This topic has as many methods as there are model railroaders and I have tried different methods of track cleaning over the years and have settled the following method. The method that I use works for me and may not work for you, I just want to pass it on.
My arsenal of cleaning tools consist of the following
- Cleaning blocks: 1 non-abrasive and 1 fine abrasive.
- Wet cleaning car:
- The "N-2" from Centerline. The N-2 roller is covered with replaceable cleaning cloths.
- Dry cleaning car. The "Eliminator" from AZTEC with the Cratex® roller 3 brushes and a bar magnet.
- Cleaning solution: 70% Alcohol
The best cleaning method that I use is to run my trains regularly. By regularly I mean weekly if possible, but this is not always the case. When that can not happen and things need some help I use the dry cleaning car that is being pushed by the locomotive behind the locomotive I have the wet cleaning car.
Mainline and passing sidings
Using the CMX car I push it around the layout with a couple locos. This also cleans the loco wheels and after a few passes all is clean. In the case of heavy dirt I will use the N-2 behind the locos dry as a scruber/drier. With less dirt the CMX is used alone. For light cleaning I'll run the Aztec car.
Stub end sidings
Stub end sidings are not so easily done since getting the wet car in means when backing out or if I push it in the loco is running in wet 70% Alcohol both can cause mud to get onto the locos wheels which is counter productive. With the stub end tracks I will usually just push the dry car in and pull it back out a few times. There are times when I have to get the cleaning blocks out. They usually come out of retirement for just a couple reasons. Installing new track. That's right new track needs to be cleaned. You don't have any idea how many dirty, sticky or oily hands have been handling it. Furthermore if you are like me you may have a supply of it and it has oxidized while being in storage. Another reason to use the cleaning blocks is to remove any of the scenic materials that may have gotten on the track while working in the area. Some times there is a spot that the cleaning cars can not get the job done, I'll use the blocks there. When I have to use the blocks I always start with the least abrasive one first. Even a fine abrasive can scratch the rails (see the don'ts below).
My wheels are never dirty. If you believe that then we need to talk about some beach front property...I know that all of the wheels get dirty but at this time I want to concentrate on only the locomotive wheels. When the time comes and it does every so often the wheels on the locos need to be cleaned. My favorite method is taking the loco to the bench. I'll inspect the wheels under a good light and if needed a magnifier. Using a set of clip leads I attach the track power to the loco in question. With the wheels turning I dip a clean microbrush into the 70% Alcohol. Placing the microbrush on a wheel. Most times the microbrush turns black instantly. Using a second microbrush I will place it dry on the wheel to remove the mud that is now soft. Using a third microbrush I'll place it on the wheel with some 70% Alcohol to rinse the wheel. Using a forth microbrush I'll remove the excess 70% Alcohol, and put the loco back in service. This method cleans the wheels without scratching like a knife or a brush will. Also it does not harm traction tires.
For the wheels of cars I use the following
- A scrap piece of track
- Paper towel or a coffee filter
- 70% Alcohol
I apply some of the 70% Alcohol to the paper and place it over the track and roll the car over it. Just a couple of passes and the wheels are clean. I then roll the car over a second paper to help remove any excess 70% Alcohol.