Can You Clean Model Railway Tracks With White Spirits?


Model railway owners are always surprised to find just how dirty their tracks get, even after running only a handful of trains across their layout.

Truth be told, though, the trucks on our engines, freight cars, and passenger cars are always a lot dirtier than we realize.

These trucks are usually well lubricated with a bit of oil – and that oil acts as a magnet to attract dirt, dust, and debris faster than most think possible.

Before you know it your tracks are gummed up, your trains are running poorly, and you’re having more derailments across your model railway than you should.

Thankfully though, with just a bit of white spirits, you can completely clean your model railway tracks quite easily.

Let’s jump right in!

Can You Clean Model Railway Tracks with White Spirits?


Model railway owners have been using white spirits to clean their tracks for decades, well before companies like Lionel (and others) started to release their own commercial track cleaning solutions – many of them less effective than white spirits, too!

White spirits are designed to remove dirt, dust, and debris (as well as the gunk that collects on our tracks and layouts) without leaving any sticky residues behind.

The evaporative properties of white spirits in particular make this liquid a very attractive track cleaner as their is little clean up afterwards, especially when combined with the solvent properties it enjoys, too.

Best of all, a small bottle of white spirits won’t cost very much but should last at least a couple of months – even with regular (bi-weekly) cleanings of your track.

There’s no real reason to spend a mountain of money on commercial track cleaners for your model railway when white spirits get the job done at a fraction of the price.

Any Downside to Using White Spirits as a Track Cleaner?

While there are a lot of benefits to using white spirits as a track cleaner (including its effectiveness and its low price, as highlighted above) there is one major drawback you’ll want to be aware of.

White spirits have a pretty pungent aroma and powerful fumes that will persist a lot longer than you might expect.

The white spirits fumes will persist even after the actual liquid has evaporated. It can cause headaches and nausea if you are exposed to those fumes more extended amounts of time, too.

If your layout is quite large and you need to use a lot of white spirits to clean the tracks you want to be sure that you set up a fan to ventilate the area (and maybe even open a window or two) or wear a respirator mask.

Closing Thoughts

At the end of the day, the price, the effectiveness, and the widespread availability of white spirits make this liquid a very popular model railway track cleaner.

Sure, you want to have plenty of fans going and proper ventilation set up before you start cleaning a larger layout.

Aside from that, though you’ll be able to get your tracks back to better than brand-new condition (even the dirtiest railway tracks) without a lot of effort when you use this solvent, a microfiber cloth, and just a little bit of elbow grease.

Some model railway enthusiasts have found a way to avoid having to scrub their tracks manually, too.

These layout owners have taken to pre-soaking a cleaning pad with white spirits, taping it to the bottom of one of their freight cars (between the wheels on both sides) and then run that car around the track. They replace the pad as necessary and continue to run it until their tracks come clean, running trains across their layout while cleaning them at the same time. Of course you can always buy a carriage to do it for you.

It beats scrubbing your tracks by hand, that’s for sure!


If you are having issues with Derailment the take a loom at our article Derailment, It’s not your fault (or maybe it is...) and you can check our our Ultimate Model Railway Tool guide here.

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