How to clean your sewing machine 101

Whether you bought it new 5 years ago and only used it once, inherited it from Aunt Mabel, or have been using it for years, your sewing machine is a mechanical (perhaps even computerized) tool that needs to be cleaned and maintained in order to perform well. This is a guide for cleaning your machine. It is not meant as a replacement for full service of your machine, which can be done at your local dealer or machine shop. How often you have your machine serviced depends on how often you use your machine (anywhere between every 6 months to once a year), but keeping it clean and oiled in the meantime will help keep it in good shape. Every time you sew, little fibers from the thread and fabric collect in your machine. You will be amazed at what lurks beneath your throat plate!

Note: I learned how to clean my machine from a lecture given by the owner of a local sewing machine dealer. The following instructions apply to machines with a top loading bobbin. Depending on the age and brand of your machine, some of the directions and/or photographs may not apply to what you have. When disassembling your machine, do not force any screws or remove any parts that do not give easily!!! If in doubt, leave it alone!

Tools you will need:

  1. Q-Tip brand cotton swabs (they are the least likely to come apart and leave a mess)
  2. High quality paper towels, like Bounty
  3. sewing machine oil (I use Dritz purchased at JoAnn Fabrics)
  4. Firm bristled brush (many machines come with one)
  5. Tweezers
Please note that the above list does not include pressurized canned air (like the kind you use to clean keyboards). DO NOT USED CANNED AIR! It can blow fibers and lint deep into the interior of your machine and wreak havoc!

First, turn off your machine and unplug it (safety first). Remove any feet.

With a Philips head screwdriver, or the tool provided with your machine, unscrew the large screw on the throat plate, usually located in the upper left. Remove bobbin cover.

Remove throat plate. Prepare to be grossed out amazed.

See all of that stuff that looks like felt? That's the accumulation of lint from many, many projects sewn over a period of 10 years. It is not supposed to look like this!

Remove bobbin casing.

With a pair of tweezers (the longer and thinner the better) begin removing lint. Be sure to check all around the bobbin well. There is a tiny little hole in the center of it that may have a piece of firm fiber-like stuff in it. Do not try to pull this out, but remove any lint covering it.

Looks better already!

This is all of the junk that was embedded in this machine.

Once you have removed all large pieces of lint, use a firm brush to remove any smaller fibers, taking care not to brush it further into the machine.

On some machines (especially older models) you can open the side door. If so, clean this area and accessible parts as you did under the throat plate.

Pour small amounts of oil onto the tip of your cotton swab, and clean up any residual lint and fibers that were not picked up by the tweezers and lint. Clean around all movable parts, taking care around rough surfaces so that you don't leave cotton fibers behind.

Use a clean paper towel to wipe off any residual oil .

Now THIS is what it is supposed to look like!

Replace the bobbin casing, screw the throat plate back on, and put the bobbin cover back on. Do not put a foot on or insert a needle at this time.

Turn it on. Now, "put the pedal to the medal" and run your machine for about 3 minutes, non-stop.

Then, insert a loaded bobbin, attach foot and needle, and thread your machine. Using scrap fabric, sew around for a while to soak up any residual oil.

All Done! Sew for fun!

How often should you do this? It is recommended that you do it after each sewing project, but I try to do it after every 2nd or 3rd project, unless I am working with fuzzy fabric or batting.

For more tips on caring for your machine and troubleshooting common problems, see the following links:


supa said...

excellent tips! thanks! I've been meaning to do this for, oh, five years now.

Trish said...

I don't know when you posted this, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing your information. I just cleaned out the lint in my machine and it has helped it tremendously.
Thank you so much! Now I have to go check out some other parts of your blog.


Mary E. said...

Hi, I never had to clean a sewing machine before, but the one I have now makes a lot of noise and barely moves. With a lot of sewing waiting, I had no choice but to find out what to do about it.Hppy to have found you! Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

Great, thanks

Maka12 said...

I just want to say how awesome you are for this tutorial. I can hardly find anything decent to help me with my machine as a newbie to sewing. Thanks so much!

melyssa said...

Thanks so much! I'm off to Joanne's tomorrow to look for the oil. My machine is ten years old and though I don't sew much at all, half the reason is because my thread CONSTANTLY snaps and the bobbin snarles. I really think it just needs a good cleaning!

Bridgett said...

This is a beautiful tutorial. My machine had not been serviced or cleaned or oiled in, gasp, 14 years. I am ashamed by what I just cleaned out of it. Oiled the malarkey out of it and now? All is well. THANK YOU.

StasaLynn said...

Thank you! This is awesome. I have bookmarked this!

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