How to store a model train set

How to store a model train set

If you have a valuable model train collection you will need to store it correctly to be enjoyed for years to come, but how should you do it?

Storing a model train


The first step to storing your model trains is to ensure you are not storing grime, dust and mould that ruin the appearance of the model and could lead to damage to the surface.

cleaning a model train

Cleaning can be gently performed using a soft dusting brush, air duster, or for more stubborn dirt a cotton bud. Vulpex soap, or other suitable conservation cleaner can be used to shift very stubborn surface soiling.

As trains consist of a number of different materials; metals, paint finishes, plastics, adhesives, rubber and more it’s important to be careful when applying any treatments or proceeding with any mechanical cleaning. Common household agents such as WD40, white vinegar, acetone can damage one of more of the components. If you have a particularly valuable model we advise seeking the advice of a conservator to ensure any treatment is appropriate.

Removing rust - It’s important to remove and neutralise rust before placing into storage. Like cleaning, rust removal needs to be done in a way that is sympathetic to any other materials present. Rennaissance De-corroder is a conservation grade rust remover which can also be used on track. Rust will return, and will return very quickly if stored incorrectly.

Remove tapes and non-original stickers – If a model has had stickers or tapes applied that are not original, such as price labels or self-adhesive tape they should be removed carefully before going into storage. Some adhesives can gradually become acidic as they age, become yellow and/or sticky and could lead to staining. This can be problematic, particularly on older adhesives and may require a specialist to remove any residues without damaging the model. A crepe adhesive eraser could be used to remove some pliable adhesive residues, the eraser rolls the adhesive from the surface.

Storing trains and their boxes in boxes

Trains, especially modern models, may still have their boxes which are important to preserve. To prevent the premature degradation of the box it’s important to protect it from UV light, dust, pests, acid and fluctuations in temperature and/or humidity. You can buy a bespoke acid free box for model trains here at

Protecting from UV

wrapping in tissue paper

UV light will fade inks on boxes or model decals, model paints, accelerate the breakdown and yellowing of plastics and decals. The most effective way to protect from UV light is to place your collection in acid-free cardboard boxes. Clear boxes may not filter out the UV light effectively and shouldn’t be used for long term storage unless the room in which they are kept is generally unlit and away from natural sources of light. UV light is also present in artificial lighting so don’t assume a windowless store is UV free.

Using acid free and buffered storage

Acid can speed up the degradation of card, plastics, adhesives and other materials that your models and their boxes are made from. Some storage materials can be acidic, or off-gas (release acid into the air) and actually speed-up the damage caused to your collection without you even realising. Standard cardboard, Paper, PVC plastic boxes, or foams, wood can all become acidic, or off-gas in the storage environment.

wrapping in tissue paper

Buffering in paper is an alkaline agent which helps to neutralise acid. Wrapping your items in a buffered acid free tissue paper and then packing them into buffered acid-free boxes is the best solution. The acid free tissue paper can be used to prevent any movement inside the boxes and the buffering offers protection from migrant acidity in the storage environment. Read more about custom sized acid free model train boxes here at

Poor quality packing materials

If you are unsure as to the standard of your current packing materials it is wise to consider re-packing into acid free and buffered storage. Poor quality foam can break up and degrade into a fine dust or sticky mess that could end up inside your collection. There are, of course, foams which can be used - for example; Plastazote, which is a conservation grade foam that is commonly used in museum storage where padding is required.

Any plastic that has a strong smell is also likely to contain plasticisers that could leach into your boxes or leave stains and residues. Aside from the chemistry behind the degradation of packing materials, the breakdown of any packing material could end up with items being totally unsupported or being damaged when a box is moved (and splits!). Damage is more often caused by poor handling than anything else – poor packing materials can exacerbate this risk.

Avoid fluctuating environments

As with almost all collections the storage area you choose can influence the condition of your collection. Here are a few tips to try and help you select the most suitable place to store your collection. With the combination of materials a model train composes of the environment it’s stored in can effect each material differently. For example; metal running gear can become very cold and, if introduced to warm humid air, condensation will easily form causing rust. 

model train storage boxes

  • Keep away from potential sources of leaks such as pipes, windows, roof spaces etc. An undetected leak could cause irreversible damage.
  • Protect from extremes of temperature. This means roof spaces, unheated outhouses/rooms etc. are not suitable.
  • Avoid areas of high humidity such as conservatories, cellars/basements, bathrooms, kitchens, sheds, garages etc. Don't store against a cold wall.
  • Keep away from sources of air pollution such as paint fumes, exhaust fumes etc. High levels of airborne pollutants such as sulphur can affect collections.
  • A cardboard box will help buffer from environmental fluctuations retaining a more stable internal environment. Whether it’s 0 gauge, or 00 gauge, you can buy a fully bespoke model train storage box to store your treasured collection here.

Generally a relative humidity level of between 40-50% is best for your storage area, coupled with a stable temperature. You can keep a track of the temperature and humidity in your storage environment using a thermohygrometer.   

Other products mentioned that may be of interest:

Acid-free tissue paper – for protecting and packing

Crepe Eraser – For removal of sticker and tape residues

Soft dusting brush – For gentle cleaning

Metal De-Corroder – For rust removal


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