesn't seem to happen often. I suppose, by putting more emphasis on track cleaning, I am reducing the likelihood of grime on the wheels.

      cheers Phil