Wet Water: Add Dish Detergent or Isopropyl Alcohol?

Hi All,

Which do you think works better, the dish detergent or isopropyl alcohol added to water?

How much would you add of your choice?

I know it is one or the other and not both.

While I am here:  What dilution of white glue do you use for ballasting track?



Original Post

Detergent - couple of drops - just enough to break/disrupt surface tension of water.

I use Carpenter's glue for everything; not white glue.  30-50% applied with transfer pipetts.

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Was going to suggest isopropyl alcohol.  I cut it to about 50%, add varying amounts of water depending on whether or not the 70% or 91% isopropyl is on sale. 

I utilize Modge Podge instead of white glue, but according to "Model Railroad Hobbiest", both white glue and Modge Podge come from the same material.  It seems spongier to me, which helps deaden noise.  I KNOW that matte medium is a different base material, and it definitely deadens sound from the roadbed. 

However, now that I am seeing Norton's trick with the windshield washer fluid, I think I will give that a try.   




For whatever reason I had no success with wet water using dishwashing liquid. I drip 91% isopropyl alcohol from an old Elmer's Glue bottle over the ballast, then a 50/50 mix of Elmers/water. It may take 24 hours to dry thoroughly, but it will be rock solid.


When it comes to ballesting your track if you get twenty responses, you’ll get twenty different ways of doing it.  Experiment with different methods and go with what works for you.

Dish washing detergent + water.  Costs almost nothing.  4 drops of Dawn (it's concentrated) per quart of water.  But my water is somewhat hard, soft water may get by with a drop or two less of detergent.  Or you may need a drop or two or more if using a non-concentrated dish detergent.

A 50/50 mix of Elmer's white glue and wet water is my formula for ballasting.  Elmer's is NOT water proof when dry.  It can be re-softened with water after it is dry.  Makes it easy soften ballast down the line should you decide to tear up track and re-use for another layout.

A fair amount of yellow wood glues are also not totally water-proof when dry.  They too can be softened with applications of water, but may take longer to soften than white glue.

I am under the impression that Mod Podge (and any other artist's matte and gloss mediums) ARE waterproof when dry.  You can use them the same as you would Elmer's glue, but keep in mind they are water proof when dry.  You might have to jack hammer the stuff off if you ever decide to tear up your track for another layout.  Regardless, I use Mod Podge Matte for tree building, and Gloss for simulating water.  That way, future applications of wet water for ballasting and general scenery work will keep the leaves (ground foam) on the trees and the water surface from melting.

To sum it up, you may want to consider what you want to do a year or two or three after you have glued something.  My general rule of thumb for dried glue is............... White glues: water soluble.  Yellow glues: water resistant.  Artists acrylics and mediums: water-proof.


I use (and am in the middle of ballasting a lot of track surface) iso alcohol 50/50 with water. Then a 2/3 to 1/3 water/white glue mix. I use small squeeze bottles for both. By the next day, the ballast is totally solid and dry. Works like a charm and is inexpensive. Gallon of Elmer's shouldn't be more than $13-14 online. Iso alcohol (70%) is of course, available at any drugstore or Costco, etc. 

Question:  Does the Elmer's White Glue leave a residue on the ties?

Same question for the dish detergent?

The reason I ask is that several years ago I ballasted about 20 feet of double track mainline and used water with dish detergent as the wetting agent and dilute matte medium as the bonding agent and there was and is a white residue on the ties.  Eventually, I will remove it but it will be time consuming.  Also and more importantly, the light grey ballast tuned light tan when the process was finished.  Again, I will fix it when I get to that area again but then the time factor rears its ugly head.



Ed Kelly posted:

Hopefully, the last question(s):  Has anyone noticed an incompatibility between isopropyl alcohol and Elmer's white glue and/or an incompatibility between isopropyl alcohol and ordinary latex paint?




Not with glue, but sometimes with paint. It depends on the paint.

Some brands can be thinned using alcohol such as for airbrushing. Other brands of latex or acrylic paint coagulate when mixed with alcohol. You just have to experiment with the brands you are using.


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Todd Knoll

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