Personally,for dirty plastic locomotives and rolling stock,I use the Dawn/warm water/soft toothbrush method and after drying 24 hours gently polishing with Armor All. I've used this method for 30+ years with no adverse effects. On tinplate, I just use Armor All only - applied only with a soft flannel polishing cloth.It often takes about 2-3 light applications. Armor All is water based with traces of silicone and mineral oil. The results are stunning and a interesting side effect is that the trains attract less dust.
I advise not attempting to clean trains (especially plastic with rubber stamped lettering) with WD40 or other petroleum distillate based products.This can dissolve the rubber stampings and etch the surface of the plastic. While attending a meet back in the 1980's I watched in horror a fellow spraying and cleaning his trains with WD40 while setting up his display. Even though I warned him,he went on and ruined the lettering and stripes on a 2330 GG1!
Here is a post from my dark/secret past that was posted on the TTML some years ago:
How to Clean Your Toy Trains
Helpful Hints that Will Keep your Trains Looking Good.
A large part of the enjoyment that we get from our trains is fixing and repairing them. This is very relaxing. I like to listen to tapes or watch movies, my father watches sports while he works (this is not a good word- it's only work if you don't enjoy it.) on the trains. We collect trains made with a variety of materials - from wood to plastic - but the techniques that I discuss below will work with all of them. Always test any cleaner on a hidden spot before you apply. You can ruin the finish if are not careful. We have some pieces that we do not even dust because we have not found a method of cleaning them that is satisfactory. Until we can get acceptable results on common pieces with the same problems, we will not touch the rarities. Practice on junk until you have the techniques down.
Every train that we add to our collection is cleaned and repaired to operating condition before it is placed on a layout or shelf. In the next few paragraphs, I will share some of the techniques that we have learned over the years. Remember to test and practice on junk. First, we remove the shells, if they are extremely dirty or stained, we wash them in warm soapy water. Important : never wash lightly colored (aluminum, white, cream, etc. . . ) items made between 1935 and 1956 in water, you will remove the paint. For lightly colored items use a damp rag and rub the dirt away. DO NOT put soap on the train it will cause spotting. Put the soap in the water. Remember, always test. It may seem like I’m be laboring this point, but I have seen many damaged trains because this step was ignored. Additionally, do not use any cleaners like 409, Windex, etc. - they change the color of many items - especially lettering. After wetting the train lightly scrub with a soft toothbrush being very gentle around the lettering. Remember, you want to remove the dirt not the paint. Rinse it under cold running water. Then shake and pat all the water you can off. Allow to air dry. While the train is drying the motor is repaired. Mechanical repair will be covered in a future issue.
After the train is dry. examine it for stains. If there are small stains, they can be removed by compounding. Use a soft rag (an old flannel shirt works great-just make sure it is clean. We use disposable rags) and a light cut compounding agent. 3M Light Duty Compound and Glaze (part #051144-05935) which is available in auto paint stores is great. It works by chemical action not by abrasives. DO NOT use Turtle Wax or other cheap brands - they are too abrasive and will destroy the finish very quickly. DO NOT compound lithographed items. The ink is very thin and will be quickly removed. Gently rub the stained areas with a rag- put the compound on the rag. For small areas a Q-tip works good. After the stains are removed the residue needs to be buffed away with a new rag. Now the train can be waxed
The best wax for toy trains is liquid furniture wax. The brand that we use is Howard's Feed and Wax. You can find this at antique stores. This wax is a blend of orange oil, Carruba wax and Beeswax in a petroleum base. Do not use turtle wax or any other kind of paste wax. Paste wax leaves white residue in the hard to buff areas. As an aside if you have trains with this residue, you can remove it with a dab of Howard's wax on a Q-tip. I use a disposable foam tipped paint brush to apply the wax and then I wipe off the excess with a clean rag. The whole train is then buffed with a large horsehair shoe brush. After the shell is waxed and buffed any missing trim is replaced and then the train is reassembled. Now the train will only require periodic oiling and dusting to keep it running and looking great. We dust our trains with soft china bristle paint brushes. For bigger items on the layouts, we use a canister vacuum with a soft brush attachment.
If you have specific questions or helpful hints please drop me a note at the email link below or post on the General Topics Board.
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