Quilting Trivia: Tidbits About Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

How often do you clean and oil your sewing machines? If you are like me, probably not as often as you should! Having just completed another flannel quilt, however, I simply have to get in there and clear out the copious supply of dust balls and gunk that have built up. There are some little squeaks and whines that are telling me it is time to feed a few droplets of oil to key sections as well.

Cleaning Your Sewing MachineI do the bulk of my sewing on my mother’s wonderful old Singer 301A, the big brother to a featherweight. I learned to sew on this machine. When I inherited it, I realized that Mom had every attachment for zigzags and buttonholes and piping and more, and they are a lot of fun. I call the machine Old Faithful, because it rarely balks. But it deserves more primping and preening than I have been giving it lately. And my serger is skipping a bit, so I suspect it needs some tender loving cleaning as well.

Like many of you, I have other machines, with computerized functions and fun bells and whistles. I use them too, and think that I will clean them all, just for good measure. Just as automobiles have added layers of electronics, making it harder to service them yourself, these newer machines can sometimes be trickier to maintain. Lint Balls do not belong in your sewing machineSmall repairs, things that I find to be very straightforward on my older machine, I usually send off to my trusty repair person. But cleaning and oiling is a simple thing, and can even prevent bigger troubles down the road.  Even newer machines, which need minimal oiling, need to have the lint cleaned out on a regular basis.

If you haven’t cleaned your machines lately, take the time to do so soon.  Here are a few interesting tidbits I have learned about cleaning and oiling sewing machines:

  • The manual that came with your sewing machine will have instructions for how to oil your machine, as well as guidelines for how often.  Newer machines may have a DVD or VHS manual with a demonstration as well.
  • If you have a machine but no manual, you can probably download one.  Try the home page of the manufacturer, or check out SewingManuals.com.
  • If you do not have the little tools, brushes, and screwdrivers that came with your machine, there are cleaning kits in notion departments that should work.  Or you can use a tiny, stiff paint brush and any small screwdriver.
  • Most manufacturers recommend that you clean your machine after 8-10 hours of sewing.  If you are working with flannel, fleece, or doing machine quilting, this may not be often enough.
  • Unplug your machine before starting. Set your machine on a piece of cardboard or a pile of newspaper to protect your work surface from oil and scratching.
  • Clean off lint and grime before applying the oil.  Open the throat plate to clean the feed dogs.   If your machine style permits, tip your machine back, and remove the base to get to more concealed lint.
  • In the case of bobbin hooks, you can usually remove the bobbin and shuttle assembly, and wipe it off before oiling.
  • Have a tube of sewing machine oil or lubricant that you have been using forever? Toss it out and replace it.  It breaks down over time, and will not hold up to the friction as well.
  • If you see felt next to a working part inside your machine, check our manual Older machines have no felt parts inside; this is just a bunch of lint that has packed itself in for the long haul. A friend found out that her newer model, however, has a felt pad in the bobbin area, so check the manual.
  • Canned air can be useful, but be careful.  It can blow lint further in where you do not want it.  In most situations, you really do not need it as the brush will suffice.  But some machines, and most sergers, have spots that are really tricky to reach any other way.  If your manual says to use it, go for it. Most electronic machine manufacturers discourage its use, it sends the lint into teeny nooks and crannies. Using it sparingly will help the environment.
  • Clean and Oil Your Sewing Machine Bobbin Case AreaWhile cleaning out the dusty bits, drop the feed dogs, then raise them again to see if that action discloses or loosens more dust.
  • Sewing machine oil and sewing machine lubricant are NOT the same thing and can’t be used interchangeably.  Sewing machine oil is an ultra pure and very light oil, much thinner than standard household oil. It is used for everything you will be oiling, except the main motor gear, which required the thicker lubricant. In many machines, the motor gear is enclosed and can only be serviced by a technician.  (If you are brave and doing your own repairs, try to get a true repair manual, not just an owners manual.)
  • When applying oil, use the tiniest amount you can.  Multiple drips on a moving part will not increase its efficiency, but could leave you with oily stains on your sewing project.
  • If you happen to have a machine that requires sewing machine lubricant on the gear, also apply this sparingly. If you are unsure, do not lubricate it. Just pop a note on your machine the next time you send it in for adjusting, and ask the technician if you should be concerned about this.
  • Quilting Trivia, Tidbits About Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

    Time to clean the lint out of your machine!

    Many newer machines only require oil on the hook that feeds thread around the bobbin.
  • After cleaning, stitch for several minutes on some light-colored fabric scraps.  This will allow you to clearly see if any excess oil is coming off on the fabrics or threads.  The last thing you need are oil blots on that lovely quilt you are waiting to finish.

©2011, The Curious Quilter, thecuriousquilter.net, maryeoriginals.com.


About thecuriousquilter

Quilter, sewer, writer, gardener, mother, sister, friend, always learning, always curious.
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3 Responses to Quilting Trivia: Tidbits About Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

  1. Martin says:

    I confess, I clean the lint out pretty often, but I just take it in for service to get the oiling done. Probably not often enough, I guess I should at least oil the bobbin shuttle once in a while!

  2. A friend sent me these comments:

    “My Jenome 6500 has needed felt! I know a lady who pulled her felt out thinking it was dust and it ended up costing her a bundle in repairs.

    “A good item for getting into smaller crevices in your machine is a dental pick brush such as these, http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/dentakit_2151_3901894 I buy them at the dollar store. “

  3. Pam Gonzalez says:

    You’re so right about cleaning and oiling our machines. They’re work horses and deserve
    to be cared for. If you don’t take care of them they’ll sure let you know about it! Thanks for all the great info! Love reading your different articles! Thank you for taking the time to do this. Pam

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