An Easy Way To Clean Your Model Steam Engine

Clean your model steam engine the right way!

Model steam engines get real dirty, real fast. Must be because you have to oil externally. The fact that for some of these engines you never know the correct fuels may also be a contributing factor. Incorrect fuels cause a lot of soot and residue. Here’s how to best clean your model engine, (whatever make it is)

Pre-cleaning preparation

The first step is always stripping the engine down. If it’s your first time cleaning the engine you must examine the engine, what it is made of and what leaning materials you should use and which are a definite No-No.

For instance, if your model engine still has original paint, DO NOT use alcohol as a cleaning agent. Original paint is alcohol soluble and trust me, you don’t want to destroy original paintwork. They don’t really do it the same anymore.

You could try a diluted solution of bleach-based household cleaner. It will only dissolve the paint if you let it stay on too long; it shouldn’t last more than a few seconds.

  • Pro tip: use a white cloth when cleaning so that you can quickly know when the paint starts coming off.

Rough cleaning materials might also scratch the surfaces especially the painted parts.

The boiler

I always recommend you start by cleaning the boiler. P.S If the brass is pretty dirty, you might want to have it soaking in vinegar and salt as you clean the boiler.

A wet cloth works efficiently to get rid of any loose dirt. If there is built up from burnt-on lacquer, a good scrubbing may be needed using a Brasso Wadding. Methodically clean small areas at a time while using a duster to polish away any removed dirt and produce a real shine. P.S if you have an SE model, ensure you work around the pipes.

If there is oxidation on your boiler, the key is a solution of vinegar and salt.  The wadding with the solution will work perfectly. Severe oxidation may need a little more – a very fine dry and wet paper. Use the wet side to dampen the boiler then use the dry side to polish with the wadding and a duster.

After cleaning, you have to polish. Some boilers are made from brass while others are nickel plated. You can use jeweler’s rouge to polish. It is the least abrasive polish around.

You can restore the boiler’s shine using a rag soaked in 3 in 1 oil. The oil will also keep rust from developing in the not so far future.

Brassware and Copper

As I mentioned, soaking the brass in a vinegar and salt solution makes cleaning and polishing easier. Beware; putting any painted or brass plated items in the solution will cause damage. Do also note that brassing inside the cylinder is not an option.

After cleaning, polish the Brass and copper using Brasso or Auto Solvol metal polish cream (for tougher stains). The latter may, however, be a bit hard to find in the stores at the moment. Be careful not to touch the painted areas as the polish will damage the paintwork.  Pro Tip: Slide pieces of thick paper between the pipes and paintwork to prevent damage.


If your model engine has steelwork, you can keep rust away using a rag soaked in 3 in 1 oil. However, stainless steel is rust resistant.

The Smokebox

You don’t have to clean the smoke box after every use but you have to at least once in a while. A wooden quadrant beading is perfect for scraping the oily Smuts and grit off from inside the funnel. Don’t worry; the wooden quadrant won’t damage the inside of the funnel.

Use a flat tin to collect the refuse so that you don’t have to do a second cleaning. A quick spray of WD40 after cleaning will keep rust at bay. Also remember to wipe the front face of the smokebox and door sealing face with a rag soaked in 3 in 1 oil.

To conclude…

After the parts are all clean, dry and polished you can put the model engine back together. Regular cleaning is guaranteed to make your best model steam engine kit last longer. It is time consuming at first but the more you get used to it the easier and faster it gets. All the best!

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  1. Jan Alan Dickover
  2. Drew

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