If you have a sewing machine, you probably know that it requires regular cleaning and maintenance. Properly cleaning and oiling your sewing machine will help make sure your appliance lasts for years and years. How often you have to clean your machine will vary depending on how often you use it and what type of fabrics you typically work with.
A well-made, high-quality sewing machine can last for decades if given proper care. In fact, many vintage sewing machines, especially manual ones, are huge collector’s items, as they are still functional. By truly understanding how your sewing machine works and giving it proper maintenance, you can ensure that your sewing machine has a long life and continues to work perfectly.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly how to clean your machine, why regular maintenance is necessary, and let you know how often you should be giving your machine a tune-up.
Why Do I Need To Clean And Oil My Sewing Machine?
One of the reasons many people love using their sewing machines is because they save so much time and are convenient to use. So, putting in the extra elbow grease to clean your machine may be counterintuitive. It’s definitely tempting to skip this step. However, it’s vital to the lifespan of your machine that you commit to regular maintenance. Going too long without cleaning and oiling your sewing machine can lead to malfunction and even permanent damage.
If you notice your machine malfunctioning, whether it’s skipping stitches or your seam lines are wonky, your best bet is to clean your machine before trying anything else. Many problems are caused by a buildup of dust, lint, or loose threads in working parts of your machine. If left uncleaned for too long, this buildup can become soaked in oil or lubricant from inside your machine and can become sticky or gummy, interfering with the working gears and pulleys.
Once this oily buildup accumulates, it’s a real headache to remove. You’re much better off taking a few extra moments to properly clean your machine, so you can avoid a nasty situation down the line.
How Often Do I Need To Clean And Oil My Machine?
How often you need to clean and oil your machine will depend on multiple factors. First, you’ll need to evaluate how often you’re using your machine. If you sew professionally or are an experienced hobbyist, you’ll need to clean your machine much more often than a light to moderate user. Depending on how often it’s used, light to moderate users should only need their machines once every few months, while heavy users may need to do it once every few weeks.
How often you clean your machine will also depend on the types of fabrics you’re using. Heavy fabrics that shed, such as velvets, will leave your machine filled with lint and loose threads. If you work with these types of materials often, your machine may require more frequent cleaning.
The amount of time you go between maintenance sessions also depends heavily on the make and model of your machine. Older machines may require much more frequent oiling and maintenance than newer ones. And actually, some machines don’t need to be oiled at all—some models are self-lubricating, so you don’t have to worry about it. Consult your machine’s instruction booklet for guidelines on how often to clean and oil your machine.
Overall, you’ll gauge how often your machine needs maintenance by sight, sound, and feel. If you notice any squeaking or clinging of fabric, or if you see visible build-up, it’s time for a thorough clean.
How To Clean Your Sewing Machine
The cleaning process for your sewing machine will vary based on your make and model. However, this general guide should work for most modern machines.
Step One: Prep
Before you begin the cleaning process, always unplug your machine. While it can be tempting to keep your machine plugged in so you can use the attached lamp for better visibility, sticking your hands inside the crevices of your machine while it’s plugged in can be very dangerous. Instead, use a detachable, battery-operated light to see while you clean.
Now, consult your sewing machine’s manual for general cleaning guidelines. If your machine didn’t come with a manual, or you’ve lost it, try to locate one online, or contact the company to send you a spare. Your sewing machine’s manual will give you a list of all the nooks and crannies that require cleaning.
Step Two: Remove Parts
Next, you’ll remove all the detachable parts that come off for cleaning purposes. Usually, this includes parts like the needle plate and the bobbin. We recommend removing one part at a time so you don’t get confused and place the parts back where they don’t belong.
Step Three: Brush
Once you’ve removed the necessary parts, you can start to brush away the lint and fibers that have built up in the space. In certain places, such as the underside of the machine where the bobbin is held, there may be a lot of buildup, so be prepared.
The best tools for this task are a set of sturdy nylon brushes and a pair of tweezers. You can buy packs of nylon sewing machine brushes in multiple sizes, fit for different areas on your machine. Be wary of super inexpensive brushes, as they may shed fibers, which is the opposite of what you want when trying to clean out your machine. Tweezers are a great tool for stubborn debris that has become stuck in the crevices of your machine.
It may be tempting to use a can of compressed air to dislodge the fibers and lint. However, these can often contain moisture, which can cause rusting inside your machine. This can also push the lint further inside the crevices of your machine. Similarly, you should avoid blowing away the fibers with your mouth.
Step Three: Repeat
Repeat this process for all the areas your machine’s manual recommends, and voila! You’ve successfully cleaned your sewing machine.
How To Oil Your Sewing Machine
Before you begin oiling your machine, read your manual to ensure this is something your machine actually requires. Many modern machines don’t need oiling at all!
Step One: Prep
This will sound like a broken record, but the first step to oiling your machine is to read the manual. Your manual will guide you on what type of oil your machine needs and how often you’ll need to service it. It’s important that you purchase the type of oil your machine’s manual recommends, as this type will suit your machine’s mechanics best. Don’t try to substitute with car oil or any other type. Sewing machine oils are specially formulated and typically very fine and clear.
Step Two: Apply
Now it’s time to apply your oil. Sewing machine oil is used to prevent friction and keep all the parts of your sewing machine turning smoothly. To apply, use one hand to turn the hand wheel back and forth, so you can see where the moving parts touch each other. Apply a tiny bit of oil to each of these spots, then crank the wheel back and forth a few times to work the oil in.
Step Three: Clean Up
Take a spare piece of absorbent fabric, such as muslin, and wipe up any excess oil on the body of your machine to avoid getting oil on your next project. At this point, you can wipe down the entire exterior of your machine with a soft cloth. Replace any parts you’ve removed to gain access to the interior workings of the machine.
Step Four: Test
You’ve reached the final step! Now it’s time to test that your machine is running smoothly. Plug your machine back in, and sew a few test stitches on a spare piece of fabric. You may notice a few extra pieces of lint come out in your initial sewing, but this is normal. Your stitches should be even, and your tension should be balanced. If everything looks good, congratulations! You have successfully cleaned and oiled your sewing machine.
How To Lengthen The Time Between Maintenance
Sewing machine maintenance is unavoidable, especially for avid sewists. However, there are a few ways you can lengthen the time between maintenance sessions. The best way is to always keep your sewing machine covered when it’s not in use. Your machine may have come with a dust cover, but if not, you can make one yourself!
If you can, try to limit how much you sew with materials that shed, such as velvet or fleece. Also, make sure your workspace is clean and free of dust and lint. This will help you go a lot longer between maintenance sessions.
Learning how to properly clean, oil, and maintain your sewing machine is vital to your machine’s lifespan and performance. Avoiding regular maintenance can cause irreversible damage to your machine, and it may have to be replaced altogether. By taking a little extra time to properly clean and oil your machine every once in a while, you’ll ensure your machine works perfectly for years to come.
To learn more about all things sewing and to join our community, visit Love Sew online. We’re passionate about everything in the sewing world, and we offer high-quality tools, as well as helpful tutorials to help you conquer your next project.