Lean Machine: Do’s and Don’ts of Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

The nicer you are to your sewing machine, the better it will behave. This goes to the fabric you use, the thread you sew with, and of course, how often you clean it out. Read on for some dos and don’ts when giving your machine a good cleaning!

how to clean your sewing machine

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sewing machine manuals

Do: Read your manual

I don’t know about you, but my sewing machine is a precious family member, so the last thing I want to do is to take it apart incorrectly, clean it wrong, or do something irreparable! Seriously, that gives me shivers just thinking about it! So, the best place to get all the correct information on how to take your machine apart and clean it properly is in your manual.

But what if you do not have your manual, you ask? Easy! Call a dealer near you that specializes in your brand of machine and see if they can order you one. Or, check the internet! I found a glorious 1960’s Bernina at Goodwill for $19.99 many years ago, and wanted to find the manual for it. I searched for the make and model of the machine and found a PDF download of the original manual for $5.00. Best money I’ve ever spent!


Do: Brush the machine out regularly

Most machines come with a small plastic brush to be used in cleaning out all the lint and dust left in the easy-to-reach spots of your sewing machine. I like these just fine, but they do not compare in the slightest to this fancy pink one I have, pictured above. It is large and cleans out all the lint in one quick brush, unlike the little ones that come with the machine.

This was a gift from one of my favorite students, and it is ideal for cleaning out your machine. It is a simple anti-static brush meant for computers found locally at a Los Angeles store, Daiso. But these can be found in a lot of shops that carry computer items. Check your local office supply store to see if they have something similar.

Don’t: Use canned air or blow into your machine

A common thought is to use canned air to blow out all the lint and dust from your sewing machine. But this is a bad idea, as when it is pushed out from the can, there is cold moisture pushed out with it, leaving small particles of moisture on the metal parts of your machine. And if we know one thing from science class, moisture does some pretty bad things to metal.

Same is true for your breath! It is a natural instinct to blow the dust away from your machine, but your breath is full of moisture, making the parts of your machine damp. I know this seems minor, but I plan to have my current machine until I die, so I want to be very kind to it!

manual oiling chart

Do: Oil the machine as written in your manual

When I oil and lubricate my machine, I do it exactly as it is written in my manual. I follow each and every step, one by one, following all of their tips and techniques, being careful to do precisely as it says. Most machines will come with very detailed instructions on how to oil your machine, and you can trust that their instruction is not arbitrary. So follow along closely and pay attention to what you are doing along the way.

Don’t: Oil the machine if it tells you not to

All of that above being said, some machines are self-lubricating and do not need to be oiled by the user. So if the manual tells you NOT to oil your machine, trust them and do not do it yourself. I would consult with your local dealer to confirm how often it should be cleaned and serviced, as it will require maintenance even if it says that it is not to be oiled at home.

sewing machine oil

Don’t: Over oil

The instinct is to lube your machine up a ton so everything is moving smoothly and gliding really well, but over oiling can lead to a serious mess. Ask me how I know! Yep, once I absolutely over oiled my machine.

A good rule of thumb: Oil a tiny bit, see how it feels, and you can always oil some more. If you do find yourself with a bit too much oil, run some muslin or scrap fabric through the machine for a bit, then wipe everything down on the exterior of the machine with a damp soapy towel. Let it sit so the oil can collect, and do it again. You might have to do this a number of times over a few days until the excess oil has worked itself out of the machine, so be patient and do not sew anything delicate as it will get oil on it!

Do: Only take small areas apart at a time

When following along with your manual, only do small areas at a time. Follow the steps to disassemble, clean, brush out, and lubricate one area, then put that area all back together and move onto the next part of the machine. It can get very confusing really quickly if you have a bunch of screws and machine parts all over your sewing table, unsure of where they go. You absolutely want to put it all back just the same way you found it, so move around the machine a little at a time so you do not end up with a bunch of parts unsure of where they belong!

Do: Wipe the machine with a rag often

After each project is a perfect time to give your machine a little TLC. Take a moment to wipe it down with a damp towel, removing any dust, lint, and anything else that might have gotten on it along the way. It will make sitting down for your next project all that much more fun, since you will be starting with a clean and happy machine!


Don’t: Work on your machine plugged in

This is absolute basic common sense, but it always bears repeating! Do not ever work on your machine with it plugged into the wall! Nothing good can come from messing inside an electrical tool with it plugged in, so first things first, always unplug the machine before you get started. Safety first!

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