How To Properly Maintain a Sewing Machine

guide to cleaning and maintaining sewing machines

How To Maintain a Sewing Machine

You wouldn’t consider not changing the oil and filters and getting a tune-up for your car. Even the lawn mower gets yearly attention. These mechanical gadgets require maintenance if we want them to perform to their full potential.

The same goes for your sewing machine. It, too, is a mechanical device subject to wear and tear and outside contaminants. Do you have a regular schedule to keep it at maximum performance for a long, fruitful life?

If not, it’s time to change that habit of ignoring the needs of the machine that gives you so much pleasure. Let’s learn how to maintain your sewing machine properly.

Do’s and Don’ts

There are some types of maintenance that anyone can and should perform on any machine. Then, there are limits to what should be attempted on other machines.

The first question is, how old is your machine? If it’s still under warranty, you must be careful about what machine compartments you open. It’s a better idea to take it to a professional for any procedure beyond the most basic cleaning and oiling.

If your machine is older, you might be surprised at how easy it is to access some of the moving parts for cleaning and lubrication. But never open any panels without first unplugging the power.

Unless you’re familiar with how small motors work, you may be surprised at where you find an electric shock waiting for you.

More complicated machines with lots of electronics or that use multiple spools of thread should be serviced by a professional. Mark your calendar to remind yourself of yearly maintenance. Limit home maintenance on these machines to areas commonly opened during regular use.

Only take apart one part of the sewing machine at a time. If you’re not sure you’ll remember, take a picture with your phone to help you reassemble correctly.

Use only lubricants appropriate for small devices such as sewing machines, such as Singer or Dritz oil. I like the extending tube on the Dritz Zoom Spout oiler. It pulls out several inches to reach interior parts. 

Keep your machine covered when not in use. Some machines come with a cover. If not, covers can be bought online for specific models. Or make your own cover out of extra fabric or an old towel.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Sewing Machine at Home

You should clean and oil your machine after a major sewing project or monthly if you sew regularly. Keep a dusting cloth handy and wipe down the machine before covering it after each use.

  1. Unplug the machine. You can unplug either at the wall or at the machine to ensure no electricity is flowing to the device.
  1. Remove the thread. Remove the spool and thread completely from the machine. Then you will be able to clean and oil without damaging the thread.
  1. Open the bobbin area. Some machines have a hinged closure, others have a removable cover. 
  1. Remove the throat plate. The throat plate is directly under the needle area. The feed dogs come up through the plate to pull the fabric through the machine. Some throat plates slide out. Others have screws. Check your owner’s manual for instructions. Most machines come with a small screwdriver for reaching sewing machine screws.

Place all the parts you remove where they cannot be knocked off, especially screws. Wipe each piece with a soft cloth as you go to remove dust and lint. A regular dust cloth or a scrap piece of fleece is great for this.

  1. Remove the bobbin and bobbin case. Before removing the bobbin case, move the mechanism back and forth and note how the case is aligned in the machine. When you’re finished cleaning, you’ll need to line everything back up to replace the case properly. Again, consult your owner’s manual for how to remove the bobbin case of your machine.
  1. Clean the exposed area. The force of simple gravity makes this area of the machine the most in need of cleaning. Dust, lint, a small threads work their way down around and under the bobbin case. If your machine is open on the bottom or has an easily removable bottom plate, you can use compressed air to blow out the area. Lay the machine on its side for this. 

When using compressed air, hold the spray several inches away from the area to keep unwanted moisture away from the mechanism. Think about the direction of the spray so that debris will expelled from the machine and not transferred to a different area inside.

However, if the area is enclosed, do not use compressed air, as it will tend to jam debris further down into the machine. Micro vacuum cleaner attachments are fairly inexpensive and can helpful here, though not absolutely necessary. 

The most common means of cleaning beneath the throat plate is a small nylon paint brush. Transfer the brush’s debris to a cloth as you go. Inspect the feed dogs, as they can also become clogged with lint. If the brush does not seem to be enough, use a straight pin or your small screwdriver to loosen debris between the teeth of the feed dogs.

Move the hand wheel back and forth so that you can see and clean the entire area. Reach down into empty spaces with the brush, as these areas often hold a hidden cache of lint.

  1. Oil the bobbin area. After thoroughly cleaning beneath the throat plate, begin oiling where parts move against each other. Use no more than a drop or two in each area. Moving the hand wheel back and forth will help you see where to place the oil. Soak up any excess oil with a cloth.
  1. Replace all removed parts. Replace the throat plate, then the bobbin case and the bobbin. Replace the bobbin cover plate or shut the hinged door to the area.
  1. Inspect the needle. Inspect the needle for wear or damage and replace if necessary.
  1. Inspect and clean the thread run. Clear the thread guides and tension discs of dust and lint. Brush out any verticle slots where the thread runs. Do not use oil in these areas. Compressed air may be used so long as debris is directed away from the machine. Wipe down all surfaces of the machine.
  1. Open the light panel. Most machines have a panel, either hinged or screwed in place, where the sewing machine’s light is located. This area also often contains exposed mechanical parts with friction-generating areas that should be oiled. 

Move the mechanism up and down as you oil and use no more than a drop or two. Wipe away excess oil as necessary.

  1. Check for other oil reservoirs. Some machines have holes in the top or stitching platform where a few drops of oil should be added periodically. Consult your owner’s manual if you see any small holes you cannot identify.
  1. Re-thread and test the machine. After replacing the thread, run a fabric scrap through the machine to ensure it’s in proper working order and to absorb any oil that may have run into the stitching area. 
  1. Cover the machine. Cover the machine until you’re ready to sew again. 

Advanced Cleaning

If you are able to remove the top or bottom panel of an older machine, you can continue to clean with a brush and add a drop of oil to mechanical junctions. Stay away from the motor or any wiring and electronics.

You can also periodically check your foot pedal for dust. Compressed air or a vacuum can help extend the life of the pedal mechanism. It is a switch and does not require oil. 

Be particularly careful when servicing a serger. Do not over-oil or you could have a mess for a good while to come. Clean with a brush as you would a sewing machine, and take the serger to a professional to service any internal parts.

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