Having a little over 20 years of sewing experience, I’ve used many different types of machines. From vintage to Industrial, hand-me-downs, and more recently, the newer computerized models. Different machines all come with their own set of issues when not properly cared for. Some of these issues, in many cases, could have been prevented by a little TLC. Trust me, I had to learn the hard and expensive way. Sewing machine cleaning and maintenance can seem time-consuming and even a little intimidating especially if you are new to sewing. Quick, but effective maintenance can make the world of difference when issues arise. Preventive maintenance can also save you time and money. Here are some tips for maintaining a clean sewing machine!
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Sewing Machine Maintenance Guide & Checklist:
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Read your instruction manual:
No two machines are the same. This was a lesson I also learned early on. Assuming that you can pull your machine out of the box and start sewing is a huge mistake! It says it right there in the manual on the first page; “Read the instructions before using the machine”. In your handy manual will find information on safety instructions and key parts of the machine. Some manuals even give helpful tips on how to create different stitch patterns and hemming techniques. There’s usually a troubleshooting guide in the back of most manuals that will help you correct problems that may occur. Always refer to this guide before having your machine serviced. Chances are you may be able to troubleshoot and correct most issues on your own without spending lots of money on repairs. If you misplace your manual don’t worry. Depending on the make and model, you may be able to find a downloadable copy on the manufacturer’s website.
Key parts to maintain:
Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to read the instructions specifically for your machine before attempting to clean it. For example, cleaning a more traditional household machine may differ from that of a modern computerized machine. Cleaning a top-loading bobbin case can be a little different than cleaning a front-loading bobbin case. It all depends on your make and model. Dust from fabric fibers tends to get everywhere when you sew. When cleaning, I like to focus on the areas where debris from thread and fabric can easily build-up and potentially cause an issue. Cleaning the following common areas at least once a month should help keep things running smoothly:
- Needle shaft
- Feed dogs
- Hook/bobbin area
- Under needle plate
- Light surface cleaning
Oil and Lubrication:
Now, when it comes to oil and lubrication, all machines will need it eventually. I know there are plenty of seamstresses who collect and still love to sew on vintage sewing machines. I myself had a vintage industrial Singer and it required lots of maintenance. Some machines will absolutely let you know when they need oil. A soft humming sound is normal, but when it gets noisy or shakes, this can be a sign of something serious. Older machines also, usually have small oiling holes in various parts of the machine to show you exactly where it needs to go. That being said, most newer machines and computerized models are self-lubricating. They can be serviced with oil by a professional during yearly maintenance tune-ups. I suggest ONLY applying oil to your machine if necessary and if your manual instructs how to do so.
How to clean the key parts of your machine:
(Have a small dish or bowl nearby to hold the parts as you remove them, and please remember where everything goes- taking a photo could be helpful.)
What you’ll need: Small lint brush, tweezers, a scrap of muslin, small dish or bowl, and dry cloth. (Oil if required)
- First things first! Please make sure you unplug and disconnect the power cord from the wall socket to avoid shock or serious injury.
- Remove any thread, needle, accessories or attachments from your machine
- Remove the needle plate cover and bobbin to clean the hook. Use a brush to lift away the debris and dust.
- Remove the needle plate and use a brush to clear away debris from the bobbin holder, feed dogs, and bobbin case.
- Remove the bobbin case and clean underneath. Remove lint by lifting it away with the lint brush.
- Apply 1 drop of oil (clear white mineral oil only) to the center wick or center post and use a scrap piece of muslin to dab away excess oil. Turn the handwheel a few times to distribute the oil evenly.
When to have your machine serviced:
For a deeper clean, you may want to visit your local sewing repair shop where you can get services such as oil, tune-ups, and replacement parts. I would recommend that you have your machine professionally cleaned and serviced at least once a year. It’s like having a yearly physical. Preventative maintenance is the best way to care for your machine.