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How to clean black residue on tracks and train wheels?


Dinosbacsi

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Dinosbacsi

This is probably a topic that has come up many times over time, but so far I couldn't find a good explanation and solution for the situation what I have.

 

After I started running my B Train Shorty trains a few months ago, I noticed that after a while, some weird, black residue forms on the tracks and the wheels. It's almost powder like, and comes off easily by wiping with a tissue or even by my hands, but seems to cause contact problems between the rails and the train, causing loss of power and stopping.

 

I've read a few sites that mention this as "black gunk" and is apparently the effect of electric arcing between the rails and the powered wheels, causing some form of oxidation on the surface that results in this black stuff? Is that true?

 

What can be done about it? I mean I can wipe it off pretty easily from the rails if I notice them, but it's pretty annoying having to do so every hour or so when a new one forms somewhere along the tracks. And it's pretty hard to get them off the wheels, considering I can only acces one side of the wheels at a time. I still try to scrape them off with my fingernails as much as I can, but it's not the best solution I suppose.

 

For the wheels I've been thinking about those wheel cleaner brush stands, the ones you put on your rails and you just place the locomotive on and the brushes clean the wheels as they rotate. That would be pretty easy, but wouldn't that damage the traction wheel or something?

 

As for the rails, could a mop like track cleaner car do the job, maybe even dry?

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railsquid

It's a fact of life.

 

Dust building up on the rails will make the problem worse, so it's best to keep the layout as dust-free as possible.

 

My personal cleaning arsenal:

 

cleaning-tools.thumb.jpg.1a0601d102d070cb859a566d58134fc5.jpg

 

Kato Unicleaner and small cotton swab (barely visible) for cleaning wheels (battery comes in handy for rotating them), the large one for cleaning rails (particularly in hard-to-reach locations).

 

The "Soft-Kun" wheel polisher does just that, hasn't had any adverse affects on traction tyres that I've noticed, but is best used for a final polish after manually removing gunk from the wheels.

 

41 minutes ago, Dinosbacsi said:

As for the rails, could a mop like track cleaner car do the job, maybe even dry?

 

The Tomix cleaning car can do this, though I've never tried it and that functionality doesn't seem to be used very often. The "vacuum cleaner" functionality is certainly useful for removing dust from the rails, here after a long-overdue session:

 

32529706707_8fe1c10ca5_z.jpg

layout-dust by Rail Squid, on Flickr

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Dinosbacsi
8 minutes ago, railsquid said:

The "Soft-Kun" wheel polisher does just that, hasn't had any adverse affects on traction tyres that I've noticed, but is best used for a final polish after manually removing gunk from the wheels.

Ah yes, I saw a few videos of that one! Though originally I planned to getting a TRIX wheel cleaner, as those are available from a local model train store, but those have hard brass brushes, which I suppose could damage the rubber on the traction wheel. If the Soft-Kun is better in that regard, which I suppose it is judging by the name, then I'll go for that.

 

As for a track cleaning car, sadly I wouldn't go for those bigger track cleaner cars like the Tomix ones, as I don't really like their look. And I don't know how well it could handle my tight layout.  There is that small cute one called "Mop-kun", which seems to be out of stock on most places, but could that do the job if I managed to get one? Or any similar, smaller track cleaning cars on the market?

 

Anyway thanks for the info! I think I'll go for that Soft-Kun wheel cleaner in the near future and give it a try, and maybe one of that Kato Unicleaner stuff as well.

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I know we have had quite a few conversations on this but no great direct topic so maybe this will be the one now!

 

like squid said, all sorts of stuff build up on layouts and ends up on the tracks. Over lubing of greats can spew a lot of oil on tracks as the trucks usually have openings to the gears on them. I’ve always been a fan of isopropanol as a good universal cleaner, it’s ok to get on your skin and lungs (no nasties like xylene in some track cleaners) and doesn’t smell too bad, evaporates quickly. Our club layout got bursts of a lot of use at shows by a wide range of members trains ans we would have bouts of really dirty rail and contact issues and the  periods of little issue. Too many variables to tell why this was happening. But storage collected dust and some of our venues were places like the cow barns at the fair grounds so not the cleanest places...

 

but recently an article model railroad hobbist on electrical contact cleaning pointed to the hypothesis that much of black gunk on track comes from micro arcing between track to rails that produces a really fine powder of oxidized metal and is potentially amplified by any residual cleaners that get stuck down in the very fine nooks and crannies of the surface of the metal that do not evaporate off totally. Their solution was to very non polar electrical contact cleaners. This also explains why there has been success in the past using things like transmission fluids and clipper oil to keep track clean (but they can come with their own problems). I’ve a few contact cleaners now, but not tried to systematically test them with a lot of really heavy running on the club layout lately (no shows lately...). But I’m personally going to just try to do all cleaning with wd40 contact cleaner for the next year to see if I see a big change. One problem is the club is moving to Ttrak lately so there we have the issue of many folks modules and different cleaners around, but cleaning a Ttrak module is much simpler than cleaning the layout!

 

https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/mrhpub.com/2019-05-may/online/index.html?page=9

 

it all makes good sense scientifically and I’ve used contact cleaners a lot in other contact situations and what the electrical pros said to do there. Big thing is to make sure it’s one that is plastic safe. It will usually mean spraying the cleaner or a rag to wipe the rails or swabs or cleaner pads on one of those wheel cleaning rails to go at wheels. If it can stop the black gunk creation then a lot of rail cleaning may not be necessary in the long run. Once the nooks and crannies are filled with a non polar molecules, micro arcing reduced and little oxidized
 

I do the same as squid for wheel cleaning of power units with just power to tips of wheel flanges and then swab on each wheel and I can be very gentle on the traction tires. For regular cars I’ve found a piece of paper towel across the track with some cleaner in it and just run the car back and forth over it by hand pushing down some gently works well. Again I get my worst black gunk on motor car wheels supporting the thought it’s mostly from arcing.
 

vacuuming the tracks (Tomix track cleaner is great for this) regularly is a big help both for stuff getting on tracks but into trucks and gears. The whole layout is sort of a big magnet for dust so having a mini vacuum hose (with a bit of nylon stocking across one of the tube junctions to catch any sucked up needed parts or scenery bits) to clean what you can is great too. Having a small air purifier in the room can really help cut down on dust circulating in the room and try to keep the door closed when possible to let as little in as possible.
 

Having a magnet on the bottom of a car is always useful as well to grab little chunks of metal off the tracks. Every time I’ve done this since a kid I’ve always been surprised to find all sorts of little metal grits have made their way onto the track...

 

I would think that btrains could be more susceptible to the arcing as they tend to bounce around a lot more and if the arcing is causing the black gunk then maybe you get more faster that way.

 

cheers

 

jeff

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Dinosbacsi
21 minutes ago, cteno4 said:

I would think that btrains could be more susceptible to the arcing as they tend to bounce around a lot more and if the arcing is causing the black gunk then maybe you get more faster that way.

Yeah the extra bouncing could definitely explaing things. And from what I noticed, gunk also seems to form especially around the gaps on rail joints, which I suppose also points to the fact that it's caused by arcing.

 

And on my 205 series, only the motor unit's wheels are getting the black gunk, the wheels on the trailer cars remain perfectly clean. On my 103 series however, gunk forms even on the trailer cars as well, I suppose because those have bogeys with power pickups.

 

25 minutes ago, cteno4 said:

Having a magnet on the bottom of a car is always useful as well to grab little chunks of metal off the tracks. Every time I’ve done this since a kid I’ve always been surprised to find all sorts of little metal grits have made their way onto the track...

This is not a bad idea, may give it a try at some point.

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lukewang01

I've been using this pen and Tomix vac car for my tracks. They work pretty well together. Run the vacuum for a couple laps, then take the tracks apart and go through it with the pen. You can always use a brush instead of the vac to get rid of most fluffs. 

 

For cleaning the wheels, I've heard about IPA causing gunks. So I moved to using small foam pieces that RG-R stuffed between trains and cases, and dip it with tiny bit of water and just rubbing the tread. 

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bill937ca

I have used 24-020 Unicleaner for a long time. Formerly Unicleaner, 24-020 was available outside Japan but it comes up currently unavailable.  The Kato Japan webpage also shows Unicleaner 24-023 which is available now in Japan but not from the usual suspects.

 

https://www.katomodels.com/product?search=uni+cleaner

 

UPDATE: 24-020 is now discontinued and replaced with 24-023 which is in stock at Kato.

 

https://www.katomodels.com/stock/result?word=24-020

 

 

Edited by bill937ca
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Dinosbacsi

What about these Kato brush thingies that can be attached to bogeys, apparently? Has anyone tried them?

 

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I’m hoping that switching to the contact cleaners will really help get rid of most of the black gunk. I try to be very sparing with the oils when lubing now. Apply a tiny bit and run upside down for a sec and repeat a few times and you hear things get quiet and you can see jsut a tiny shimmer on the gears, not swimming in it, so not much spewed out with use onto track then. 
 

I want to try my roller track cleaning car and just spray contact cleaner on the roller pad and run. Will need to be refreshed more often than isopropanol on the roller but may not be needed very often if not much black gunk anymore. 
 

tomix vacuum car is well worth it. It’s pretty effective, I’m surprised what shows up in the bin after a run around! 
 

jeff

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roadstar_na6
2 hours ago, Dinosbacsi said:

What about these Kato brush thingies that can be attached to bogeys, apparently? Has anyone tried them?

 

Ah, Noch Reinigungszwerge 🙂 I still need to get some of those

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I find the Unicleaner, (they've recently change to a different bottle) works really well and I actually use an old T-shirt that I have cut up into squares. I found other cloths would leave fluff between rail joins as they would snag on the raised edge of a piece of rail. Unicleaner seems to keep unitrack clean for quite a while without issue.  

 

Interestingly, the worst offender at picking up crud from my rails are my Kato Taki 1000s. They have shiny silver wheels which seem to attract it, or just are most obvious when they get dirty.

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You want to mitigate the problem first then deploy the cleaning method. The leading culprit is arcing as stated and the light weight 

motor compounds the problem. If the track is loose it will propagate the problem as well.

 

Verify the arcing by running the train in the dark. You will get a visual on the bad spots. Next run your finger on the rails to

feel the track. In some cases the joints can peak creating gaps where the wheels have an abrupt loss and gain of contact

creating the arcing condition.

 

Adding a little weight can mitigate the bouncing but in any case you want to eliminate the source. If not its like trying to sweeping the waves of

water off the beach.

 

Inobu

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Hmm I wonder if you can actually see the micro arcing. My guess would be it’s so tiny, low powered and mainly going to be hidden by the contact surface you won’t see it, but just guessing. Something to look at some time inna very dark room. I can just see my wife walking in and turning the lights on and asking why I’m running a train around in the pitch dark with my eye right at the tracks or just deciding it’s better not to ask!

 

but as inobu says eliminating the stuff on the rails (trapped polar cleaners) will stop providing the substrate to cause micro arcing to create a lot of the black gunk.

 

One behavior we had with the club layout that may have gotten us into rounds of lots of black gunk at shows is we would at times clean rail as the trains were running (quickly hitting a patch of track that was causing stuttering or slow up) just after the train passes by. We did this to keep the trains running for the public. But probably a lot of isopropanol on the tracks then and thus booted arcing for black gunk creation. Does fit well with our empirical observations. I’m thinking our shows where little cleaning was needed was the shows we did a good cleaning just after set up and there was time for most all (except the stuff way down in the nooks and crannies) to evaporate well before lots of train running happened. 
 

also one of our club members has a very large Unitrak layout in their basement that got a good rain of smutz from the floor rafters above (no drop ceiling of any sort) and if he didn’t run it in a month it got pretty bad. He would run the Tomix vacuum car and then roller cleaner car around a few laps and all would be well. He used the orange oil cleaner as his cleaner which I always worried would not evaporate well and would probably leave some oil (non polar) residue on the tracks, but it worked. Makes sense with the non polar cleaner theory.

 

jeff

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I get that (What are you doing) all the time. You will be surprised what you can see in the dark.

 

Oh, There really no "micro arc".......There is a period of time where a sparks duration converts to a arc.

That is the yellow spark verses the blue arc.

 

Bottom line is mitigation...

 

Inobu

 

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nah00

90% rubbing alcohol with a cut cotton swab is what I use. The head of the swab will lose too many fibers and cause more problems but if you cut at 45 degree angles above it you get a nice, firm surface to clean with. It takes time but it also allows you inspect the track for any unwanted expansion/contraction around the joiners. I'm unfortunate in that I don't have a drop ceiling but most of the dust falls on the town in the center of my layout and not the tracks. I find a a shop vac with cheesecloth fitted over the nozzle clean up most of the mess and doesn't suck up cars, people, animals...

I have the Tomix cleaning car but the motor on the vacuum is temperamental to say the least. I don't know if I got a dud or what but it will work for maybe 2 or 3 laps and then it just refuses to run.  

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MeTheSwede

Nobody has mentioned the Tomix wheels cleaning track. I couldn't possibly evaluate it due to my inexperience, but mine did pick up a lot of dirt very quickly so I know it's doing something at least.

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bill937ca
10 hours ago, MeTheSwede said:

Nobody has mentioned the Tomix wheels cleaning track. I couldn't possibly evaluate it due to my inexperience, but mine did pick up a lot of dirt very quickly so I know it's doing something at least.

Watch your traction tires.

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MeTheSwede
1 hour ago, Dinosbacsi said:

Wheel cleaning track? How does that work?

 

This video shows it well.

 

 

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MeTheSwede
51 minutes ago, bill937ca said:

Watch your traction tires.

I guess it shouldn't be overused.

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cteno4

One of our club members has this and it’s more like paper not a bad abrasive. Our quick and dirty version at shows was to put a piece of paper towel across powered track and soak in isopropanol and then put one truck on the track and other on paper towel on track. Fast way to clean but does run traction tires. My preferred way is to gently push leads onto the edge of the flanges with the train upside down and then just let swab soaked with cleaner rest against each wheel for a few seconds. You can even do traction tires gently this way. I really like this method as I can control speed and pressure carefully. I use the makeup swabs as they are firm and don’t shed fibers and the tip nestles into the flange corner well.

 

https://www.ebay.com/itm/393212149206?hash=item5b8d453dd6:g:EU0AAOSwSXFdyQzu

 

 

cheers

 

jeff

 

 

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Bob_NZ
On 5/2/2021 at 3:18 AM, nah00 said:

I have the Tomix cleaning car but the motor on the vacuum is temperamental to say the least. I don't know if I got a dud or what but it will work for maybe 2 or 3 laps and then it just refuses to run.  

I have 2 cars and both gave the same problem - I found it to be the bogie springs making poor contact and also for one the black spinning vac was binding against the edge of the car - a light filing opened the gap.

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gavino200
4 hours ago, MeTheSwede said:

 

This video shows it well.

 

 

 

I find it really hard to believe that that thing makes a significant improvement in black gunk. I've seen the gunk build up to the point where it looks like a traction tire.

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Kamome
Posted (edited)

The substance used towards the end of this video looks interesting. Presumably reduces arcing and crud build up.

 

Although not for traction tyres which rules out a lot of my rolling stock. Good for Japanese HO perhaps.

Edited by Kamome
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gavino200
33 minutes ago, Kamome said:

Although not for traction tyres which rules out a lot of my rolling stock. Good for Japanese HO perhaps.

 

He talks briefly about this starting at 17:25 but it isn't clear to me if he just means that this product that he specifically mentioned wasn't good for traction tires, or whether all non polar cleaner weren't good. He went on to say that non polar cleaners were "still" a good idea. For everyone else who don't use TTs ? Or for everyone? ie only the specific product he mentions is bad for TTs. Confused. 

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