Is Bright Boy a bad idea?

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I am at that point in my layout to where everything is up and running and I am taking my time with the scenery, structures and coupler issues as they rear their ugly head. Along with that comes the never ending task of cleaning track and rolling stock/locomotive wheels. I am very fortunate for the fact that I have a couple hobby shops in the area that I can go to for advice and suggestions. On the subject of track cleaning I was told that a Bright Boy abrasive track cleaner is the best. Another gentleman at a different hobby shop said that in his experience he has found small particles of Bright Boy in the gears of locomotives that are brought to him with performance problems. This particular gentleman suggested a cloth with 70% alcohol wiped over the rails.

I am wondering what others have experienced and what they are doing to clean track and wheels. I plan on purchasing a more expensive DCC locomotive in the future and do not want to see anything get into the gears. At this point i am thinking that I should use the Bright Boy and then go back over the track with the alcohol/cloth mixture. For the wheels on rolling stock and engines, I saw on Youtube where the best way is to soak a paper towel and lay it on the track. Then run/push rolling stock over the soaked cloth.

So..... keeping in mind I am running a 4 X 8 DCC layout with two engines and 15 rolling stock:

1. How often do you clean your track and wheels?

2. What methods do you find works the best for cleaning both?


Stuck in the 1930's
Any chemical used to dissolve the grime will end up on the rag and you'll be re-applying it elsewhere. Bright boys are very good. Make a gondola with a hole in the floor and put a bright boy in the slot on the gondola and weight it. drag it around with a few of your more powerful engines.


Whiskey Merchant
My layout is over 30 years old. All of my track is code 70 rail and I have been using a bright boy since day one. Yes, it is abrasive, but I haven't had any issues using it. I still operate DC only, but do have a few DCC locomotives. (Got them because they were not available in DC configuration) I have noticed that they are quite a lot more sensitive to dirty track. I have had a few instances where the DCC locomotives would either stall or studder at a few locations where the DC locomotives would have no problems at all. A few seconds with a bright boy cured the problem.

Some of my locomotives are also 30 years old and I haven't had any problems with any particles of the bright boy getting into the locomotive. To clean the locomotive wheels, I put some Iso alcohol on a strip of paper towel and run the locomotive over the strip of towel.

I very seldom have to go over my entire layout and clean track. The layout is in its own room in a finished basement. One thing I think that helps keep my track in good shape is that all of my rolling stock has metal wheels. There has recently been a number of comments on another post about that. Metal wheels don't collect dirt and crud on them like plastic wheels. The majority of my rolling stock is old Athearn Blue Box kits that were assembled and some custom painted while the layout was under construction and before anything hits the rails, Kadee couplers and metal wheels were installed. Kadee was the only company offering metal wheels at the time, but then more manufacturers have come into the market. I also like Intermountain wheel sets and always have them on hand.


Well-Known Member
I echo everything Chet said. I also run only DC. I only use the bright boy when there is a real issue, usually after doing scenery in the area; and I usually remember to vacuum the area after using it. The paper towel and IPA works well for my locomotives. I don't remember ever having to clean metal wheels on freight cars. I had noticed crud on plastic wheels as I changed them out for metal ones. Running trains regularly helps keep dust etc., from collecting on the rails as does periodic my case about once a year. I had recently started using the Woodland Scenics "Tidy Track " on the hard to reach areas, but broke the wand after about two years. Still use it, just have to reach further. This is preventive maintenance as opposed to necessary maintenance. I have never seen bright boy particles in engine gears; they (the gears) are the same whether the engine is DC or DCC. Many of my engines are over 30 years old, and I disassemble and maintain them about every three years. Wiping down the rails with an alcohol-soaked cloth might work on a small layout...on a larger layout this could be tedious, as well as impractical...think snagging scenery. A better investment would be a Centerline track cleaning car. Same principle but more automated. I use one on a through freight about once every six months, again preventive as opposed to necessary.
Keep your layout room as clean as you can and you won't have too many issues. I know that this is not always possible if you have to use a garage or unfinished basement.



Well-Known Member
Some say it's bad, some say it works for them. Some say the push-pull track cleaning cars work, some say theirs are parked...permanently. Some use lacquer thinner, some use alcohol...some burnish their rails using the Gleam method, some swear that just running metal wheels does the trick for them. Some add more feeders, some solder all their joiners.... Some use Wahl's Clipper Oil on their rails, some use transmission fluid....

Find out what works and stick to it.

I use 600 grit sandpaper to clean up my points rails' faces where they contact their stock rails. If I suspect a dirty length of track, I use the sandpaper there as well. Just two or three light scrubs across the railhead. I then wipe with isopropyl alcohol. Then I run trains a couple of times a week with metal wheels.


Plucked Tailfeathers
Staff member
Crandell- That is just about the best answer to a question that I have ever read.

Just for a lark -- I did a search using "Track Cleaning" and came up with 287 replies.
Although not true .. that is a possible 287 opinions - LoL.

Yours is the best answer!


Active Member
Bright Boys are a VERY BAD idea because they make scratches on the railheads that collect oils & dirt making dirty rails an even worse problem. A better abrasive is a piece of Masonite rubbed on the railheads. Follow that up by rubbing the railheads w/ a rag soaked in isopropyl alcohol.

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
1. How often do you clean your track and wheels?

2. What methods do you find works the best for cleaning both?
1. Whenever it needs it.
2. The only time I would use a bright boy is if I was bringing in some used track that was really filthy and gunked up. I used to use bright boys back in the brass track days. I had to clean the track every time I wanted to run. Then I used a magnifying glass and looked at the rail head after a bright boy go over. It was indeed really clean but had bunches of tiny scratches in it. Those scratches filled up with gunk during the operating session and sure enough I had to clean again. I switched to Brasso to polish the top of the rails and my track cleaning woes went away. Since nickel-silver track, I use almost anything but a bright boy or sand paper to clean it. When I use alcohol I use the 90% kind. Alcohol can leave the rail very dry and cause a pit to form every time a spark jumps between a powered wheel and the track. That is where electrically conductive lubricants come into play. There are many such as Bachmann's EZ-lube and RailZip. My favorite at the moment is ACT-6006.

In track cleaning there are so many variables including the climate in the train room, the various brands of rail, the various brands of wheels running on the rail etc., that only experimenting will determine what works best in your situation. But yes while I've never found bright boy detritus in my locos gears or anything like that, I think they are a bad idea.


Well-Known Member
I agree with Andy and Iron Horseman in that bright boy's leave minute scratches which is why I only use it in extreme situations. As I said, I run DC which is a little more tolerant of less than perfectly clean track. The Woodland Scenics "Tidy Track" system has cleaning blocks that are more like soft erasers with no abrasives. One of the blocks does have abrasives so be aware of that if you use it. I forgot to mention it earlier but I also have a homemade masonite car that I run ahead of the Centerline car when I use it. Flyboy's video shows how to make one.
I also use a Brite Boy for track cleaning difficult areas. But I also found that a piece of cork roadbed is a great track cleaner by itself.

Just a suggestion to try.


Just to add...last week I ran two Centerline track cleaning cars dry in front of a Masonite track cleaning car and the dry pads really picked up a lot of dirty!




Whiskey Merchant
I have been using scraps of homasote roadbed that I had left over when I was putting down track. This also works extremely well. Like Greg, I mainly use the bright boy for difficult areas of track, which turn out mostly being turnouts. I don't need to do this very often, but since picking up a few DCC locomotives, I have found that they are quite a bit more sensitive to the least bit of dirt on the track.

I appreciate all of the replies and advice. I apologize for not following up on this topic sooner.. But here in Michigan...when there is no snow on the ground...there is grass to cut and other things to get done outside when not at work. I think I will stick with alcohol and possibly some cork roadbed for cleaning track for now. My layout is in a basement which means there will be alot of track cleaning to do. I had no idea about the scratches from a Bright Boy. I tried it on a piece of track and wow... the scratches did collect alot of dirt as compared to track where I just used alcohol and in places a piece of cork roadbed.

Thanks again...I appreciate the help and advice. 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