What Kind of Oil Can You Use On a Sewing Machine (Guide To Lubricating Sewing Machines)

what oil can you use for sewing machine

What Type of Oil To Use On Sewing Machines

Learning to lubricate your sewing machine properly is essential to the endurance of the moving parts within. The best estimate is that a machine ought to be oiled after every 8 hours of use. For the dedicated sewer, this critical tool’s maintenance must be part of the creative process, like an artist cleaning their brushes.

Another factor in determining how often to lubricate is how often you sew. If you sew 2-4 times a week, you need to oil weekly. If you sew only 2-4 times a month, you should lubricate at least once a month. 

If the project you’re working on produces an unusual amount of fuzz or lint, you’ll want to clean and lubricate your machine immediately afterward or even during the project.

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What Type of Oil NOT to Use

Here’s a short list of different types of oil NOT to use on your sewing machine:

WD-40. Not all lubricants are suitable for sewing machines. There is a number that should definitely not be used. WD-40 is one of those, as it can react with the graphite on mechanical gears, causing damage to the mechanism. 

3-in-1 Oil. 3-in-1 oil evaporates over time, leaving a gummy residue that clogs moving parts. This residue can result in more friction, which leads to overheating or breakage. 

Cooking oil. Never use cooking oil of any kind to lubricate your sewing machine, even in a pinch. These oils have too heavy a  viscosity for sewing machine parts. They also tend to grab and hold onto lint and dust, creating even more friction and eventual jamming of the internal mechanism.

Rancid oil. Lastly, never use oil that has spoiled on your machine. If the oil has become yellow, increased in thickness, or has developed a bad smell, it should be discarded.

The Best Sewing Machine Oil

Specifically labeled sewing machine oil.

Your local sewing and craft store will usually carry a small bottle of sewing machine oil. Dritz is one well-known brand, though there are others. You can also order the oil online. I particularly like the larger bottle with the “zoom spout,” which can be extended about 6 inches for harder-to-reach areas.

Mineral oil. Most sewing machine oil is a refined mineral oil. These lubricants are made from petrochemicals and are clear and odorless, with a light viscosity.  So if you have mineral oil on hand, it will work great for your sewing machine. But keep in mind it may not be as high-grade as the labeled oil.

Tri-flow oil. Tri-flow is a more expensive high-grade mineral oil with additives to protect against corrosion. It may be a good choice if you live in an area where extreme temperatures or humidity are a factor. Tri-flow is an excellent choice for any smaller household mechanism, such as sewing machines. 

Synthetic Oil. In a pinch, a synthetic lubricant such as clock oil can be used. These oils are safe for plastic, rubber, and painted surfaces as well as metal. The downside to these oils is the expense and a bit higher viscosity, making them slightly less effective than mineral oil.

Steps for Oiling Your Sewing Machine (Lubricating Tips)

1. Disconnect the Power. 

Always unplug your machine before you begin to remove panels to access moving parts. The one exception to this rule is the bobbin area, or shutter clock, which must be accessed frequently for cleaning. 

The shutter clock has no direct link to power circuits. But once the bottom or top of a machine is open, you risk accidentally touching wires that could give you a shock or shorting out the motor if still connected to a power source.

2. Clean the machine.

Use a small brush to remove all lint or other debris from each area of the machine. A special vacuum cleaner attachment may also come in handy to remove lint from every nook and cranny. A thorough cleaning will ensure no debris mixes with the oil to cause future issues.

3. Take apart one area at a time.

Prevent confusion by removing one panel at a time. After oiling, replace the panel and move on if possible. This will keep you from wondering what part or screw goes where when you’re done. Pay close attention to how your machine comes apart so that you can reassemble it correctly.

You don’t have to be a specialist to clean a sewing machine. There are usually only a few screws holding on the cover panels to deal with. If you find accessing your machine’s moving parts requires more, it would be a better idea to take it to a repair shop. Never try to remove electronic components unless you have the expertise to do so.

4. Oil the machine.

Turn the handwheel to see how the parts move together. Place a small amount of oil where there are hinges or moving parts rub against each other.  Also, in some machines, there is a small felt “wick” in the middle of the bobbin area’s shutter clock. The wick should not be allowed to dry, or friction will increase under the bobbin. 

Some machine handbooks have a section devoted to lubricating that sewing machine model. It will indicate available access points for oiling without disassembling the machine. There may be a small hole drilled in the top panel for dripping oil into the mechanism beneath the cover. 

If your machine is still new, it is essential not to void the warranty by removing specific panels. Some examples are panels that uncover power or electronic circuits. In this case, you would need to take the machine to a repair shop if you feel it needs to be opened for some reason.

5. Wipe off excess oil. 

Don’t oil moving parts to the point that they are dripping. If there is excess oil at any point, wipe it off with a cloth or cotton swab. Dripping oil can make its way onto your next sewing project if you’re not careful. 

If oil does drip down onto your needle or faceplate, remove them and clean them with alcohol or soap and water. After you dry and replace them, run a piece of test fabric through the machine a few times to ensure no oil appears in the sewing area.

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