Monday, April 15, 2013

How to cheaply clean rusty Scalextric track

So, I’m at a garage sale, and there’s a set of Scalextric track, obviously misused and underappreciated, needign a new home.  Just like a hurt puppy. Well, I say, come home with me.

Trouble is, it had obviously been stored in a damp dark place for waaaay to long, and all the track was coated with rust. We’re talking the type of rust that lots of sanding would only half budge, and would never completely clean off - and there was a lot of track. Not such a bargain, perhaps.


Some basic high school chemistry to the rescue!  Most acids work well as rust removers, reacting with the iron oxide, and ideally, “melting” it away.  You can use any acid of course, but if it’s too strong, you might damage the track and yourself.  What acid is mild enough and available in quantity cheap enough to soak lots of Scalextric track in?


Good old white vinegar!

Here in Australia, you can get the stuff from Woolworths Supermarket for $1.17 per 2 litre bottle. And things are hideously expensive here, so it might even cost less in your neck of the woods.

It’s not rocket science what comes next, but anyway, here we go.

Gather your patented rust-off-scalextric-kit™: in addition to the vinegar, you’ll need a bucket, steel wool or some other scrubber, and importantly, a rag.


What next? You watch this video:

There’s not much to it, but here are the steps again, in case you have a philosophical objection to watching videos.

Step 1

The bucket was 9 litres, so I had to use about 6 litres of vinegar. $1.17 x 3 = $3.51.

Dunk the track in the vinegar. If you’re cheap like me, you’ll wanna use less vinegar, so you’re gonna have to flip the tracks after a bit.  Better to use a container that can accommodate the track lying flat, and enough vinegar to submerge all the track in one go if you can. Let it sit for an hour or so. You can get away with less, but the longer the better (I did it in batches, that’s why the vinegar below is already brown).


Step 2



You’ll find that the rust comes off easily.  However, there’ll be a black residue on the metal where the rust was heaviest.  This is just oxidization, a by-product of the vinegar bath.  It’s not ideal, but still way better than crumbly brown iron oxide!

Look at the difference(!):


Step 3

Now, importantly, vinegar can also promote rust, if you’re not careful to get it off when you’re done with its good effects! So when you’re done scrubbing, it’s important to clean and dry your track. Choose a hot sunny day, and you’ll be done in no time.

08-DSC08176 15-DSC08187

And the downside? When you’re done, you’ll have to clean this stuff up Sad smile!


The end result:






By the way, when you’re done, it’s best to keep the track away from the open air to inhibit rerusting. You could apply some oil, but that might affect its use for the track’s proper purpose, so better not to.

Happy derusting, and let me know if you’ve found a better way, or have improvements to suggest!