Best Way to Clean Dust off Model Ships

Dusting a model ship isn’t hard, but it takes a long time if the model is detailed and very dirty. The best way to clean dust off model ships is to prevent it from getting there in the first place. Display your models in cases (though I have no room to talk because many of my models aren’t in cases). This article is not about prevention, though. It’s about what to do when your model ship is already dusty.


Compressed Air

For light layers of dust, the best way to clean dust off of model ships is to use compressed air. This comes in many forms, from shop air compressors to cans of compressed air for cleaning out computer keyboards. Be careful with whichever you choose because many compressed air sources have strong blasts that can damage a model ship. This is especially true of shop air compressors, which I have used but like to avoid. My go-to source of compressed air is my airbrush. It’s gentle to begin with, plus I can much more easily vary the air pressure as needed. I simply hook it up and run it without any paint. It works quite well at getting the bigger dust particles off of my ship. Also, work away from wherever you store your model. This process will throw dust into the air, which will just settle back onto your ship.



If compressed air isn’t available, there are details so delicate that even an airbrush will damage them, or the dust is too thick, a paintbrush is the best way to clean dust off model ships. Depending on the amount of dust, I usually start with larger paintbrushes and work my way down to smaller sizes. You don’t have to put anything on the paintbrush for this to work. Just grab a dry paintbrush and start brushing. If you can, use cheaper paintbrushes for this process. Dusting won’t necessarily damage a brush, but you don’t want to deal with cleaning dust out of your nice paintbrushes. Plus, digging dust out of those tighter nooks and crannies can be rough on a brush.

Similar to paintbrushes are Q-tips®, though I don’t find them as versatile. But at the end of the day, Q-tips® are dirt cheap, and all you’re doing is cleaning off dust. How much versatility do you really need? Plus you can simply throw them away when you’re done.



Using a cloth is straightforward. Just start wiping things down. However, I don’t consider them to be the best way to clean dust off of model ships. They easily snag on small parts and it’s hard to clean out tight areas with them. They work well for the ship’s larger areas—such as the hull—but I don’t like using them anywhere else. If a cloth is all you have, just keep these thing in mind and go for it.


Cleaning Agents

Using a cleaning agent isn’t usually the best way to clean dust off model ships, but there are times that the lines between dust and grime get blurred. This is especially true with old models that have been on display for years and/or in really dirty environments. When this happens, be careful with any cleaning agent you use, even if it’s just water. I can’t tell you which to use because it’ll depend on the level of grime and the material of the ship. Whatever you decide to use, test on a small, inconspicuous part of the model ship if possible. Clean the spot with the cleaner like you normally would. If the cleaner doesn’t have an immediate effect (e.g. stripped paint), check again later to see if there is a long-term effect. If nothing happens, you’re probably good to go. Keep in mind that to be safe, you’ll need to do this for every different material on the model. My recommendation is to avoid using cleaners on sails and rigging unless they’re very dirty, but that’s your choice.

Like I said, I can’t tell you which cleaning agent to use, but I can give you some guidelines for choosing one. The cleaning agent you use depends on a lot of things, like the ship’s material and any coatings, such as paint. If the ship is made of wood, keep a fan blowing on it as you clean. Otherwise, be sure to dry it off quickly yourself. Cleaners, even water, can soak into wood, causing it to swell, which can harm joints and seams. One of the best way to clean dust off of wooden model ships is to use Murphy’s oil soap. If the model is plastic, you can probably safely clean it with a bit of mild soap in water and a soft cloth or sponge, but keep an eye on the finish. Just be careful around the small parts of the model (Q-tips® are your friend) and dry it with a soft cloth to prevent water spots.

If the model is metal or you’re cleaning metal parts, you can be a bit rougher with it if necessary, but be careful about using harsh cleaners, solvents, or tools that can strip away paint or corrode exposed metal.  If the metal has some rust, polish it with sand paper or steel wool, clean it thoroughly with soap and water, dry it thoroughly with a soft cloth, and then repaint it if necessary. Since the spot was rusty, the surface may be too rough to your liking, even after removing the rust. To fix this, after you sand off the corrosion with sandpaper, start using finer and finer grits of sandpaper until you achieve the finish you want. If you want a mirror finish, use a polishing compound and buffing wheel on the area after you’re done sanding, but don’t do this if you’re going to repaint the area because the paint needs a slightly roughened surface so that it can stick to it. Polishing with a buffing wheel and compound is pretty simple, but a detailed description is beyond the scope of this article.


  • The best way to clean dust off your model ships depends on how your ship is made and how dirty it is
  • Use gentle compressed air for light to moderate dusting
  • Use paintbrushes or Q-tips® to remove heavier dust
  • Use a cleaning agent (be careful about damaging your model with the wrong cleaner) with a Q-tip® or a soft sponge or cloth to remove grime
  • If your ship is metal or has metal parts on it that are rusty and need cleaning, use progressively finer grits of sandpaper to remove the rust and smooth out the surface left behind from the corrosion. Follow up by cleaning with mild soap and water, drying thoroughly, and then repainting if necessary