Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance: Cleaning and Oiling

Posted in: Meet Your Machine — By on May 19, 2011 8:12 AM

Regular sewing machine maintenance is something you can (and should!) do yourself.  Cleaning and oiling your machine will keep it in working order and ready when you need it.  Follow this simple guide to keep your sewing machine in tip top shape!

Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance

You should clean your machine regularly – after every use if you can.  But let’s be honest – who does that?  I clean mine after a really big project or whenever I think it’s getting linty.  I use my machines pretty regularly – you can decide how often to clean your machine based on how much you use it.  Bits of thread and lint can build up under the throat plate and around the feed dogs (see anatomy of a sewing machine) and should be cleaned out for smooth sewing and to prevent unnecessary wear and tear of the machine.  You should oil your machine regularly too.  It’s not difficult and you can do it yourself, so you have no excuses!

You will need:

  • Your sewing machine manual.  If you don’t have it or can’t find it, check online.  You should be able to do a google search for your model/make.  Sometimes you can even download it from the manufacturer’s website for free.
  • Screwdrivers
  • A small lint brush
  • Sewing Machine oil (see the note below)
A couple of tips before we begin:
  • Unplug your machine!  We don’t want any unnecessary injuries.
  • Always use sewing machine oil and sewing machine oil only.  It’s a clear, light oil unlike what you might find in your garage.  It’s inexpensive and can be found at your local sewing shop.
  • A can of compressed air is handy to blow out hard to reach lint.  Check your local office supply shop for this.
  • Don’t take anything apart that you can’t put back together.  If you don’t know what it is, maybe you shouldn’t touch that screw.
  • Take out your needle and remove the presser foot before you start.

Ok, let’s get started!

Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance: Cleaning the Feed Dogs

Cleaning the Feed Dogs

The first thing we’ll do is clean under the throat plate.  You’ll want your feed dogs to be clear of lint and any other debris that may have found its way in there.  Usually the throat plate is held in place by a couple of screws.  Simply remove them and remove the plate.  Then use your lint brush to get as much out as you can.  The compressed air works great here if you have it.  You can also remove the shuttle assembly and clean in there too.

Oiling Your Sewing Machine

Get your larger screwdriver and take off the top cover plate.  Some cover plates don’t have screws and just lift off.  Open up the face cover plate too.  Take a moment to wonder at the machinery inside…

Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance: Oiling

Now you’ll need to refer to your sewing machine manual for a diagram that shows you where to oil your machine.  Some of the older machines are marked in red where oil is needed.  Put a drop or two on each marked spot.  When you’ve finished, turn the hand wheel to distribute the oil.

Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance: Oiling the underside of the sewing machine

Don’t forget the underside of the machine!  Most machines require at least on the shuttle hook (the spinny thing in the bobbin casing.  Your manual will tell you where to oil there too.  Turn the handwheel again to distribute the oil.

Then it’s time to put everything back together!  Wipe the exterior of the machine off with a soft, clean cloth.  Replace the presser foot and insert a fresh needle.  Before you start a new project, thread your machine and sew a few rows of stitches to make sure any excess oil comes off on your scrap, not your favourite fabric.

A word about rust…

Store your machine in a dry place.  Rust is not your friend.  It acts exactly the opposite of oil and can cause damage to your machine.

Removing surface rust on your sewing machine

I recently acquired a Bernina 717 that needed a bit of TLC.  I was cleaning it up and noticed – uh oh!  Rust.  After a bit of grumbling and some internet searching I decided to break out the steel wool and get to work.  I coated all the rusty parts in machine oil and lightly rubbed with steel wool to remove the rust, which was thankfully only on the surface.

If you’re not sure what pieces you can take out of the machine or how to put them back – consult a professional!  You don’t want to poke around too much if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Keeping your sewing machine well oiled and clean protects your investment and will keep your machine going strong.  Take care of your sewing machine and it will take care of you!

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  1. singerindia says:

    Thanks for sharing this useful information which is useful for every person who use any type of swing machine because maintenance (Cleaning and oiling) is the most important part of the every tool it is increase the capacity of the swing machine. We (Singer India) also the Manufacturers different type of commercial and normal uses Sewing Machines.

  2. Kris says:

    Do you know of any low-end (under $200) mechanical beginner sewing machines that do not require professional oiling? The Brother xl2600i look the best, but the manufacturer forbids you to oil your own machine! What would happen if we did oil it ourselves? We may not know much about sewing machines, but my husband is a grad student in mechanical engineering. I’m sure he could figure out how to do it…..

    • Sandra says:

      Kris…looks like you didn’t get an answer to your question, which is also my question! I have been looking online everywhere to find out how to oil my Brother XL-3750. It would cost me almost as much to take it in somewhere as the machine cost new, and I am on a very low fixed income…so here I sit, unable to sew. Also, this machine of mine seems to be molded together, no way to take “cover” off the top, looks as if plastic case would have to be split open! So depressing. PLEASE, if anyone has an answer for DIY oiling for a machine, please share!! Thank you.

  3. Alicia says:

    Great tutorial! I added this link today. Thanks for providing this. Happy sewing!

  4. Virginia says:

    Thank u

  5. Jackie says:

    After 5 months in a container on route to Australia, following emigration, my 35 year old Toyota machine was a little poorly! Using this page and my manual, cleaned and oiled it. Now seems to back in good health. Thanks for so much useful information.

  6. Gloria says:

    Hi, I found this site while I was looking for a way to remove rust from my Viking Husqvarna #1+ “Throat Plate” that had been giving to me. So, with that said, can I restore this throat plate? and if so, How? I found one on eBay but, I don’t want to buy it if I can fix/clean mine. Thank you for any help.

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