8 Steps to Safely Clean a Sewing Machine

Any sewing enthusiast knows that a sewing machine needs to be cleaned regularly to keep it working as it should. In fact, a sewing machine should be opened at least once a month to eliminate those pesky dust bunnies.

Whether you've avoided this task due to lack of time or lack of knowledge, my handy 8-step guide to cleaning a sewing machine will help you get the job done safely and efficiently.

Think your sewing machine doesn't need cleaning?

Dirty sewing machine
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

Check out all these stuffed animals and cuddly toys! This built up in just a few weeks of regular use. Convinced your machine needs a cleaning? Let's get started!

**Pro tip: Polyester thread is cleaner and creates less lint.**

Required tools

Tools for cleaning a sewing machine
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

You don't need a lot of tools to clean a sewing machine, but having the right tools makes a huge difference. The tools required are:

  • a soft, clean cloth
  • a small, soft makeup brush (eyeshadow size)
  • a small, stiff-bristled brush (the kind that probably came with your machine)
  • a small screwdriver to remove the needle and needle plate screws (if applicable)
  • a mini vacuum cleaner

*BONUS* Pro tip: mini vacuums

Mini-vacuum sewing machine
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

I used to use canned air to clean my sewing machines, and while it's fine for mechanical machines, it's definitely not recommended for electronic sewing machines. I started using my USB powered mini vacuum and I feel so much better!

The mini vacuum I use is USB powered and plugs into an adapter that I keep near my sewing machine to occasionally charge my cell phone. It has to be plugged in to work and isn't very powerful, but it's the only thing I've found that's small enough to get into the crevices under my needle plate. This also does a good job.

Step 1: Remove the spool of thread

Cut the thread
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A pro tip for keeping the delicate thread path working properly: don't pull it from the top when changing or removing a spool of thread.

Cut the thread near the spool. Next, grab the thread in front of the needle and pull it out from the bottom.

Repeatedly pulling the line toward the back of the spool may cause lint buildup or damage the springs or tension discs. Play it safe by removing the bottom wire.

Step 2: Dusting

Wipe the machine
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After removing the thread, dust your sewing machine well with the soft cloth. You can dampen the cloth with a mild cleanser, but I don't usually find this necessary.

Step 3: Remove the presser foot, needle and needle plate

Remove the needle plate
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Remove the presser foot and needle. In fact, take this opportunity to throw away the needle too – it’s probably time, right?

Then remove the needle plate. Some needle plates come off with the push of a button, but most require the removal of a screw or two.

Step 4: Clean the Bobbin

Cleaning the bobbin case
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

Remove the bobbin case, remove the bobbin and clean it well. You can use a soft makeup brush for this. It picks up fine dust very well.

Step 5: Remove All Lint and Dust Bunnies

Removing lint and dust from rabbits
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

Start with the mini vacuum and look for all the lint and dust bunnies under the needle plate and bobbin case. You'll know the situation is dire when the buildup is so bad it seems felt!

Step 6: Use a Bristle Brush for Hard-to-Reach Places

Use a stiff bristle brush to clean the sewing machine
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

If the mini vacuum can't reach tight spots, try using a stiff-bristled brush.

Step 7: Oil?

Bobbin Replacement
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

Check your sewing machine's owner's manual to see if you need to oil it. If so, it will show you the right places. Most electronic sewing machines do not require oil.

Step 8: Go Back Up!

Sewing machine
Image credit: SewCanShe.com

Replace the bobbin case and needle plate. Replace the presser foot and a new needle… and that’s it!

How often should you clean a sewing machine?

Woman using a sewing machine
Image credit: Roman Chazov/Shutterstock.com

If you sew a lot with cotton thread, try following these cleaning steps every two weeks or so. Someone who doesn't sew every day may not need to clean their sewing machine as often, but it is recommended that you clean your sewing machine at least once a month.

Disclosure: Some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links, I may receive a small commission, so please support SewCanShe when you shop! All opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂

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