Spring Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

Alright, fess up. How many of you regularly clean or even dust your sewing machine? I don’t! I feel regular twinges of guilt as I notice the specks of fluff caught in the grease around the needle holder or the layer of dust on top of my Bernina. I hardly ever use my dust cover.

By contrast, I am fairly efficient at changing the blade in my rotary cutter. Oh, the delight of a fresh blade, slicing through fabric like a knife through butter! Why don’t I lavish the same love and care on the most expensive item in my sewing coterie? This is my beauty when it arrived to much excitement back in August 2010:

My Bernina has been everything I ever hoped it would be, though I have tragically failed to master or even use the walking foot. I have broken the needle threader but am not too concerned about that. I find a lick of the finger and a squint of the eye gets a needle threaded just fine. But I love this machine. I should take better care of it.

I’m at that stage where Spring sunshine reveals the full horror of the pit of grime I’ve spent all winter living through. Who knew I was such a slattern?

Humour me. Do you take care of your sewing machine and, if so, do you have any tips to share?

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57 Responses to Spring Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

  1. I couldn’t say I take care of my sewing machine regularly, but I probably do it around once every 2 months. When I do so I use the little brush included and then oil it (makes me thing I should buy some oil, there’s hardly any left). I remember when I had repaired that the man in the worshop said I should oil it every time I use it or every 8 hours! I’m nowhere near that, and I don’t know if it has something to do with the age of the sewing machine: it’s about 50 years old.

    • Um. HOW do you oil your machine?!!!

      • KristenMakes says:

        Yes, I’d like to know more about this ‘oiling’ too!

      • Jane says:

        Oil? Oil? Where the hell does that go?

      • LinB says:

        “A little dab’ll do ya.” I use 3-in-1 machine oil. Your machine manual will have a diagram for the three or four spots to put a drop of oil. My manual says to oil daily if I use the machine more than an hour a day. Hah! Not likely — I oil about twice a year (hangs head in shame). I am more consistent in dusting — I use either the nylon brush that came with my serger, or an old artist’s paintbrush. I just fling an old silken scarf over everything as a dust cover. Not sure how well it works, but it is pretty.

      • Jenn-NY says:

        It should be in the Bernina user manual – the hook needs to be oiled from time to time. There is specialty sewing machine oil – don’t use other stuff or it might turn into goo!

      • oonaballoona says:

        is it possible to oil the newer machines at home? i’ve always used vintage, and the manuals give an oiling and grease diagram of anywhere from 3 to 30 points, but i thought you couldn’t do-it-yourself with the newer machines. if your manual doesn’t come with a diagram, they probably want you to take it to a shop.

        i SO want a bernina, but it’s nice to be able to tinker with it yourself. i regularly oil my 221 (after every 3rd or so garment) & unscrew the throat plate to get the lint out (maybe four times a week?). that said i’ve been known to dismantle a metal machine so completely, i would have done better to take it to the shop in the first place 🙂

  2. I clean the sewing machine between projects. The overlocker, not so much. I like cleaning and threading the machine as a way of getting my mojo going at the start of a project.

  3. Vicki Kate says:

    Erm, I clean out the bobbin area after a big project, or after every couple of smaller ones. That’s about my limit though! My serger needs vacuuming there’s that much lint inside at the moment but you can’t tell until you put the knife up or down which is always mid-project… So I need to do that job too!

  4. Hmm…well It’s not my natural persona to take time out from sewing on ” chores” but I have found with mine, 15+ years into our relationship that when it starts making a certain laboured noise, I can save myself the cost of a service and give it an oil.. no, not Gary, I’m talking about my pfaff! I get the brush into it mire often, all the bobbin area and under the feed dogs get awful linty. I’m more scared to venture into my overlocker, and it needs a brush, I know….must bebecause we’re still in the throes of young love, and I don’t want to upset it…

  5. When I bought mine I asked how to clean it an how often I should do that and the lovely lady from the shop said “just blow in it a few times” 🙂

  6. Tilly says:

    Great minds, Karen – I just started a “how to” blog post with exactly the same title as this post! Oh well, you’ve potentially saved me the trouble of finishing it – let me know what plans you have for a follow up post. It’s funny how bloggers have the same train of thought sometimes! xx

  7. Kirsty says:

    I sometimes dust the top – that’s it.

    Though I need to clean it this week as I’m selling it to move, woe! I will be sewing machine-less for I don’t know how long 🙁

  8. Roobeedoo says:

    I use the little brush to clean out the fluff in the bobbin-case area. I take it as a hint that the machine needs cleaning when it vomits out the bobbin halfway through a line of stitching. I take the whole lower section apart, brush out the dust, and oil the feed-dogs. I sew a few lines on scrap fabric to soak up any stray oil before using the machine again. This happens maybe once every two months or so.
    Does that make me a girly swot?!

  9. Joanne says:

    Well I could definitely do better but since getting my new machine last April I’ve de-fluffed and oiled it maybe two or three times. And I now generally change the needle between each project which I think helps the longer life of the machine. Instructions for oiling it should come with the machine and most of them come with a little phial of oil too. You’re so right about the film of dirt being more visible in spring. Thankfully the husband is a virgo so I point out the dirt until he can stand it no longer, puts his pinny on and deep cleans the flat, Then I might run a hoover over it once a month or so. I am also a slattern. In so many ways.

  10. Threadless says:

    I saw a fantastic cleaning tip in “Sewing tips &trade secrets” by Taunton Press (ISBN 1-56158-109-7) pg35 how to vauum sergers and sewing machines, Elizabeth attaches a flexible drinking straw to her vacs crevice tool with masking tape, and just sucks all the fluff and stuff out (in fact she bought an extra one so she could leave it ready for use). As someone with a housework “sensitivity” this appeals because it sounds so fast, plus you could also use the jerry rigged tool on your computer. Havn’t actually got around to trying it yet though…

  11. Jane says:

    I’m appalled to admit I’ve cleaned the fluff out of my machine exactly once since I bought it over two years ago. And when I say ‘I’, I mean my husband who couldn’t bear to watch my feeble attempts and went at it with a hoover. And oil?? Where does it go??! As for the overlocker, yes that will need a clean soon but that knife is still too scary to get close to.
    Weirdly, even though I’m the world’s filthiest sewing machine owner, like you, I do like a nice sharp blade in my rotary cutter! Feel better now?! x

  12. Uta says:

    I try to dust as far as I get without unscrewing, and I put on the dust cover, but that’s about it. I have a rather obscure machine of a lesser known brand (Lloyd; the machine repair man says it’s Asian) and a couple of decades old. I have also lost the manual and can’t find another one (for the reasons mentioned.) So I know I should oil it “according to he manual” but can’t. I recently had it repaired/readjusted and was given some stern advice to use better (brand-name) thread; I may do that at least!

    • LinB says:

      Usually you put a drop of oil at all the spots where a bar passes through a flange or gear — or, where something is rotating at a high speed as you sew. That includes one spot behind your bobbin case, where some gear or other is rotating the bobbin pick-up. Not much oil! Dust your machine first! Suck out dust, don’t blow it further in!

  13. edj3 says:

    I have an old Bernina, circa 1988, that I bought second-hand. I didn’t clean it and in fact didn’t know it needed to be cleaned. But I had posted a video of my freaky cat, who loves the sewing machine, all curled around the arm of the sewing machine while I sewed. Someone left a comment on that video that said “for the love of God, oil your Bernina!”

    So basically I was shamed into pulling out my manual, taking apart the things that need to be taken apart and then vacuuming and oiling. Now I do it about every couple of projects unless the material is particularly hard on the machine.

  14. Bold Sewist says:

    I gave my poor neglected machine a little brush and dust before using it to sew all that ivory silk but that’s as far as it’s ever gone. I once read somewhere about someone using a can of pressurised air to blow it all out – that’s the kind of cleaning that appeals to me! But I have no idea where to locate on of these exciting little things. Oiling sounds good – I’ll look forward to learning more about that!

  15. Yvette says:

    I have only had my machine for a few months, I do blow at it all the time works a treat lol 🙂 but I only dust it when it spits out the bobbin. I have a tube of oil for it but am yet to use it! Yikes….time to get the manual out 🙂

  16. I clean and oil mine fairly often… i use a kids pain brush for its soft bristles… My overlocker is clean almost every two projects…
    I also take my machine for a revision once a year, just to make sure things are good..

  17. KirstyS says:

    I clean and oil my sewing machine and overlocker pretty much once every 4-6 weeks. The fluff builds up especially in the overlocker. The sewing machine stops making clunky “i’m working too hard” noises when I oil it, so we have a deal going on that front. Mind you it has done a lot of work over the past 19 years. The overlocker gets the gunk blown out when I have to rethread and can’t see where it needs to go. Also clunky noises can be stopped by fresh needles. My manuals show where to put the oil on each machine.

  18. shivani says:

    How timely – I’ve been thinking the same thing. I did find this helpful post on how to clean and oil a Brother 1034d serger: http://blog.puckleberry.com/2010/12/how-to-clean-serger-brother-1034d.html. Am also hunting out tips for how to clean and oil a sewing machine, and will send any useful links your way!

  19. Clare says:

    My machines don’t get used as much as they used to but I do care for them, particularly the overlocker because it generates so much lint. Lint is bad! I want a super power mini hoover to get into all the crevices to make it easier. I oil moving parts – I think most machine manuals have a maintenance guide in them. After oiling, sew scrap fabric until you’re sure you won’t get oil on your good stuff.

  20. Marie says:

    I think I’ve hoovered dust out of my bobbin holder once in over 2yrs…how shameful! i haven’t the faintest idea what else I should be doing to it on a regular basis…something about oiling it etc?!? The thing is, I know I should as I’ll be devesated when it breaks/stops working/gets poorly, but until that happens I don’t know that I’ll change my filthy sewing ways!

  21. Felicity from Down Under says:

    I’m very good about getting down and dirty with my paintbrushes to clean out the lint and I’m not bad about oiling my machine. It’s nearly 40, it needs love and care to continue performing (now, if I could just stretch the budget to a proper service, we’d really be in business). I use my overlocker less frequently but I do the paintbrush routine every time I use it. Oiling? Not so much, perhaps because of the less frequent use.

  22. CGCouture says:

    When I bought mine, I was told to NEVER blow canned air into the machine because that just shoves the lint further into the little crevices and can do bad things. So I got an attachment for my vacuum that I use to suck the lint out with, and while it was a bit expensive ($20) I’ve found that it works really well.

    As for oiling, I never do it myself. 😳 However, I do send it off to be cleaned and oiled 3-4 times a year by a local Holderman couple (the sewing machine whisperers) and they do an excellent job for not a lot of money. The only thing they don’t do is repairs, but they tell you that up front.

  23. LLADYBIRD says:

    Ooh, I love cleaning my machine 🙂 I usually dust it out with the little brush while I’m waiting for the bobbin to wind (because, honestly, what else can you do? Captive audience!). I’m also really picky about how clean my serger stays – I hate all those little fabric fuzzies! As gross as it sounds, though, I find pulling out a giant wad of fabric lint about as satisfying as some people feel when they pick scabs hahahaha.

    My machine doesn’t need oiling or greasing since it’s computerized, but the Featherweight does… I need to get on that gravy train and figure out all those little oil holes.

    Oh, and back when I was a better person (and had more money to burn), I took both my serger & sewing machine in for yearly maintenance. I was recently told that I can afford to stretch that to every 2-3 years, though, which is awesome because, ugh, it gets so expensive!

  24. Nicole says:

    My lovely newish (I’ve had it now 8 months) Bernina actually yells at me when it needs cleaned, so I clean it when it does that. It’s really just a blinking light on the computer screen, but blinking anything bugs the heck out of me so it gets cleaned right away. On the Bernina- it does it about every 200,000 stitches, which is about 6 months worth of sewing for me. My serger, i vaccuum on a regular basis, because i have to vacuum the fuzzies off the table/floor. However I will be faithful and take the machines in for a yearly maintenance this summer as I feel like I spent so much money on them, I’m going to treat them like I would a car!

  25. sewforward says:

    I do clean my machine when I have completed a project. It is sort of the final step for me before starting something else. Although, when I am working on multiple projects (which is more the ‘norm’ around here lately) the ‘cleaning the machine’ can get pushed aside. Not good. I do however take my machine in to the dealer at least once a year for a good cleaning. They usually keep is for a week, which is difficult because I suffer from ‘sewing machine seperation anxiety’ LOL! Of course, I guess. I could be productive that week and clean house? Now there’s a novel idea!

  26. redsilvia says:

    Well I don’t use the cover either, so you’re not alone. My Bernina is a hearty gal so she forgives me. I do change the needle very often, oil the machine about every two projects and use the little brush to get the lint from under the feed dog plate. All very easy to do and takes about two minutes. The sewing machine shop says to get the machine tuned every year, but I must confess to going a bit longer since that’s $95 and a pair of shoes…

  27. I take the bobbin holder out and brush out the lint from time to time. It’s not a set routine, sometimes between projects, sometimes not. If I’ve just worked with something that sheds a lot then I’ll certainly do it when I’m done or if I’m having issues with the stitches, I’ll see if lint is the problem. I suppose now that I think of it, I’m probably due for servicing. It’s been maybe 2 years now.

  28. Jenn-NY says:

    I dust out the bobbin case of my circa 1984 Bernina in between projects. I recently lost that handy little brush that it came with & so I have been using an electric tooth brush head (brush only, no electricity!) I would NOT use canned air. I have used canned air for other purposes, like in a prof. photo lab. Along with air it can spray out some liquid which I think would be bad for the machine in the long run. Also, it can be difficult to control & could damage sensitive calibrations and parts of the hook and bobbin construction. I oil the hook with sewing machine oil as according to the instruction manual. This machine is a workhorse and has only been in for repair once – and that was a timing problem due to a bad needle breakage incident. At least in the U.S. these older Bernina’s have actually gone up in value — so said the kindly repairman — and the replacement parts can be quite expensive. Anyway, it is worth it to put some time into good care and maintenance!

  29. laura says:

    I have to clean my machine every other project or so. It acts all weird if I don’t: skips stitches, makes them uneven, pools the underneath thread.

    It’s what you get for buying the cheapest thing out there. But then again I wasn’t sure if I would like sewing when I got it.

  30. Rachel says:

    I use a small paint brush, and also a tiny lip gloss brush too. It’s so small it can get in anywhere! And sometimes I unscrew other bits, but not often. Also it depends on the type of thread I use, because if it is rubbish then it needs cleaning more. I am not aware that my machine ever needs oiling though….

  31. Stacy says:

    I’m not great at keeping up with this stuff either. Usually I only remember to do maintenance when my machine starts to make a weird noise or skip stitches. Then I’ll blast it with some canned air to get all the lint out. Every year or two I remember to oil the machine. 🙂

  32. Kelly says:

    I oil my machine when it starts making that “if you don’t oil me I’m going to seize up and die” noise and running badly. I confess, it is a dumb reason – but I can’t stand to get the oil on my hands. How silly is that? I have an 80’s model JC Penney machine. It does have a guide to where to oil in the manual.

    My mom told me to not only sew on a scrap of fabric after I (finally) oil the machine, but to also leave the needle in the fabric and the presser foot down overnight to let any oil run down from upper parts of the machine.

  33. symondezyn says:

    I bought my old Singer used, ages ago, and it travelled with me through several years of moves, despite the fact I never used it until recently, so it had gotten kind of beat up and dirty. When I went to use it again, I cleaned it pretty thoroughly with a wet cloth, and it always gets brushed off and the dust cover put on, when I’m not using it. I’m pretty good about cleaning my serger too, as it’s easy to take apart and get into the insidey bits…. on the other hand, while I know I should oil both of them, and I actually have the oil, I have NO IDEA where to put the oil!! LOL. My manuals don’t tell me…. isn’t that dumb? LOL

  34. Marianna says:

    My machine is supposed to be self-lubricating (huh? is that like “self-basting”) but I did put in a few drops of bike oil when it started to squeak. I think I used a Youtube tutorial to get some idea of what to do.

    My New Year’s Resolution was to throw away the needle at the end of each project and since then I’ve also made the effort to clean the lint out too. I usually rub around with a damp cloth and use the lint brush. It’s amazing how much builds up after sewing with fur or corduroy. I have occasionally sucked everything up with a hoover “wand”, a couple of times with the bobbin still inside. Not a good idea: in seconds, all the thread gets sucked out and wound round the hoover roller. And that’s one thing I really hate having to clean.

  35. I have a Pfaff Tipmatic 1207, which will be 32 years old in September. The instructions state that ‘oiling is not necessary’ – so I’ve never engaged the 3-in1 oil. (Except for the darning foot spring which developed an annoying squeak but responded to some machine oil.)

  36. Caroline says:

    I have an old Bernina (circa 1960s). The manual has a picture showing which parts you should oil. When you open the top of the machine up it also has little red dots on the actual machine parts which indicate where you should oil – very helpful. I probably don’t oil it as often as I should do though…

  37. susew says:

    I regularly clean out the lint from the bobbin casing, sometimes several times per project if it generates a lot of lint. The machine sounds different if there’s a big lint blob.
    I use the (clean) blush brush that came with Clinique blusher. It’s soft and small enough to get to most of the nooks and crannies around the bobbin. An old mascara wand can get into smaller places too.
    I have ~ 10 year old Bernina. I was told it doesn’t require oiling.

  38. MrsC says:

    They are all different. My Berninas are an 1120 and a 1230, and both need the bobbin race oiling regularly. Just a spot does it. No blowing. Puts moisture into the machine. One of those brushes with a squeeze bulb is good for blowing dust out but I don’t bother, just use the wee brush sometimes. The worst place is under the plate around the feed dogs, which when clipped out can look like it has a piece of felt shaped under it. This is lint build up, not a part 😉
    Newer machines are designed not to have home interventions, but the manual will tell all. It’s worth it. As for the overlocker, I vacuum it.

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  42. Celine says:

    Well I just realized I am in the minority but I clean my Bernina 440 qe every bobbin change. I’ve noticed if I don’t the machine is louder and doesn’t run quite as smooth. I love to clean my machine… It just purrrs when I do. One thing… In your picture with the oil dropper oil it looks like you are oiling the inside of the hook race… the oil goes on the outside where the hook race fits into the machine. Oil is for metal meeting metal where there are moving parts but from what I gather with the new Berninas is that only the hook race gets oil, the other parts get oil at maintenance from the Bernina technician. Anyways I use a pipe Cleaner and it picks up all the lint. I highly recommend clean your machine more often than not! Love your blog…new follower:)

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