Z Track Cleaning

Overview:

With such a small electrical contact patch for engines, clean track is essential. There are several basic approaches to cleaning track:

Cleaning with abrasives:

Abrasives can definitely "clean" the track. They can cut through corrosion, rust, etc. There are negatives though, use sandpaper and it will wear down the rails, and can put lengthwise "grooves" in the rail that will help hold dirt, etc. The "eraser" type of cleaner can leave bits of gummy stuff on the track, and leave the rails greasy.

You can use the flat files from the beauty shop, they often have a very fine side that is for buffing. They normally do not leave any residue. They are re-marketed as "track cleaning sticks":

The grey surface is normally the tipoff of a very fine abrasive, like 2000 grit... look for the word "buffing", these work great and are cheap.

Rubber eraser / "cratex" cleaning can leave gummy residue or black greasy residue. The better quality stuff won't leave much residue, but be sure to clean the "eraser" with isopropol alcohol too keep from smearing the junk you removed from the rails.

Both of the above methods will give you clean rails immediately, but wipe off the rails with alcohol afterwards, both methods leave residues.

 Cleaning with solvents:

This method will not really remove corrosion or rust, but will remove oily grime and dirt. Be careful that the solvent does not eat up the plastic! I would suggest alcohol but be careful, "rubbing" alcohol usually contains glycerin, which can leave a gummy residue.

Solvents will NOT remove corrosion or oxidation. So, the first time you clean, you may need an abrasive. Subsequent cleanings may be fine with solvents only if you have run recently. You can try a solvent, and if it did not do the trick, then an abrasive cleaner.

There are systems with cleaning pads and one is http://www.vddglobaltracks.com/Z-Scale-Track-Cleaner-s/1837.htm

 "Electronic cleaning":

This is not really cleaning the track, but a method of using a temporary high voltage to conduct "through" dirt and oxidation to keep the power flowing to the locos. Relco is one of the most common brands.
Many people swear by them, some people claim they cause excessive pitting of wheels. In addition, the sensing circuitry to "trigger" these units into operation is incompatible with DCC.

 

What to do?

Like almost everything else in a hobby, what works for others may not work for you.

I use my trains often enough that cleaning with a nail buffing "cleaning stick" (pictured above) is not needed often, but for example our modules for the club which sit in storage for several months need this at first.

After that, cleaning with alcohol works great, keep wiping until you stop getting black greasy stuff.

After cleaning, run a cleaning car, the Aztec cleaning cars in one of your trains work well.

The Cratex wheel is at a slight angle so the motion of the car turns the wheel and gives a slight scrubbing action. I look at these cars to keep track clean, not to clean heavily oxidized track, and you should clean the wheel with alcohol to keep it from getting greasy and just smearing around the track. If you have oxidized track, it will take quite a few trips around the layout to clean.

I also have the Trackman 2000 in Z scale, no longer made, cool looking, but really not as effective as the larger scale versions:

I tried the Marklin track cleaning car, which has serrated wheels, it is a joke. Might be good for cutting plaster from rails. Gets dirty really quickly, the serrations in the wheels fill up and then it smears grease all over your layout.

Here are some comments from real people with real experience (with their permission):

 

Helmut Paule: []

My five cents of running "Z" , four years. I have Relco hooked up to the Track. except on my ICE Track, where I converted the Lights in 4 Cars for better brightness and found the Relco not efficient anymore because of the Lights in the Car's.
I use the 8802 or 88021 at least once a Month or if I think (believe) its nesseseary to do so twice. Every Direction twice on my Layout. Then I use the Aztec Track Cleaner Car also about 5 to 6 Times around the Tracks. If I come back from a Show, (usually outdoors) I clean up with Alcohol the Tracks, using a Leather (shammy) or Joergers Handle with Felt (dipped in Alcohol), specially on Tracks with Cathenary!

8802 - will clean dust and grit from track, does not clean grime or grease, wheels need to be cleaned manually, clean the Wheels of the 8802 or 88021 after every run

The Aztec has a rolling Cleaning wheel, I need to clean the cleaning wheel after 2 - 3 runs on my Layout, it depends also how dirty it is or looks, I use Alcohol, then water and soap on the rolling Wheel to clean.

(Question from Greg): "There is a new marklin cleaning car that is coming, I was confused, it seems to be 86501 see: http://www.creativelement.com/z/articles/pictures/86501.jpg
have you ever seen it? any idea how it works?" (Reply from Helmut):This is the Joerger cleaning Car made by Maerklin, with a Felt attached to clean the Tracks. seen only Pictures!

I got the HUG cleaning Car (an German Club Car), tried it, but was not impressed.

 

Daniel Baechtold, when asked about the Marklin track cleaning loco:

I do own such a railbus track cleaner. I was about 12 years old when I bought it in a shop, and only because the seller told me, that I had to have it (I was young and unexpirienced). Well, it NEVER worked. My track was dirty if I used the 8802 or not. Nowadays I prefer to clean the track by hand and I'm running the whole time a track clean boxcar from aztec.

 

David Karp has a great writeup on the subject also.

Weather Underground PWS KCACARLS78