Cleaning Model Train Tracks with Vinegar

Can you use vinegar to clean your train tracks?

Vinegar has been used in cleaning for decades. It’s a super versatile, totally safe cleaning product that removes all those harmful chemicals you find in a lot of other products.

And, the best part is that it’s a great cleaning solution for your model train tracks!

Most tracks, regardless of scale,  are made using what is called “nickel silver” which is a combination of both metals. The best part about nickel silver is that it doesn’t oxidise as fast as other metals, meaning it requires less cleaning.

Although, eventually it will get dirty or rusty. 

Other types of tracks are often made using steel, brass or aluminium. The problem with steel or brass is that they’re prone to going rusty quicker than not. So that’s also something to be mindful of when purchasing your train tracks. 

But what’s the difference between how to clean your ho train tracks vs cleaning your n scale train tracks I hear you ask? Well, nothing! All train tracks mostly use the exact same materia, so there’s no real difference to cleaning them.

So what do you do when they start to rust or get too dirty?


How to clean your train tracks with Vinegar

Model train track cleaning is super easy, especially with vinegar. Now, most people will tell you that a white vinegar solution is going to work best, but most types of vinegar will get the job done.

If you’ve got a really persistent blemish or piece of rust that you can’t get rid of, consider adding some salt to your vinegar solution.

There are a couple easy steps you need to complete:

  1. Apply some White Vinegar to a cloth until it’s damp
  2. Wipe down all your train tracks with the cloth, until the rust or grime has gone.
  3. Use another damp cloth with water to go back over the top of the tracks and remove the vinegar.

And that’s it! Like we said above, if you’ve got a really hard part to clean, try adding some salt to the mixture. It’s a bit more abrasive and will help scrub that dirt off quicker. Otherwise, if you’ve spilt something onto your tracks, adding a squeeze of lemon juice to your vinegar will act as a disinfectant and remove anything sticky.


What you need should be careful of using vinegar

Using straight vinegar on nickel (not nickel silver) can cause it to turn a red colour and rust because of the acid. So while it’s safe to use it on nickel silver, just make sure you wipe off any vinegar afterwards to be on the safe side.

Other than that, there’s nothing else you need to worry about. Because vinegar is a supernatural, safe product there’s no risk of poison or contamination or anything else.


Other great products for model train track cleaner

Goo-B-Gone: A lot of people will choose to use Goo-B-Gone solution on their tracks. It’s an all in one adhesive/stain remover for a variety of surfaces. Chances are good you might even have some of it lying around your house, or a product that is similar.

No-Ox: No-Ox was a product so damn good, it’s been discontinued? What does that even mean? Well, it was so effective that people only needed one small tin to last them a lifetime! So if you can manage to get your hands on some, grab it.

People will use some of this and not have to clean their tracks for another 6 months or more. It’s the holy grail of model train track cleaning.

Update: A company called Sanchem now manufactures No-Ox-ID, which has amazing reviews and is pretty comprabale to the No-Ox of old! If you’re after a product that will protect your track, we reccomend picking up some. 

NO-OX-ID A-Special- Electrical Contact Grease- Keeps Metals Free of Rust and Corrosion- Part# 10203
  • Simply the Best ! One 2 oz container as pictured per order.
  • Conductive Grease and Electrical Contact Lubricant.
  • Works with ALL Metals with all Electrical Currents

Wahl Clipper Oil: “Shaving oil? On my train track? No way!” I hear you say. But, this is a tried and true cleaning oil that many in the industry rave about.

It’s an oil that’s used to keep the metal clippers healthy and lubricated for prolonged usage, so your metal track tracks are an ideal place to use it!

Isopropyl alcohol: Something you probably have lying around the house anyway. It’s just a rubbing alcohol that is used in a variety of different applications, from medicine to cleaning.

It’s a good solvent that leaves no oily residue, so is perfect for giving your tracks a wipe down every now and then to keep them looking fresh and ready to run.


 Check out our post here to learn more about model trains! Or, if you’re in the market for a new train, take a look at our best electric model trains guide! 

Got any other suggestions for cleaning your tracks? Leave a comment below!

7 thoughts on “Cleaning Model Train Tracks with Vinegar”

  1. A few months ago, I went to Dollar Tree to look at nail polish remover (for model railroading). And they had a bottle marked 100% acetone. I bought one bottle. It cleaned paint off a clogged nozzle on a spray can. So, I bought a few more. Now, I use it to clean. I use a toothbrush, dip it in the acetone, and brush rails. Wires before flux before soldering. Etc. Obviously, like vinegar, you should wipe it down good. And using good old isopropyl alcohol after any other liquid is good. I hesitate to use water, for no good reason. Just that I trust all these wonderful ideas to clean track. No bright boys need apply.

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  2. That’s cool that you can have a good way to clean your tracks without them getting rustier. I wouldn’t want to use the wrong cleaning solution and then not be able to use the tracks anymore. That’s good that vinegar is a good way to safely clean the tracks.

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  3. Just one point – nickel silver is not ‘a combination of both metals’, it is an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc (no ‘silver’ in it) and it does come in different combinations so is not necessarily the same regardless of scale. ‘High’ nickel content nickel silver is thought by many to look more like the steel of real rails, but in my experience may not solder quite as easily.

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  4. I have had my tracks on a board for 30 years. When we moved to a new home, the basement had lots of mildew on anything stored there and so my tracks are full of mildew.

    Will vinegar do the trick on mildew too?

    Reply
    • Hi Ralph, I’ve never dealt with mildew on tracks before, but have used White Vinegar to remove it from places like the bathroom, so I assume it will do the trick!

      Reply
  5. Hi Peter. I recently found my son’s electric train. For years, it has been stored in a cardboard box, within a tote, in a machine shed. I was concerned that it was lost. Miraculously, it looks in decent shape! I need to clean and disinfect the whole business. I am concerned about possible mold and mice urine/droppings but maybe not as to the latter. Can you please advise me on what is the best approach to getting this ready to give to my son, age 37, and his little boy, age 4? You are not Peter Smith from Readfield are you? Thank you.

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