How To Expert Tips How to keep your model railroad layout clean

How to keep your model railroad layout clean

By Gerry Leone | March 20, 2024

| Last updated on March 21, 2024

Keeping your layout clean ensures reliable operations

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Tips for keeping your model railroad layout clean: A clean layout is fun to run, fun to work on, and fun to look at.  Unfortunately, the three D’s – dust, dirt and debris – are in season all year long and can make keeping a layout clean a constant, time-consuming job. Here are a few tips to make layout cleaning easier, faster, and a little less frequent.

Don’t put it on the layout if it doesn’t belong there

Tools and various items on a model railroad layout
It’s all-too-easy to turn your layout into a depository of dirt-carrying items and cover it with cookie crumbs! Gerry Leone photo

Don’t use your layout as a temporary table for snacks, drinks, tools or anything that’s not a train or scenery. It can easily become a habit, and often one that will bring unwanted foreign matter along with it.

Don’t blow dust from here to there

Various cans of canned air
Electrical contact cleaners help keep your engines running smoothly. Gerry Leone photo

Canned air is a great way to blow dust off your trains and structures. But don’t use it while those items are still on your layout or you’ll only be moving the dust from one spot to another.

A model freight car with a dust dabber used on the roof of the model
Woodland Scenics’ Dust Dabber is an easy way to get car and structure roofs dust-free. Gerry Leone photo

If you can’t remove items for cleaning, use a product like Woodland Scenics’ Dust Dabber on structure and freight car roofs. It’s effective and takes only a few minutes. Another effective alternative is to buy a Dust Buster-type cordless vacuum, which works well on scenery, too. Just make sure your scenery is firmly glued down!

There’s more on the floor

Concrete basement or garage floors are well known sources of fine dust that can settle on a layout. Lay inexpensive carpet tiles or carpeting to help eliminate dust, and regularly vacuum. If you can’t put down carpet, at least gently sweep or mop the floor monthly.

Keep it covered

A gray cover draped over a model railroad layout
If dust is a major problem, one solution is to cover your entire layout. Gerry Leone photo

If your layout is in your workshop, garage, or a basement with no ceiling, keeping dust off can be a real chore. Famed modeler George Sellios has an answer. George created a “cover on a pulley” that can be lowered to protect his whole layout when it’s not in use. The time you spend making a layout cover may be more-than offset by the time you save not having to clean all the time.

Drop everything

Even if your layout isn’t in your workshop, sawing or sanding wood and spackling compound in the train room can create a scale snowstorm. Instead, do that work in your garage or outside when the weather is nice. If you have no other choice, buy an inexpensive, lightweight plastic drop cloth at a home center that you can gently lay atop your finished scenery. You can also build an inexpensive dust filter – just Google “homemade dust filter” for dozens of ideas.

Don’t forget the track!

Running trains regularly helps keep track cleaning to a minimum, especially if you have a rail cleaning car as part of your regular consists. (You can watch a video of how to make one here. – Ed.)

A model fright car with a rail cleaner attached to the underside of the car
It’s easy to make a very effective and inconspicuous track cleaning car. Gerry Leone photo

You can also use electrical contact cleaners, such as CRC 2-26 or CRC QD, on the tracks to keep trains from stuttering. Both products are safe for plastics and sensitive electronics, and don’t leave residue on the rails. There is also a wide variety of track cleaning cars and fluids, as well as abrasives, that will help keep your trains rolling. The Model Railroader’s Handbook from Kalmbach Books lists a whole host of track cleaning ideas and discusses their effectiveness.

You don’t have to go crazy cleaning your layout. Spending just 10 or 15 minutes once a month should do the trick to make running trains a lot more fun and less frustrating. Remember: a clean model railroad is a happy model railroader!

2 thoughts on “How to keep your model railroad layout clean

  1. The layout just looks so much better without tools, building materials, parts, etc. laying about. And forgetting to get everything off the layout prior to operating can have bad results. Thanks for the tips. Putting things away and keeping the railroad orderly is easy if done regularly.

    Another Gerry

  2. Great tips Gerry (as always), I found out the hard way this winter choosing to cut masonite for the facia in the warm basement instead of in the frigid garage or just outside the door, I have been vacuuming up masonite dust since. I did catch on quickly however, and thankfully a few extra warm days in Ohio allowed me to finish the work just outside the basement door, but still regretting the brown dust bowl that has settled over the layout.

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