How to clean Marx tin lithographed trains

Because Marx trains were much less expensive than their competitors, they didn’t always get treated with the same respect as their contemporaries. And sometimes that means when you find them, they are filthy. Dirty, scratched, and even rusty Marx 6 and 7-in tin trains respond well to basic cleaning. Here’s how to clean Marx tin lithographed trains

A caveat

clean Marx tin lithographed trains
This car is pretty far gone but even this will respond surprisingly well to a cleaning. A car like this is good to learn on, then you can apply what you learn to cars that are less severely damaged.

These tips are for Marx tin trains with a glossy finish. The trains with a duller finish, largely the 3/16 line, do not have a protective clearcoat on them, so they do not respond as well to this treatment.

On anything other than a Marx 6 and 7-in tin lithographed train, experiment first on a common item in an inconspicuous area. And you do this at your own risk.

You might consider buying a job lot of junker cars for practice.


A prominent eBay reseller of Marx trains from nearly 20 years ago recommended soap and water to clean routine dirt off Marx train bodies. But I would like to amend that suggestion. I’ve gotten away with using hand soap, with caveats, but it would be better to use car detergents or car shampoo rather than soap like you use to wash your hands. Any soap intended for bathing humans or animals contains salts. Automotive products do not.

If you must use soap, use the mildest soap you can find, like Ivory. Whatever you do, don’t use antibacterial soap.

Surface dirt comes off surprisingly easily with a bit of car detergent, water, and a microfiber cloth. I remove the wheels and axles before washing the body, so as to avoid getting water inside the wheels.

If you want to be really careful, wash and rinse with distilled water rather than ordinary tap water. But that’s up to you.

Dry the body with another microfiber cloth, and if you want to be really careful, blow dry the body to drive out any of the water that made it into the crevices and interior of the body.

It’s surprising how much just a simple cleaning improves the appearance of a beat up train car.

Clean Marx tin lithographed trains of scratches

6 and 7-in Marx cars had a clear coat on them, which is one of the reasons they are surprisingly durable. If the scratches are fairly shallow, frequently you can polish the scratches out of them.

To remove light scratches, use a plastic polish, like the plastic polishes for restoring automotive headlights.

There is less you can do for deeper scratches, but if you’re feeling brave, you can try a melamine sponge, such as a Mr Clean magic eraser, and then follow up with plastic polish. The magic eraser is also good for removing dirt from those scratches. So even if you can’t completely polish out the scratch, frequently you can improve the car’s appearance.

Clean rust off Marx tin lithographed trains

The hardest of the three problems to deal with is rust. Typically, if the car started to rust, that means the clear coat failed, and water was able to get to the metal. I’ve had some success cleaning up rusty tin Marx cars with evapor rust. I’ve always been hesitant to soak them in it, but applying some with a cotton swab and lightly scrubbing the surface with the swab has given me good results. Another option would be to soak a paper towel in it, and then place the paper towel over the affected area.

After treatment, rinse the car with clear water, and then blow dry to remove all of the remaining water and prevent flash rusting.

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