Model 101: Clean Your Model Planes and Cars Safely

Yellow classic model car

Want your collectibles to look brand new all the time?   Why else would you be on an article about cleaning right?

Let’s get right to it.  Here are the tools I recommend for this job:

  1.  Air Duster:  This is great to just get rid of the basic layers of dust and whatever else that builds up.  You can buy the canned air versions or go all out and grab this big boy which is very useful in general.
  2. Brushes:  Either some old, small paint brushes you have or I personally like Make Up Brushes.  They’re cheap and very soft.
  3. Cleaner:  Get a simple, alcohol-free cleaner and combine it with a q-tip.  Maybe even cut it with some warm water.

My standard routine features cleaning, polishing, and waxing steps to maintain the pieces. I feel that there is no other way to go about this if you want to keep these beauties in premium condition.

That’s because even with glass casing, the models get exposed to dust and environmental damage. This won’t just make your collection look dirty and unkempt but the layer of dust will damage the finish too.

Therefore, every seasoned collector knows that leaving models as they are is out of the question.

Luckily, over the years, I have learned many helpful tips and tricks to clean model planes and cars. I feel that it’s time to impart this knowledge to the next generation of collectors. So I came up with this comprehensive guide to refine your cleaning sessions.

These quick and easy tips will ensure that your miniature models stay in the best condition for years to come.

So without further ado, let’s begin!

1.  The Ultimate Model Cleaning Routine

Careful, cautious, and gentlethat’s the best way to clean your airplane and car models.

It goes without saying that miniature models―cars, planes, and trains―are really delicate. You need to handle them with great care whilst you clean them. Otherwise, you might break or snag the sensitive parts (e.g. antennas) or cause dents on the surface.

The trick is to not rub too hard and prevent cleaning the models more than necessary. For instance, chrome-plated parts shouldn’t be wiped with wet cloth too often. I know that the manufacturer says that the chrome plates are rust-resistant.

However, I have noticed that overexposure to water means that the chrome’s glossiness may wear off over time. That’s why it’s better to avoid cleaning those areas when you clean the model.

A gentle wipe once during the cleaning process will be enough to get rid of the dust.

What else?

Here’s a step-by-step guide to clean your model planes and cars that you can follow:

The Prep

  1. Remove detachable parts before you begin. This makes the cleaning process easier and manageable.
  2. Blow away the dust before you use your cleaning tools.
  3. Brush off the superficial dust with a nice cleaning brush.

Proper Clean Up

  1. You can use Q-tips/small brush to clean off every nook and cranny of the vehicle. Make sure to cover every inch of your detail pieces. You don’t want dust to accumulate between the curves because the build-up is hard to manage over time.
  2. Use the same cleaning tool to clear the dust from the wheels, opening panels and other areas of the model.
  3. Then moisten the edge of your microfiber cloth with distilled water. (Don’t let it drip!)
  4. Gently wipe the surface of your miniature vehicle with the wet cloth to remove dust that is clinging to the surface.
  5. Avoid trouble sections like antennas, tiny details and any add-ons attached to the model.
  6. To clean the interiors and hard-to-remove stains you can use a Q-tip or toothbrush.  The idea is to get a cleaning tool that helps you access the inside of the model car/plane. The narrowness of the design makes these tools a better fit when compared to the cloth.
  7. Once that’s done, you can polish the diecast and paint with a dry microfiber cloth. Like the wet cleaning method, gently wipe the car with it.
  8. Ensure that the model is completely dry once you’re done.

Pro tip: You can use steps 6-11 for regular cleaning sessions.

Polish and Wax

  1. Examine your model to identify rough spots that need immediate attention. This could be anything from paint that is wearing off to chipped sections.
  2. Select a decent cleaning solution that is free from heavy-duty automobile solvents. The latter may cause your model’s paint to get affected due to its harmful chemicals.
  3. Pour a few drops of your cleaning solution on a clean microfiber cloth.
  4. Polish your model by rubbing the wet rag in a linear motion along the surface.
  5. Don’t polish stripes or other painted areas as they might get erased by the solvent.
  6. Next, use a model-friendly wax that meets your requirements.
  7. Apply it on the cloth and then wax your model one section at a time.
  8. Steer clear of clad-black areas and chrome-plating unless recommended in the user’s manual. You can test the wax on these areas if you can’t clean the model without these sections.

Detailing the Model

  1. Spray a little bit of detail spray on the Q-tip.
  2. Rub the cotton tip around small sections like the wheels, seams, and curves of your model.
  3. Don’t dampen the areas too much as it might damage the shiny surface.
  4. Lastly, use a microfiber cloth to buff the model. You can spray some more solution onto the cleaning cloth if required. It’s advisable to not use the spray or wax directly on the model as that might tamper with its colored coating.

That’s it! Your model is ready to be placed back on the display shelf.

Pro tip:   Clean your miniature cars 1-2 times a month to prevent dusty layers from ruining its paint job.

2. My Cleaning Tips and Tricks

Model Biplanes

1.  A Collector’s Cleaning Kit

Here’s a sneak peek of my cleaning kit:

  • Eco-friendly cleaning solvents to disinfect and polish the models.
  • Soft medium-sized cleaning brush that you can use to remove superficial dust.
  • Small makeup brush or plastic paintbrush for dusting off specific areas.
  • Q-tips to swab and clean the nooks and crannies of your exteriors and interiors.
  • Microfiber cloth for quick cleaning and polishing.
  • A gentle wax that is suitable for model planes and cars. (Furniture wax and polishes don’t work if you want a maintain a newly-bought look)
  • A professional detail spray for the finishing touch.

Pro tip: Always remember to wash the cleaning tools once you’re done. Additionally, avoid using old wax and polishes while you clean the models. Those products can form clumps on the surface and distort the glossy finish.

2.  The Right Cloth

Initially, when I started collecting model cars and planes I thought dusting them with a paper towel was enough. Sometimes I did quick dusting sessions with a big old feather duster.

The results weren’t that satisfactory but they got the job done for a short term clean. That’s because they didn’t damage the paint or polish of my models.

However, with time I realized that selecting a proper cloth increases the longevity of my diecast model cars.  The right cleaning tool manages to wipe off any dust residues that the duster and paper towels would miss.

What’s my choice of cleaning cloth? I prefer the Mr. Siga Microfiber Cleaning Cloth. You can get the cleaning cloth in bulk which is useful for a vast collection.

The material is non-abrasive and soft, so it won’t damage the surface of your models. It is also super-absorbent which makes cleaning your car much easier.

3.  Special Storing Spot

Don’t want the dust to settle on top of your cars?

For years, I kept my collectibles packed and boxed to keep them safe and sound. This strategy isn’t appeasing because others rarely see the models when they are all covered up. You also miss the chance to display your vast collection.

So the best idea is to choose an accessible spot that isn’t too ‘out there’. That means minimum sunlight and away from high traffic areas. One way to do this is by storing the collectible inside a glass cabinet.

The covered cases (like these on Amazon) protect your collectibles from dust and environmental damage. They also allow you to showcase your wonderful collection without any worries.

The best spot for displaying your miniature models will be in a cool and dry place. You don’t want the vehicles to suffer from environmental damage. Additionally, choose a location that is away from the window.

This ensures that the models are protected from direct exposure to the sunlight. This helps prevent the harsh UV-rays from wearing down the paint. It also stops dust particles and germs from contaminating your models.

Even if you have an open-style display, its location is important. So you can apply the same tricks shared above when you select the spot for your display.

Let’s Sum It Up…

In the end, proper cleaning tools, special storage system and a careful cleaning routine can ensure that your models stay protected for the long haul. The trick is to keep things slow and steady until you get the hang of this cleaning procedure.

You don’t want to end up with broken parts due to your eagerness.

I bet that with time, you’ll become a pro at cleaning and detailing these miniature pieces without any casualties.

Stay tuned for more DIY guides and reviews from yours truly!

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print


I'm a hobby enthusiast with a real love for painting miniatures. I also happen to run this site and write the majority of its content!