Cleaning Lionel Fastrack

Lionel Fastrack has some advantages, but after a decade or so of using it under a Christmas tree, I have to say staying clean isn’t one of them. Here are the secrets of cleaning Lionel Fastrack safely.

Suitable cleaners for Lionel Fastrack

cleaning Lionel Fastrack
Lionel Fastrack looks nice and works well on floor layouts, but keeping it clean can be a challenge. Here are some tricks for cleaning Lionel Fastrack. Image credit: Roy Luck/Flickr

I don’t recommend cleaning Lionel Fastrack with abrasives. Fastrack has tin plating on its rails, and if the tin wears off, the track will rust. Then you have a bigger problem. If you do get a rust spot, Bar Keeper’s Friend is the best household cleaner to remove the rust. I discussed it further in my entry about refurbishing tubular track.

If you don’t use abrasives, that means you need some kind of liquid. Some solvents are too harsh. Lacquer thinner will make quick work of whatever is on the rails. But it will melt the plastic roadbed even more quickly than it will melt your vital organs. So you want to avoid that.

Alcohol is one favorite, and it will do a reasonably good job. You can get 91% isopropyl alcohol at the drug store. You can also get denatured alcohol from a hardware or paint store. Both are very effective on dirt and reasonably effective on oil. Alcohol won’t harm the plastic roadbed as long as it doesn’t come into contact with it for prolonged periods of time. A few swipes along the rails with an alcohol-saturated rag won’t hurt anything.

Another reasonable option is mineral spirits. The criticism I’ve seen of using liquids for cleaning is that it leaves a slurry of grime on the track. But mineral spirits is what you’re supposed to use to clean up wood floors when you’re refinishing them, because it picks up dust well. So it picks up dust, and it does a great job of dissolving oil and grease. To my mind, that makes it ideal for cleaning Fastrack. Just as with alcohol, saturate a rag with it, and swipe along the rails with it until the rails are clean. Wear gloves when you work with mineral spirits.

Don’t use other household cleaners on Fastrack. Other cleaners like Simple Green or Lysol wipes cause it to rust after 2-3 years, which isn’t good since you probably bought the track intending to use it for a decade.

Technique for cleaning Lionel Fastrack

When cleaning, the tops of the rails are more important than the sides. The inner sides of the two outer rails will occasionally make electrical contact with the wheel flanges but most of the electrical contact happens on the top. Neither side of the center rail ever makes any electrical contact, and neither do the outside sides of the outer rails. Also pay attention to the center rail. The center rail is the hot rail while both outer rails are the return, so the electricity has a choice and can pick the cleaner of the two rails. The electricity has only one choice in getting to the motor, so make sure the top of that center rail is clean.

Cleaning without liquids or abrasives

If you’re really paranoid about abrasives or liquids, you can clean the track with a microfiber cloth. Microfiber generally does a nice job of removing dirt and oils and won’t scratch the surface.

A trick for cleaning less

Finally, there’s an old trick for keeping track clean longer that I recently rediscovered. It’s an old secret of HO scale railroaders but it works on Fastrack too. Once you clean the track, treat it, and you may never have to clean it again.

What if your train still runs poorly after cleaning Fastrack

If your train still runs poorly even after cleaning the track, you probably have some loose pins. Here’s how to fix loose pins in Fastrack. If you have a large loop of track, running additional wires to a distant section of track also helps.

And if your trains themselves are dirty, here are some tips for cleaning the trains without damaging them.

Storing Fastrack

From a storage perspective, the same tricks for storing other Lionel track works well with Fastrack.

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