Isopropyl Alcohol vs. Denatured

GNMT76 Oct 31, 2017

  1. GNMT76

    GNMT76 TrainBoard Member

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    I've been using 70% isopropyl alcohol to clean rails, with satisfactory results. I've also read that some use denatured alcohol instead. For those who use - or have used - either one or both of these products, what's been your experience? Has one or the other proven to be more effective keeping your tracks clean and your locos running smoothly? Or, does it matter?

    Even though denatured costs more, I'm interested only in each product's effectiveness, not cost benefits. Also, please no comments on other types of track cleaning materials; alcohol only for this thread.

    Thanks!
     
  2. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Interesting question. They are both actually solvents. I have never tried denatured for my track or other cleaning, only isopropyl.

    Denatured is not to be taken internally! Isopropyl is used in the medical world- I have used it to sterilize, which may be what doctors do, too?
     
  3. RBrodzinsky

    RBrodzinsky Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Denatured alcohol is ethyl (drinking) alcohol, with slight traces of other solvents added to make it poisonous (and smell bad). Iso-propanol(IPA) is not to be taken internally. 70% solutions of either ethanol or i-propanol are considered "rubbing alcohol", for topical use.

    As for cleaning, IPA is much more effective. With its double aliphatic ends (i.e., 2 methyl groups) and its central hydroxy (OH) group, it does a better job on both polar (molecules having distinct + and - ends) and non-polar (no charge) contaminants. Ethanol is 1 methyl group connected to OH.
     
  4. Hardcoaler

    Hardcoaler TrainBoard Member

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    I'd go with isopropyl alcohol for track cleaning, as it's kinder to skin and it doesn't stink like denatured alcohol does. Both are flammable; I don't know which might be moreso.
     
  5. dalebaker

    dalebaker TrainBoard Member

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    We had a discussion about this last weekend at the club. The consensus was that the alcohol would strip the track leaving it so gunk built up faster. Several of the guys use small amounts of mineral spirits to clean with. The residue it leaves behind seems to aid In conductivity for the locos.

    If figured I’d try an alcohol wipe then follow with mineral spirits.
     
  6. GNMT76

    GNMT76 TrainBoard Member

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    Dale,

    Interesting. Strip the track of what?
     
  7. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Some folks believe in the addition of certain lubricants as an aid to conductivity, and as a deterrent to dirt and corrosion. Likely this is what they fear will be washed away.
     
  8. dalebaker

    dalebaker TrainBoard Member

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    Box summed it up perfectly. That was the consensus at the club.
     
  9. f2shooter

    f2shooter TrainBoard Member

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    When in a hurry I often used denatured to dry b&w film after processing. And yes it smells, everywhere!! Not any longer but I would use either for track cleaning if it was what I had on hand. Normally though I use one of those eraser pads or a very soft grade of sandpaper.

    Rick H.
     
  10. Greg Elmassian

    Greg Elmassian TrainBoard Member

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    So, depending on the rail material and the environment, completely cleaning the rails may be better than a thin film of a light oil. Some solvents leave a light oil behind.

    The idea is this thin coat of oil blocks oxygen from oxidizing the rail. There's been endless debates on this. Each method works for certain people, and usually those people are sure that their method is the right and only way.

    Experiment and see what works for you. I run Z scale, and cleaning the rails with 90% isopropyl works best, when I use something to "coat" the rails, I need to clean more often, and get some gunk buildup.

    Greg
     
    BoxcabE50 likes this.
  11. Jeepy84

    Jeepy84 TrainBoard Member

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    From a fellow O-chem student, I agree with this part of the debate. The leaving a film behind being good/bad I leave to the individual. No two train rooms are a like, and all those environmental factors play a huge part in the build up or lack thereof of gunk. Not to mention wheelset type, layout power type, etc.
     
  12. GNMT76

    GNMT76 TrainBoard Member

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    Greg,

    I'm going to give denatured and 91% isopropyl a try for comparison's sake against 70% isopropyl. Good food for thought, everyone, on environmental factors, wheelset types, etc. affecting electrical conductivity.

     
  13. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    Just to be clear here, Rail Oxidation is NOT the main problem with dirty tracks. So if that's the problem you're trying to solve you're wasting time and money.

    The primary issue with dirty tracks is micro-arcs from locomotive wheels that deposit trace amounts of carbon. The microscopic pits in the wheels and rail promote this. This is why Athearn sintered wheels (all micropits) and rail that's been cleaned with sand paper lead to more dirt. They increase the arcing substantially.

    The "oil film" techniques such as using Wahl's clipper oil are actually not inhibiting Oxidation at all (or if they are, that's not the point) They are reducing the likelihood of microarcs.

    Wahls clipper oil, Gleeming (super sanding the rail to a highly refined finish) and micro-thin graphite applications are all techniques centered on the science of the micro-arcing.

    That micro-arcing is the primary culprit in rail dirt has been well understood since at least the 50s.
     
  14. Greg Elmassian

    Greg Elmassian TrainBoard Member

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    We actually had the black stuff analyzed with a mass spectrometer... most of the stuff was oxidized rail material... this supports your arcing theory but it is NOT carbon.

    I would like to hear the theory of why a thin film of oil reduces arcing. Not saying it's not possible, in fact it makes sense in a way to me, but it clearly inhibits oxidation also.

    Greg
     
  15. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    Sorry, I shouldn't call it carbon. It Inhibits oxidation...due to micro-arcing. Not oxidation due to atmospheric interaction. The thinking is that both Wahl and also graphite is that the micro pits in the rail are basically filled in primarily on the rails, but also on the wheels of locomotives running over it. This reduces the surface for Micro-arcs. Better contact rail to wheel.

    I also shouldn't suggest that the micro-arcing has been known since the 1950s. It more that the tricks with Graphite and clipper oil have been.

    http://model-railroad-hobbyist.com/node/3229
     
  16. trainman-ho

    trainman-ho TrainBoard Member

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    I would think something like Krown anti rust products would assist in preventing dirt on wheels and track, due to its conductive properties. Krown does not evaporate, or dry out. There was an article in a model rail road magazine extolling the use of automatic transmission fluid to keep track clean, another highly conductive fluid. Since my pike is not to the stage where I can run trains, I haven't tried either of these products. But the science sounds as though it should work.

    Jim
     
  17. Jeepy84

    Jeepy84 TrainBoard Member

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    So in essence we are looking for a highly conductive, high traction rail coating material. I'm surprised that lubricants like clipper oil and ATF offer the traction component, though I assume as any volatiles evaporate, the residue they leave becomes stickier... hmmmm:unsure: would have to reconsult my chem books, haha.

    If that is the case, for really dirty track, 90% Iso to start, then your non-dust-attracting coating to fill the metal voids is potentially ideal.
     
  18. YoHo

    YoHo TrainBoard Supporter

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    Clipper Oil and Graphite DO reduce traction. If you are marginal on a grade you may have issues. but in both cases, the amount applied and spread about is fairly light and so loss of traction is usually tolerable. If you have 3% grades and 18" radius. You may not want to use these products.
     
  19. Doug Gosha

    Doug Gosha TrainBoard Member

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    Anything that reduces friction is going to reduce traction. Traction depends on friction. Simple.

    Doug
     

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