Cleaning Your Sewing Machine. The Grime! The Grime!

Thank you all so much for your comments on yesterday’s post. I was heartened to find myself surrounded on one side by more slatterns, and on the other by saints. Spurred on by you all, I decided to take the middle road – a little tinker and clean at home, rather than a full-on service.

I thought you’d like to share the journey! It turned out to be … revealing. Of course, your machine may be different to mine, but I think we’ll all get the general idea.

First things first. A quick dust of the machine. It is VERY, VERY important to equip yourself with a duster that is as gaudy and ridiculous as possible with an unfeasibly long arm that actually makes cleaning more difficult. See above. Fortunately for me, my mother bought me a rose-patterned cleaning set a couple of years ago so I already had one. (Yeah, I get the hint, Ma!)

Take off any reels of thread, the bobbin case and the resting arm. Poke about amongst the equipment that arrived with your machine. You’ll probably find these two things:

Ickle brush and miniature bottle of oil. The cuteness!

And this:

The lesser spotted instruction manual

Following the instructions, I removed the feed plate by pressing on the rear right corner. Don’t be bashful. You’ll need to press hard.

Lift the plate to reveal…

Ahem, yes, well, you see… I mean, the thing is, um… You know, I’ve been really busy for the past two years, and… Okay, so shoot me! My sewing machine is a pit of dirt! I’m only human, forchrissakes.

So I set to with my ickle brush and a good pair of lungs to get rid of as much of the fluff as I could. It didn’t take long. It wasn’t difficult.

Next, I was instructed to remove the hook race and clean it. The what? Yeah, that’s what I wondered. Apparently, I had to push a release lever on the left. I pushed something and something else released. Again, not so hard.

Comment on the state of my nails and I WILL KILL YOU.

Then you reach in and pull out … the hook race. Wanna know what a hook race is?

A hook race, innit?

You then give it a drop or two of oil:

Squeezing a drop of oil proved to be the most challenging part of this process. Mainly, because I’d omitted to snip the top of the pipette open. Do as I say, not as I do, people! Snip the oil bottle open.

Put the hook case back, close the cover, insert your bobbin case, give the whole lot one last dust. I cleaned the fluff and grease away from the needle holder:

The shame! The shame! 

Put a new needle in the machine:

Then rethread the machine and do a bit of sewing on a scrap to a) get rid of any residual oil and b) make sure your sewing machine still works.

Yep, still works!

Finally, the most charming reader tip came from LinB. She told me how she draped her machine with an old silk scarf when she wasn’t sewing. How lovely! I don’t have spare silk scarves hanging around, but I did have an off cut from a recent make:

Aw. Why wouldn’t you protect your machine from dust if it meant gazing at a sight as lovely as this?

I feel all saintly now – and liberated. I hadn’t attempted this exercise for two whole years because I was afraid. It’s technology, innit? But turns out this was yet another thing I had no reason to fear. Who knows what I’ll attempt next? Bunji jumping? Sky diving? Streaking at this year’s Wimbledon?

Watch this space. Or don’t. You may not have the stomach for white, wobbly flesh that hasn’t seen the sun in six months…

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31 Responses to Cleaning Your Sewing Machine. The Grime! The Grime!

  1. makeitgiveit says:

    Ha ha!! great post I NEED to do this too – I need to find the instruction manual first though, that might take a while!

  2. Felicity from Down Under says:

    What a very thorough job. I can imagine how gratifying it must have been to clean up that much fluff. 🙂

  3. KristenMakes says:

    This definitely de-mystifies the process that so intimidated me. I guess I have no excuses now. Thanks!

  4. Roobeedoo says:

    That’s a hook race is it? That’s the thing that falls out almost every time I sew… usually half-way through something really complicated. Now I know what to call it… other than the bad words that always spring to mind.
    I like the colour of your nail polish! 😉

    • LinB says:

      I always heard it called “the crescent.” And other ugly words, when I stab my finger on the sharp bit at top left.

  5. KathleenS says:

    By the way, it’s possible to break the little metal attachment bits (I don’t know what they’re called!) off the bottom of a Bernina feed plate when you’re putting it back in, if you do it crooked. No prizes for guessing how I know. I thought you might like to be warned so you never have to learn from experience!

  6. Kirsty says:

    Great job cleaning out the fluff and making it fun! A very stylish cloth to drape over it too. I bet your machine will run like a dream now. My machine got it’s last thorough clean when I spilled a drink on the needle plate. Eek. It came came clean though.I’d forgotten about that until I saw the photo of your hook race.

  7. shivani says:

    ooo – it’s that easy? thank you for the how-to (no excuses now)!

    (gah – love your heart-shaped pin cushions!)

  8. Jessi says:

    I’m commenting on the state of your nails only to say I’m wearing pretty much the exact same color today 🙂

    Two tips: A q-tip catches more lint than the brush, which I think just moves it around unless you have giant lint bunnies in there (which I sometimes do).

    My dealer taught me to oil a drop on the OUTSIDE of the hook. The hook race is apparently the part that is inside the machine, and it is what needs oil- but if you put it on the outside of the hook (in the little grove on the back) it will end up lubricating the right place. I don’t know if putting it on the inside will do the same.

    I need a cover for my machine. My serger has one (an ugly plastic cover), but my beautiful Bernie stays out in the open…

  9. Lindsay says:

    I must admit that I get a sick enjoyment out of dusting my machine and therefore experienced the same enjoyment reading about you cleaning yours. So thank you! And I have the same exact machine as you. Don’t you love it?! Draping a silk scarf over the machine is a great idea.

  10. SuzySewing says:

    I definitely need to clean my machine. Though it didn’t came with any cleaning acessories.

  11. LinB says:

    Excellent job cleaning out the lint, madam! I am always tempted to save the little mat of furze that builds up between the feed dogs on my machine, after seeing some amazing dryer-lint artwork 20 years ago. You’ll be happy to know that, so far, I have been able to resist the temptation. I counsel you to do the same.

  12. Marianna says:

    My husband has that same fluff stuff growing in his belly button. Must remember to clean him occasionally. The artwork idea is great.

  13. Salma says:

    LOL, I’m sitting here with my laptop looking very odd to everyone else around me because I can’t stop giggling, hilarious post – Believe it or not, when I started sewing I didn’t even know I had to clean machine, so it hadn’t been cleaned in…oh say 5 years…then it started making noises, like it was out of breath running a marathon or something.

  14. I’ve found that a glass bottle with a pipette that you can buy from a chemist is much better for oiling than the silly little bottles of oil. The pipette makes it much easier to put just one drop of oil where it’s needed.

  15. Jenn-NY says:

    Excellent post. I should have said yesterday that it took me about 2 years to figure this out as well. (BTW, the hook assembly on my model does not appear to be removable). However, now I kind of enjoy cleaning it — sort of a way to conclude a project. That little brush has been the same for 30 something years. It’s really the best thing for getting the fuzz out and I hope I can find it!

  16. oonaballoona says:

    i love you.

    my eyes almost popped out of my head at the sight of your feed dogs.

    totally implementing the silk swath for my izzie!

  17. nothy lane says:

    Thank you! That was very informative. I love the idea about draping your sewing machine with fabric. It’s so simple and yet, the idea has never come to me. I always see patterns for making your own sewing machine cover and I can’t be bothered. As of tonight, I will cover it with some pretty fabric.
    The only tip I can add to your informative tutorial is that my high school sewing teacher ( I went to a new-age hs where you only had to sign up for courses and attend as you need to- so I was able to take lots of extra fun courses like sewing, drafting, dental hygiene and auto mechanics! And despite the fact that I am doing a PhD, those were the best courses I’ve ever taken) So, yes, my high school sewing teacher warned us NEVER to blow into the the machine to rid it of dust because the moisture can cause rust and other problems.

    • Sandy says:

      I went to a regular old high school, and my home ec teacher taught us the same thing: never, never blow into the machine. The moisture from your breath is bad for the machine. Not sure if this is true or an old wive’s tale, but I keep a can of air (no kidding, canned air — it has a long straw sticking out the end so you can blast it in tiny crevices) for cleaning my machine.
      Excellent tutorial, Karen! Keep those machines humming.

      • Jessi says:

        I’ve been told canned air is a big no-no, as it just blows the lint further down into the machine (and for a computerized machine, into the circuit board.)

        Some people recommend a mini-vacuum, but I haven’t done that yet.

      • Fashion Bitch NZ says:

        I am a very untidy sewer, so by the time I finish a project the floor looks as though I’ve killed somethng. When I hoover up the floor, I brush the lint-prone bits of the machine with a soft paint brush and the hoover. The brush dislodges the fluff and it gets sucked into the the hoover. Honestly adds no more than 30 seconds to the clean up processs.

  18. MrsC says:

    Good on you. My tech showed me how to oil it after over 20 years of me thrashing the machine, to put a tiny drop of oil on the flat outer rim of the hook race, and wipe it around with my finger. It’s amazing, who knew! I also oil the bit inside the machine that is revealed by removing it. And run my machine for a few revs to work the oil in. It seems to be quieter and happier for me doing this.
    Did you nearly go spare trying to put the hook race and that black ring thing back in again? It seems to be an act that defies gravity and requires circuslike dexterity.
    Roobeedoo, I suspect you haven’t got your bits clicked into place properly for them to come a-spilling out like that. How very annoying!!!

  19. Sandy P says:

    I’m a bit late on this one but I had to share my cleaning tale!

    I removed the top of my old sewing machine a while ago to oil it in its proper places but I accidently undid a nut I didn’t need to (it was the bobbin winder) and it promptly fell into the depths of the machine. I couldn’t get it so left it and let the bobbin winder flail about for a while (ok, maybe a year or 2). Recently I decided I really wanted that nut back so I took the top off the machine again but on shaking the machine (it’s a hardy 80s number…nothing modern to go wrong!) I spied a removable plate on the base of the machine.

    So, I removed it, found the nut, (huzzah!) but also found a dead and dessicated woodlouse! The scary thing about this tale? The “woodlouse years” were when I was a student living in Sheffield….and that was back in 1990-1994!

    Do I win the record for longest ever wait before cleaning??!

  20. Alessa says:

    Hah, this really doesn’t sound all that difficult! Maybe I should have a go at cleaning my machine, too. It is spring, after all…
    Also: yay, dots! 🙂

  21. symondezyn says:

    Awesome! Bravo! I’m inspired! I wanna take my machine apart too! LOL

    Nothing wrong with white sunless skin… just make sure to sunblock well prior to streaking LOL.

  22. quiltyknitwit says:

    Instead of blowing away the lint, I use one of those spray cans of air with a skinny nozzle, and do that all over the machine, in all the cracks & crevices. Hooray for clean machines!

  23. Here via Pinterest and am giggling so much that I’m adding your blog straight to my reader!

  24. Pingback: Making Your Sewing Machine Last Long - Tiffiany Tailor Blog

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