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. So lets talk about cleaning model train tracks with vinegar! 

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 model 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’s the best way to clean model railroad track? 


How to clean Model train tracks with Vinegar

Cleaning model train track 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 to know when cleaning model train tracks with 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. Otherwise you’ll also need to learn how to clean rusty model train tracks as well! 

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

While we’re on the subject of how to clean model train tracks, what if you have a tough stain that vinegar just wont fix?


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. You can also use this product if you need to clean rust of your model train tracks too! 

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 cleaning model train track.

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.

If you have any other sugggestions about the best way to clean your model train tracks, let us know in the comment!


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!

11 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!

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  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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  6. Hi Peter. Thank you very much for your article on using vinegar to cleaning tracks. I wonder if you have a minute to answer a question.

    I have an almost 60-year-old American Flyer train. I took it out of the box to prepare it to give it to my grandson. The problem is that when I first start it, it doesn’t want to move. I hear the electricity going through the motor, but the train doesn’t want to move.

    After I tap on it a few times And I push it gently, it very slowly starts to move, and as I keep tapping on it, slowly slowly starts moving. After going very slowly a few times around the track, it starts picking up speed and after a while it seems to run normally.

    I did oil it as the manual says and I did clean the tracks And the wheels and contacts under the engine with a non-flammable cleaning liquid.

    I have it run at night after this whole process and it runs beautifully, but the next morning is frozen again. I hope you can help me with some ideas. Thanks again for your help

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    • You may want to use a cotton swabs and alcohol to clean the armature also the contacts on the brushes. Be careful when you remove the as there are springs you dont want to lose. Search YouTube for a video.

      Reply
  7. It sounds to me like the gear grease has solidified. Remove the gear cover and remove old grease with a very small screwdriver or an Exacto knife. When it is very old it comes out in sheets or chunks. I follow that with degreaser or alcohol. Rotate gear by turning armature of motor.
    When dry, put in new grease, again rotating to get full coverage.

    Reply

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