Our best tips for cleaning your sewing machine

Sewing machine maintenance is very important, not only to keep your machine running smoothly, but also to avoid problems with your sewing projects. In this article, we will provide you with a simple step-by-step guide to cleaning your sewing machine effectively.

Contents

Our machines aren't really “dirty”, they're just soft! The main things you'll be cleaning from your sewing machine are tiny thread scraps and lint.

Lint comes from the fabric and thread used in sewing projects…different types and brands will produce more or less lint, but they all create lint, which gradually builds up inside your sewing machine.

So what problems can all this fluff cause? This can free you from tension, which can cause all sorts of problems, like creating not-so-pretty yarn birds' nests (where the yarn snags and gets tangled under your fabric) and adding more fluff in your project.

Check your sewing machine manual

Before you start cleaning your machine, always check the manual in case your machine has any dos and don'ts. And always remember that regular cleaning is no substitute for proper maintenance.

hand holding three sewing machine tools

Materials you will need

  1. Soft Lint Free Cloth – Swiffer Cloth works great
  2. A small brush (a makeup brush or dedicated sewing machine brush works well, your sewing machine probably came with one)
  3. Sewing machine oil (if your machine requires oil)
  4. Screwdriver (if necessary, again, there is probably one in your sewing machine kit)
  5. Tweezers
  6. Lint roller
  7. Pipe cleaner

If your machine came with a cleaning tool, then that's a great place to start (and it might be all you need!).

Mine comes with a small brush that is great for removing lint from most areas of the machine, but it doesn't reach everywhere, so I like to use a fluffy pipe cleaner.

These are great because they are cheap, their flexibility means they can bend rounded corners and the lint clings to them very well.

close up of sewing machine gears
Things to check for lint when cleaning

Step-by-step sewing machine cleaning process

  1. Gather supplies: Before you begin, make sure you have all the necessary cleaning supplies on hand. This will help you complete the process smoothly.
  2. Turn off and unplug: For safety reasons, make sure your sewing machine is turned off and unplugged from the power source before you begin cleaning.
  3. Remove the needle and bobbin: Remove the sewing machine needle and the sewing machine bobbin. This will give you better access to clean the parts inside.
  4. Remove the presser foot and needle plate: Depending on your machine model, you may need to remove the presser foot and needle plate. Consult your machine manual for guidance.
  5. Brush out loose debris: Use a small brush to gently remove any debris, lint or dust from the nooks and crannies of your machine. Pay particular attention to the areas around the feed dogs, tension discs and bobbin case.
  6. Clean the needle plate and feed dogs: Use a lint roller or brush to clean the needle plate and feed the dogs thoroughly. These components often accumulate lint, which can affect the fabric feeding process.
  7. Clean the bobbin area: Remove the bobbin case and clean it with a soft, lint-free cloth. Gently wipe away any lint or thread residue. You can also use tweezers to remove any small pieces that may be stuck.
  8. Oil moving parts: NOT ALL machines require oil. Check your sewing machine's manual to identify whether it needs oil and, if so, which stitches need to be oiled. Apply a small drop of sewing machine oil to these areas to ensure smooth movement. Wipe off any excess oil to avoid staining fabrics.
  9. Reassemble the machine: Replace the bobbin case, needle plate, presser foot, needle and bobbin. Make sure all parts are properly aligned and secure.
  10. Test the machine: Before you start sewing, manually turn the handwheel several times to ensure all parts move smoothly. This will help distribute the oil evenly. I also recommend sewing a few lines of stitches with a piece of fabric to make sure there is no oil left on the machine that could transfer to your project.

If you have a small handheld vacuum, you may want to keep it nearby to suck up any lint that comes out of the machine.

close up of sewing machine gears
be sure to clean lint and debris from the feed dogs
soft toys on whiteboard

3 Sewing Machine Cleaning Tips

One: Clean regularly

My goal is to clean every time I start a new project, especially after quilting (I also find that when working with batting/wadding it adds lint to the inside of the machine).

But cleaning would also be my first priority whenever I have a problem while sewing.

Two: Clean gently

There are a lot of different parts inside a sewing machine (even the most basic models), so you need to be careful that nothing gets moved or damaged…this will cause a lot more problems than… a little fluff! This is one of the reasons I like to use a pipe cleaner.

Third: clean thoroughly

Lint can end up anywhere in a sewing machine, so you need to make sure you clean all the nooks and crannies.

Does my sewing machine need oil?

I have sewn with different brands of sewing machines over the years and have had machines that may or may not require oil. The type of oil you use to oil your sewing machine may vary depending on the manufacturer. This is why it is always best to consult your manual before cleaning and oiling your machine.

My BERNINA machines require oil.

To oil a BERNINA:

sewing machine without presser foot

A:

Remove the thread plate, needle and presser foot.

Detail of oiled sewing machine

Two: place a drop of oil in the hole with the red dot

Third: remove the bobbin and case

hand holding bobbin case

Four: Place a drop of oil on each point of the bobbin assembly.

Five: Go back up.

The best way to determine if your sewing machine needs oil is to check your owner's manual. If it needs oiling, make sure you do it at the recommended intervals.

Things not to do

Do not use an air blower; these may be too powerful and move the cogs inside your machine (this may only be a tiny amount, but it could have a big effect).

Do not blow to remove lint; Although blowing with your mouth is much gentler than compressed air, you will get some moisture inside your machine (again, this will only be a tiny amount, but over time it could cause parts of your machine to rust).

Don't forget where all the pieces go! If you are new to opening your machine to clean it, you need to be careful; you know where to put all the pieces when you're done.

ADVICE: Take a photo before removing each part so you remember the order of their replacement and their exact location.

Cleaning your sewing machine regularly is a simple but crucial task that can have a huge impact on your sewing experience. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can maintain a clean, functional sewing machine that produces high-quality stitches and lasts for years.

Remember to consult your machine manual for specific cleaning instructions for your model!


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