Clean Track - Revisited

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Section Hand
A short time ago, I talked to a well know modeler who's HO layout is well known and fills his entire basement. The layout has several hidden staging yards, large operating yards and hundreds of pieces of rolling stock. I remember seeing videos of his layout and his locomotives performed flawlessly. I couldn't figure out how he cleaned all that track with the rolling stock he had and given the size of his layout. He must of had some secret.

At the time I was having problems with dirty track and some poor performance of several locomotives that would periodically stall. Track cleaning with alcohol was a temporary measure and the problems returned. Using ACT 6006 did help a lot, but I still had remaining problems.

I asked the modeler what method he used to clean his track and he just remarked I don't clean my track, I run the trains and the wheels keep the track clean. I wasn't sure if he was just kidding me or if that was a true statement.

Recently, I been running long trains several times a week and even when I'm at the work bench a train will be running. Most trains had a piece or rolling stock equipped with a Dust Monkey. No problems with dirty track or the need to clean them. I did run a dry CenterLine track cleaning car behind locomotives that I've been breaking in.

Today at the work bench I inspected a six axle locomotive and its wheels were clean and ran the locomotive over an alcohol soaked pad. No dirty wheel streaks on the pad and this locomotive has been running a lot.

Maybe my problems in the past were my attempts to clean the track, but not enought time running trains. Too much emphasis was placed on track cleaning.

I do have a long spur that should see more service. On Wednesday I plan on running a track cleaning train up and down this spur line and into a small dead ended yard.

How does my experience compare with yours and does running a lot of trains actually keep the track cleaner especially on larger layouts like Montanan's, Willie's and others who have large layouts? Or, was that modeler just pulling my leg and my track will get dirty over time inspite of with frequent train operations?

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Well-Known Member
I have also found that very frequent running of trains results in much cleaner track. While I have a Dust Monkey on every one of my 18 cabooses, they primarily are there to clear off dust, as I don't think that they would be effective on built-up deposits. But I don't have that deposit problem any more either. Sidings are no issue since they get driven through on almost as regular a basis as mains. And since the freight car wheels don't get dirty, there is nothing to transfer to industrial spurs that see little action. I do clean engine wheels occasionally with the paper towel/alcohol method; I'm not really sure where they get their dirt from, but it is usually minimal and I really do it more out of old habit than anything else. It's not built-up crud, but more like a tarnishing. Same with the track cleaning cars. I just hate to own them without using them occasionally. I just looked at my records, and it has actually been sixteen months since I last ran the Centerline car/masonite car/etc.
I'm estimating that I get an hour or more every day just running trains. While I can do it, I don't usually run a train unattended when I'm "workin' on the railroad". But that's just me. I do use a small hand-held vacuum on all ROW's about every two years, broken down by smaller sections to reduce the workload; but that's just overall layout maintenance instead of specific track cleaning.
Disclaimer - I run DC which is less sensitive than DCC to slightly dirty track.

max diyer

Active Member
Greg: Over the years, I've read a lot of articles and threads about track cleaning, until it made my head spin. Then I decided just to trial and error on my own.
At present, I have a DC 4x8 HO. I clean the track maybe 4 times per year. I clean the loco wheels, maybe 8 times per year.
I run the trains (2 or 3 consists and 10 - 12 cars) every other day and maybe 30 - 40 laps for each session.
I have never had an engine stall.
I think a contributing factor is your layout room's environment. Temperature, humidity, dust, etc.
I must have it right for my layout as I am satisfied with my operations.


Well-Known Member
I think you hit on something with the frequent running of trains.

When I went through periods of construction on the layout there were problems with dust and I would use a small block of wood with cotton material wrapped around it, dampened with alcohol. If the cotton got dirty, I would rotate the cotton.

I do not have a track cleaning car but found this method was not that hard and usually did in conjunction with the construction project.

I also found that having the cat litter in the train room increased the fine dust that would end up on the track.


Well-Known Member
I'm sure that has a lot to do with it! I set up my temporary loop of 90FT of track 9 months ago, I gave it a thorough cleaning when I set it up. I try to run a train twice a week for at least a 1/2 hour at a time. I have yet to clean it, or don't seem to have any stuttering. I have all metal wheels with 6 axle locos. its sectional Unitrack, and all 90FT of track is powered by 1 lone feeder, and its DCC.


Plucked Tailfeathers
Staff member
Mike - You have just confirmed my suspicion! That it is not necessary to drop a feeder on every track section.
Some of these guys on different forms all over have driven me nuts with busses and feeders.

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Mike - You have just confirmed my suspicion! That it is not necessary to drop a feeder on every track section.
Some of these guys on different forms all over have driven me nuts with busses and feeders.
Yup that is what I have always said. For most layouts just run two wires to the track and see what happens. Don't invent and attempt to solve problems that your layout doesn't have.

The dirty track issue can depend a lot on the environment the layout is in. At the club in the basement of Denver Union Station we could not keep the track clean regardless of what we did. At the museum the trains run much more frequently than any individual would ever run. We have a double filtered air system and we still have dirty wheel issues. As such we clean track 1 a week (Mondays), and all the equipment is on a cleaning rotation schedule.
I have a 24'x24' layout 8.9 miles of nickel silver HO Flex Track. Jumper at every joint. Drops and feeders every 6 feet. Always under construction but always a train running if not 5 at once if I am in the bldg. Have a double filter air cleaner running 24/7 and heat and A/C sealed environment except when I open the door to go in or out. I run mostly Rivarossi Steam. All done because supposedly it keeps the track clean.

Made a MOW track cleaning train and came up with a good system that works well. Good running Diesel Loco, Track Cleaning Car w/ changeable pads filled with Goo Gone, Track Cleaning Car w/ changeable pads filled with Alcohol and a Caboose Cleaning Car with changeable pads run dry.
Did this weekly for years. Dont need it anymore!!!!

An old timer told me get rid of plastic wheels and weight cars to 3oz and run trains alot. I took this advise and redid 20 cars and didnt have a problem with track for a month only running those cars. Put my plastic wheeled trucks on ebay and bought all metal wheel trucks and install Kadee couplers on each car. Yes expensive tell me I have 400 pieces of rolling stock. Instant fix it works.

I ran the trains for 2 years and never cleaned the track. I hadnt run trains for 4 years until last week. I put my 2-8-8-2 back on the rails and said this will never work track is dirty. Started right off and never hesitated and has run well all week.

Get rid of plastic wheels they collect dirt. Every metal wheel I have is spotless.


Well-Known Member
Get rid of plastic wheels they collect dirt. Every metal wheel I have is spotless.
Such a controversial thing to say, yet YOU HAVE PROOF!!! :D It's funny; when you ask the "experts," there should really be no difference between metal or plastic, but yet...
I am slowly in the process of getting rid of all my plastic wheels. I don't have nearly the stock you have, but still, it takes time and money.

As for cleaning, I don't clean my track very often. I know that it needs it currently. The odd thing is that I have a couple of sections that ALWAYS get really dirty quickly and I can't quite figure out why (middle of long sections of track on straightaways).

I did try the ATF trick once and it has seemed to work well. I also tried No-Ox and any connectivity issues were AMPLIFIED 1000X (not reduced). I know others have had much more positive experiences with No-Ox, so I'm willing to blame user error. But still, it doesn't get my recommendation.

I do have one track cleaning car, but wonder if it's not just spreading dirty rather than cleaning it. It's HUGE drag on any loco that pulls it, too, so I don't run it much anymore.
Such a controversial thing to say, yet YOU HAVE PROOF!!!
I run my cleaning train with an old junk diesel never a good engine. Run multiple cleaning cars in the train and a dry pad one last.

Curves, turns and turnouts sometimes are cleaner than straights. This is because of friction there isnt much in a straight.
My straights are never really straight for exactly this reason.

Look at the wheels on your plastic wheeled cars and see if they aren't dirty. If you say they aren't ok take a cotton swab and wipe them with alcohol. If you see what I think you will then clean 3 or 4 cars with plastic. Run 10 or 20 laps with the clean plastic wheels and some clean metal wheels and look at the wheels and see what is dirty. I bet it will be just as bad as it was before.

And I said 10 or 20 laps. On my layout that is 96' feet a lap. So in other words a good bit.
I am still constructing my layout, and have been concentrating on finishing the scenery in the populated areas. I haven't run any trains for close to a year, until last night. I tried getting an engine out of my storage track and couldn't get more than a few inches at a time until the engine died. Put in on the mainline and could only go about a foot in the best areas.
Then I got out my track cleaning car with the masonite pad. Before I put it on the rails, I rubbed a number 2 pencil on the pad in the areas that contacted the rails. With the car in front of the engine the difference was like night and day. I only had one small stretch of track that the engine needed a nudge from me. The graphite on the rails made a world of difference. I've done this before, but not when the track was this dirty.
The difference was amazing. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to