How to Clean Your Diecast Model Cars

There are several methods you can choose from to clean your diecast model cars and other diecast models. How you decide to clean your diecast model cars depends on how dirty your model is and the type of dirt (e.g. decal residue, dust, dried glue, etc). I discuss below some common situations you might find yourself in and some tools and techniques to clean the model. Use caution when cleaning your models. These are recommendations, and may not be appropriate for your model.



Microfiber cloths are my go-to for everyday dusting specifically because they leave behind little to no lint. They’re how I clean my diecast model cars until they gleam. All you need to do is start wiping the model down. You can use water as well to help with the dusting. Moisten a part of the microfiber cloth, wipe the dust off with the damp area, and then use a dry part to buff out any streaks.

Cotton cloths also work well, though not as well as microfiber. They tend to push around dust rather than pick it up, and they leave more lint behind on top of that. This is mitigated by the fact that they’re cheaper, easier to find, and easier to maintain. Personally, if I’m going to go through the trouble of cleaning my models, I’m going to do it right, so I’ll go the extra mile (more like the extra inch) and use microfiber. If you do decide to use cotton, make sure to use 100% cotton. Some cotton blends have fibers that can scratch the surface of your diecast car.

Brushes, like makeup or soft paint brushes, are good for cleaning out the nooks and crannies of a model. They can also clean the model’s surface, but I find they don’t perform as well. They also tend to just throw the dust off the model into the air.

Canned air for cleaning keyboards and other electronics can be used to clean your diecast model cars if you’re careful. Using canned air requires a bit of finesse because the force of the air can be enough to knock parts off your model. I very rarely use canned air simply because I don’t see the point. A well maintained cloth lasts forever, takes up far less space, and doesn’t require trips to the store for refills. With that said, canned air is particularly useful when cleaning out the interior of a model. If you don’t indiscriminately spray it, it should do a fine job. Besides canned air, you can use an airbrush. It’s easy to control an airbrushes’ airflow, but be cautious anyway.


Decal Adhesive Residue

There’re a lot of options available to clean decal adhesive off your diecast model cars. The main thing is that you want to choose an option that won’t damage your model’s finish. With some adhesives, simply rubbing them with your finger will do the trick. For the more stubborn ones, Goo Gone has always worked well for me, even on plastic. When I don’t have Goo Gone, I use rubbing alcohol. I lightly wet a portion of a paper towel with the alcohol, lay the wet portion over the adhesive residue, and let it sit for five to ten minutes.  I’ve heard that the same method can be works with vinegar or cooking oil instead of rubbing alcohol. I’ve never tried those, so I can’t speak on their effectiveness. If you decide to try them, test out a small portion of the model first, if possible, to see whether or not the oil/vinegar stains or otherwise causes damage. Also avoid using either of them on porous surfaces of the model because they can be absorbed and cause stains.

There are plenty of products out there that will melt residue off your model, but will melt your model as well. These harsh chemicals can strip off paint and turn plastic into misshapen lumps. Always be careful which products you choose for this reason. Find something that works and stick with it so you don’t have to worry about choosing the wrong thing in the future. Whenever I clean a new model, I’ll test my “tried and true” methods to make sure they work on it.


Dried Glue

Removing glue can either be somewhat simple or particularly troublesome. How you clean glue off your diecast model cars depends on the the type of glue and the surface it’s adhered to. Some glues will scrape off with something soft, like a fingernail, or will even flake off if your just rub them with your finger or a cloth. If you have to remove something like superglue, though, it’s best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Acetone, while very good at removing superglue, is too harsh to use on your diecast model. If the superglue is on a metal surface, the acetone won’t damage the metal, but will dissolve the paint. I’ve heard people claim to have had success removing superglue using rubbing alcohol, baby oil, and even water, but I’ve never been able to get those to work for me. I always end up sanding and scraping the glue off. This method requires a great deal of patience and an eye for detail (which, if you’re into models, you probably have). I also recommend that you become fully reconciled to the possibility that you’ll have to do some painting.

To remove a glob of glue, move the model under a bright lamp and very carefully whittle away at the glob with a sharp knife. When you’ve whittled the glue down to as thin a layer as you’re comfortable working with, switch to sandpaper. Wet the sandpaper and gently sand the spot. Always be aware of where you’re sanding so that you sand the glue and not the model’s surface. Eventually you’ll break through the glue to the metal underneath. Noticing this moment will require that you pay close attention to your work (which you should be doing anyway). Once you’ve done this, inspect your handiwork and continue or stop as necessary. When I’m done, I wipe everything off, dry my model, and let it sit for a day. I then come back to it and look at the area again with some rested and somewhat fresh eyes, checking for glue I missed or paint I need to touch up. If the paint is just lightly scratched, all you may need to do is buff the area a little bit.

If the superglue is on glass, feel free to use acetone as acetone won’t damage glass. Just be sure that it is, indeed, glass and that you don’t get the acetone on anything else. If the glue is on plastic, I again use the scrape and sand method. I don’t bother experimenting with any other methods as plastic is too fragile. I’d rather jump to something that works, however tedious it may be, than mess around with something that could hurt my plastic parts. If the plastic is clear, be prepared to polish it afterward in case you scratch it.


Heavy Dirt and Grime

If your model has been sitting in a dirty garage or shop for a while; you found one in some obscure, dust and cobweb covered place in your grandparent’s house; or five-year-old Timmy from down the street managed to get a hold of your model and took it off-roading through some mud puddles and spilled his soda on it, fear not because such levels of dirtiness, while annoying, are ultimately easy and straightforward to clean.

If you’re comfortable disassembling your model car, I recommend doing so, but don’t force it if you’re not. How you clean really dirty diecast model cars partly depends on your familiarity with the model and your skill level. Water and an absorbent, cotton cloth will do most of the work for you (remember, use 100% cotton). Do not use microfiber for this because microfiber is not made for such levels of dirt. Depending on what materials your diecast model contains, you can immerse your model in water. Avoid doing this if your model has decals, is higher-end with upholstered and carpeted interiors, etc. Use cold to lukewarm water, mild soap (not dish soap), and submerge the car for about half a minute. Withdraw the car from the bath, wipe it down, and then rinse it off. Depending on the type of grime involved, you may not need to use soap. Either way, once the bath is finished, immediately dry everything off.

To get into those hard-to-reach places, things like cotton swaps or plastic picks (such as plastic toothpicks, or even wooden ones for that matter) work quite well and are soft enough that they likely won’t damage anything.

Heavy dust may not require any water. Dust the outside as described earlier. If the interior is quite dusty, full of tiny spider webs and dust bunnies and whatnot, you can use tweezers to lift the large debris out, and then the methods previously described to get out the smaller dust particles.


I hope this article taught you how to clean your diecast model cars, and I hope that your level of filth isn’t so extreme that this article didn’t even touch on it. The basic principles to keep in mind are to go slow, pay close attention, and to test new cleaning methods on inconspicuous spots as much as possible.