Cleaning locomotive wheels

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This goes along with the thread started by Railrunner. I am learning that having your layout in the basement does lead to alot of track cleaning. So be it.... I am still having fun no matter what I am doing on the layout. Along with cleaning the track, I place a rag on a section of track with alcohol on it. I then place rolling stock on the rag and pass it back and forth over the soaked rag to clean the wheels. My question is in cleaning the wheels on locomotives. I have seen Youtube videos where you would use said alcohol soaked rag on the track just as I do for the rolling stock. You would then run the locomotive onto the soaked rag one truck at a time...letting the wheels on the rag spin on the rag to remove the nasty stuff.

This looks great on the videos... but when I try it..the soaked rag just bunches up and not much is cleaned from the wheels on the locomotive. Does anyone have a better way of cleaning the locomotive wheels? I have seen kits in my LHS that consist of a couple different liquids which are meant to clean the wheels and oil the gears. Perhaps that would be better then the soaked rag method.

After cleaning I will pack up the locomotives following the advice on Railrunner's thread until a rainy day when I can play in the basement.


Well-Known Member
First, you must prevent the locomotive from actually gaining traction on the cloth and/or wanting to move forward. So, you abut it's nose up against something solid and heavy so that it stays put when you apply power to it. Next, prevent the cloth from bunching by holding the corners ahead of the motion. The drivers will want to tear it out of your fingers, but don't let them. Let each driver revolve about four times over the cloth at a medium low speed and that should suffice.

You could also invert the locomotive and put in on a cradle. Apply power to one axle and let the drivers spin. Use a soaked Q-Tip or other implement to scrub the tire surfaces one-by-one.


Section Hand
I use a section of strong paper toweling, approximately five inches wide and six inches long, that I soak with a cleaner in only the area where the loco's one set of wheels will make contact with the paper toweling. I place one set of the loco wheels on the track and the other on the paper toweling. I slowly increase the speed or voltage applied to loco and carefully watch the paper toweling. Running the loco slowly will help prevent the toweling from bunching.

Like Selector suggests, hold the dry edges of the paper toweling with your free hand. The towel shouldn't bunch up using this method.

You will see the dirty streaks on the toweling from the dirt being removed from the wheels. Always run the loco at a low speed or voltage to prevent bunching. It doesn't take too much time to remove the grime from the wheels. Use a dry towel to remove whatever cleaner you used.

I use WD40 or alcohol as a cleaner. Clean wheels will really improve the locomotive's proformance.




Active Member
Just use some folded paper towels w/ a splash of isopropyl alcohol. Do one truck at a time. It should leave all the gunk on the towel. Just make sure to get it all by looking at the wheels. If WD40 is oil based, wouldn't use it as it will attract more dirt.


Section Hand

The dry paper towel used at the end of the cleaning process remove most if not all of the WD-40 from the loco's wheels. Never encountered any problems with the small amount of petroleum products used in WD-40, but I can see your concerns.


I don't clean wheels. I clean track once. I use a version of No-Ox to treat the rails and operate locomotives over it before I wipe it off. It allegedly works by making the 'dirt' conductive. Although I have noticed any building up.

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I don't clean wheels. I clean track once. I use a version of No-Ox to treat the rails and operate locomotives over it before I wipe it off. It allegedly works by making the 'dirt' conductive. Although I have noticed any building up.

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Not quite. It's an electrically conductive grease that prevents corrosion and oxidation of metals. It also has the side effect of sealing the metal so that any foreign material which ends up on the rails tends to be squeezed off of the rails by the wheels running over it rather than being packed down onto it.

Back to the main point, though: I also use No-Ox and haven't cleaned any loco wheels in two years now. The only track cleaning has been a quick wipe once in a while after I've been doing construction and the tracks have been both sitting idle and subject to excess foreign debris. As long as I'm actually running trains, I never have to clean rails or wheels either one. Something to think about.
I use felt pads like you stick on the bottom of furniture. They don't snag on turnouts and such like rags do.

You first have to thoroughly clean your rails. It's a sealant and protectant, not a cleaner, so if you start with dirty rails it's just going to seal in the dirt. You then sparingly apply the No-Ox and leave it on the rails for 24 hours. And I do mean very sparingly. You're going to end up with just a microscopic layer in the end, so laying it on thick is just waste. One jar of this stuff should last you probably a lifetime or close to it. In the meantime, you should run your locomotives (with wheels pre-cleaned) over the tracks a few rounds to treat their wheels also. After 24 hours wipe down (again I use a felt pad) and basically polish up the tracks and remove any excess grease that may have gotten stuck in turnouts etc. Any visible blobs of grease will attract gunk rather than repel it. A treatment should last several years. I've had mine on for over 2 years now and still working well.

So yeah, it's kind of a pain to apply and takes some work, but considering that you only have to do it once every few years makes it worth it as opposed to having to clean your tracks every few weeks.

I truly appreciate the advice and suggestions. The No-Ox sounds interesting and I may give that a try. But for now... alcohol and paper towel it is. Thanks again.
No-Ox= no work after application. I sometimes don't run the layout for a month and it always runs. The only thing that would hold me back from using it is a temporary layout or track alignment.

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Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
This looks great on the videos... but when I try it..the soaked rag just bunches up and not much is cleaned from the wheels on the locomotive.
I have not watched the videos, but I use a stiff linen cloth. Plus if you hold the one side of the rag then run the locomotive onto it so it is pulling away from the direction you are holding the rag won't bunch.
my solutions

my solutions -

  • use lots of feeders to the rails and try to energize every frog
  • Clean wheels with paper towels laid over the rails, a little isopropyl alcohol
  • to clean rail i use scrap canvas from a painter's dropcloth wrapped around a wood block. Same as stiff linen. Isopropyl again. Strange, but I can go over the same stretch of nickel-silver track a dozen times and the canvas still turns black. Maybe it is the paint from the rail sides.
  • long term I will convert all locos to Dead Rail - a battery inside. no more rail or wheel cleaning
The problem with cleaning fluids is leaving residue behind. The best cleaning fluids are aggressive solvents. Then you must keep a tight set up to avoid disolving any plastics, ties for instance. That's why I use No-Ox. It changes the surface of the metal track to resist corrosion and maintain continuity. I use mostly plastic wheels and have few issues with locomotives stalling. I never clean track except wiping off the surface during construction.

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I wasn't exactly sure what to buy since I only just re-entered the hobby. I just looked at all the products on MTS' site and decided on these after reading all the product descriptions. I've only used the RotoWheel (which I love!) and the alcohol wipes so far (all my track is brand new Kato Unitrack). All my track is easily reachable, so the alcohol wipes are a breeze to use.


• Woodland Scenics' RotoWheel with 91% alcohol on the pad. This has two alligator clips to get power from your track. Easy and works great!
NeverStall anti-oxidizer. Plastics-safe and comes with a needle-applicator.


Rail-Zip 2 It's safe for plastics and has a corrosion-inhibitor, plus it was on sale for only $3.99!
• I bought a 100-pack of 70% alcohol wipes for $2.57 at CVS. The pads work great and don't snag or leave any debris on the track. 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