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How To Clean Your Sewing Machine For Better Sewing & Fewer Repairs

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What's the number one thing you can do to keep your sewing machine running smoothly? Clean out the lint. It's an unavoidable by-product of sewing. The more you sew, the more lint sifts into the guts of your machine. A little regular cleaning will keep your machine running smoothly. And a clean machine is also a quiet machine. Not only will periodic "care and feeding" help your machine to run better, it can also save you money in major repairs. Our thanks to Janome America for taking us through the important steps of regular maintenance you can do yourself in between trips to your dealer for more thorough cleaning and service.

How often to clean your machine depends on how often you use it. Janome most often recommends cleaning a machine after at least every 10 hours of use. But more often is fine. Take a peek inside the bobbin case. If you see lint beginning to accumulate, it's time to do some maintenance. Many quilters swear by the rule of cleaning the bobbin case after every two to three bobbin changes.

Any time you experience trouble with your machine, try cleaning it. It's part of the Janome "testing trio" of things to try when there's an issue; 1) re-thread the needle and bobbin, 2) insert a new needle appropriate to the project, 3) clean the machine. 

Quite a few problems are caused by an accumulation of dust, lint or thread bits on the working parts of the machine. After cleaning your machine, if it still is not working smoothly, have your machine checked by your local dealer. Continuing to sew when your machine is not functioning correctly can worsen a problem.

In the photos below, we're using the Janome Horizon Memory Craft 15000, proving that all machines, from entry-level to top-of-the-line, need attention on a regular basis. We appreciate the time and patience of the staff at Paramount Sewing & Vacuum in Eugene, Oregon for being our photo shoot location. You guys are great!

First things first: find your instruction manual

Your sewing machine's instruction manual is the best reference for your machine. You need it in order to properly maintain your specific machine. If you don't have one for your make and model, go to the manufacturer's website. Janome America offers a handy, all-in-one page where you can search for your model and download a copy of the manual. If you are unable to find anything online, contact the manufacturer and request one. Provide the machine name, model and serial number if possible. Your local dealer may also be able to help you.

Gather your tools

Standard items:

  1. Your instruction manual.
  2. Lint brush. Most machines come with a lint brush. If you don't have one, you can buy one at a fabric store or from your dealer. A small, clean makeup brush will do in a pinch.
  3. Needles. Be sure you have a stock of new needles on hand. You should replace the needle each time you maintain your machine. We also recommend starting each new project with a new needle.
  4. A soft cloth – muslin is a good choice.

Optional items:

  1. Small-scale vacuum attachments are helpful in pulling lint out of hiding spots. You can buy them online or where vacuums are sold. The same attachment can be used to clean your computer keyboard.
  2. Some people prefer to use canned air because it really blows the lint out. Canned air, however, can introduce moisture into your machine's interior. To avoid this, hold the nozzle at least 4" away. Spray so the air is at an angle to the parts you are cleaning, and always blow lint OUT of the machine rather than into it. Never use your breath to blow lint from inside your machine. Your breath contains moisture that can, over time, cause corrosion (this is also true of many politicians).
  3. Another alternative to a lint brush is a camel hair artist's brush with long bristles that are rounded at the end – not trimmed straight across. The lint clings to the bristles for easy lint pick-up in those dark spaces under the bobbin case. Purchase a quality brush, not the cheap kind that come with children's painting supplies.  
  4. We've also heard of people who use tiny disposal mascara brushes, as well as pipe cleaners as their favorite cleaning tools.

Give lint the brush off

  1. Unplug your machine.
  2. Remove and discard the needle, noting the direction of flat side of the needle. Usually the flat side faces the back of the machine, however, the flat side is likely to face to the right on machines with side-loading bobbins.
  3. Follow your instruction manual to remove the presser foot and needle plate... 
  4. the bobbin...
  5. and the bobbin case.
  6. Use your lint brush, canned air, or vacuum to remove lint and and gunk from each of these pieces (see notes above about cautions and alternatives).
  7. Your manual may also show how to remove the "race area" (where the bobbin case sits). If so, look carefully at it, because once it's off, you'll want to be sure it's very clear how to put it back together. If this is not 100% clear, skip this step. In most instances, race cleaning is a task best left to your dealer. We did not remove the race from our Janome MC15000. But, there was a ring magnet at the bottom of the bobbin race, which we did lift out to clean underneath.
  8. Start by brushing the lint out of the feed dogs. 
  9. Then brush, vacuum or use your canned air to blow the lint collected in the race area and under the feed dogs. When using canned air, make sure you don't blow the lint farther into the machine. Blow back-to-front and right-to-left.
  10. Reassemble the race (if you took it apart).
  11. If your machine has a side cover, open that to clean out the thread path. If it doesn't have a side cover, blow air down through the thread paths. This will clean out the tension disks.
  12. Another popular method to clean the tension discs is to raise your presser foot to disengage the discs, then run a length of thick cotton thread or dental floss back and forth through the thread channel a few times. 
  13. Clean the exterior of the machine with a soft cloth. 
  14. Plug in your machine, and turn it on. Try running it without the needle, needle plate, presser foot, bobbin, or bobbin case for just a few seconds to be sure it is working smoothly.
  15. Turn off the machine once again.
  16. Replace the bobbin case (carefully lining up the case as directed in your manual), bobbin, needle plate, and presser foot. 
  17. Insert a new needle. Be sure the flat side is facing correctly.

To lubricate or not to lubricate

Once your machine is lint free, you can lubricate it with the clear oil recommended in your owner's manual. Do not use any other type of oil. Don't use WD-40 or other household oil.

Some newer machines DO NOT require lubrication at all. Refer to your manual.

If you have lubricated your machine with oil, when you're finished, leave a fabric remnant under the presser foot to soak up any oil left behind. Then, when you start your next project, there's no danger of an oily stain getting left behind on your new fabric with the first few stitches. 

Other good maintenance practices

It takes only a few extra minutes to keep your machine running like a champ.

  1. Dust, lint and pet hair quickly work their way into a machine that is left uncovered. Protect your machine between sewing projects by covering it or putting it inside a sewing cabinet or machine case. We have four pretty sewing machine cover tutorials:
    Straight cover
    Pom pom cover
    Skirted cover
    Renaissance Ribbons Pinafore cover
  2. Don't keep your machine in a dusty area – the kitty litter box should reside elsewhere.
  3. Brush lint and dust from the machine each time it is used.
  4. Change needles often. A bent or dull needle will not only damage your fabric, but your machine as well.
  5. Be sure your hands are clean before using your sewing machine. A little peanut butter can make a big mess of your fabric and your machine. Don't ask me how I know that.
  6. Have an authorized dealer do basic maintenance on your machine at least every two years, including cleaning, oiling, adjusting tension and a general test of working parts. Also have them stitch out a straight and zigzag seam to confirm tension.

Our thanks again to Janome America for helping us give you the information you need to keep your sewing machine running at its best. For more about Janome machines, accessories and projects, visit them online or follow them on Facebook and Pinterest


Comments (37)

Tinsel said:
Tinsel's picture

Hi there, I struggle getting the bottom cover of my Singer Sewing machine. Its a 2818c.... 

Its the cover where the feet are attached to with a an air grid to keep the motor cool. I could remove the screw in the middle, but its not moving. 

Any advise would be very much appreciated. 

Many thanks, 


Tinsel said:
Tinsel's picture

I figured it out, the rubber feet had to be removed, but I was a bit scared I would break them.... now next step

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Tinsel - So sorry, but we are not familiar with the Singer models. You might want to take it to your local dealer for help. 

Joyce Wong said:
Joyce Wong's picture

I have a Janome memory craft 4800 machine.

I find the top thread seems to periodically bunch up the upper thread on the fabric.

How do I tighten the upper thread tension?

Rafael Coddington said:
Rafael Coddington's picture

I know how to clean my sewing machine. I have a maintenance issue.  I wound my bobbin one evening and was done sewing for the night.  My daughter used my machine the next morning and when I went to get back to work on my project later in the day, I had to rewind bobbin again.  My problem is the wheel that stops the needle from working while bobbin winding won't unloosen.  How do I get that done?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@Rafael - If it won't loosen as it normally does, it sounds like a trip to your local dealer may be in order.

mary g said:
mary g's picture

what is wrong with my machine when the top stitching  has perfect stitches and the

bottom has perfectstitches but is puckered?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ mary g - We can't really troubleshoot machine issues long distance, but yours does sound like a tension problem of some sort. We'd recommend taking it to your local dealer for a check-up. 

Jo Maule said:
Jo Maule 's picture

Hi,  You have been very helpful. Just 1 query...

Do you lubricate / oil Janome MC 15000? There is no mention in the Janome manual or videos to show how. 

Please help.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jo - As we mention above, many of the newer machines do not require lubricating. In the case of the 15000, because it is such a high-end, precision machine, just basic cleaning to keep it dust-free is best. If you feel there is an issue with its performance, you should contact your local dealer. 

Rebekah Dale said:
Rebekah Dale's picture

I know how to clean my machine. I have a maintenance issue.  I wound my bobbin one evening and was done sewing for the night.  My daughter used my machine the next morning and when I went to get back to work on my project later in the day, I had to rewind bobbin again.  My problem is the wheel that stops the needle from working while bobbin winding won't unloosen.  How do I get that done?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Rebekah - It sounds as if your daughter simply tightened it extra tight. Sounds like a job for brute strength. Or... a trip to your local dealer. 

Jack S. said:
Jack S.'s picture

I cleaned my machine today and found my "foot plate'? loose. It must have loosened up while in use as I have been hearing small taps occasionally. Hope I tightened it enough without making it too tight.. Thanks for remainding me to clean it. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Jack S. Good for you for keeping your machine clean! It can make such a difference. 

Yuleima Malone said:
Yuleima Malone's picture

  My   sew  machine  Viking is  1983  so   whe  i  bougth in California in   garage sale    don't  bring  a  MANUAL  yesterday  i  drop  to  the place for cleaning i didn't know how long is    now  i just to  wait  for  1 week.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Yuleima Malone - we are not ver familiar with the Viking products, but it was a good idea to take such a old machine to a dealer for a good cleaning and tune up. They will be able to do the best job. 

LisaD said:
LisaD's picture

I just found your cleaning instructions after having issues with my wonderful Janome 8200.I thought I had cleaned it thoroughly a few days ago and today it started breaking the bobbin thread. after changing tht bobbin and the needl,minei thee of which helped,  I looked more carefully for lint and found some around the bobbin. Smooth sewing after that. Thanks so much. I am always amazed at the generosity of crafters. I have learned so much through the Internet!

Cheryl Hilliker said:
Cheryl Hilliker's picture

 Thank you for the tutorial on cleaning.  It is most helpful for the details in addition to the information in my machine handbook. I believe the tutorial is even beter than the handbook, I have a Janome 2160DC purchased in 2010. Can't believe it is already 5 years old. I make quilts with it and normal repairs to clothing and hemming jeans and slacks. I carry it to classes and also on sewing retreats. 

Alexa-asimplelife said:
Alexa-asimplelife's picture

When I was an apprentice at a fashion Knit wear place we had to service our machines every Friday. The over lockers, industrial sewing machines which went so much faster than any regular sewing machine, the blind hemmers and the Linker machine. It was my favourite time of the week being able to make those machines run smoothly free of accumulated fluff.


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Alexa-asimplelife - thanks for sharing your experiences. You REALLY know the importance of keeping things in top-knotch condition.

Alexa-asimplelife said:
Alexa-asimplelife's picture

Great tutorial showing that it is important like with any tool to take care of it carefully . My machine has red dots everywhere I need to put the drops of oil to lubricate, even where I lift the plates off the top and the arm. It's a great reminder...I can imagine on the assembly line one person having that job of putting those dots on. Those very important dots :)My Bernina Record was my mothers and when she bought a new one I bought her old one. She soon wished that she had not passed it on to me. The machine is now about 57 years old and un fortunately I don't need to sew very much now except for mending. It has served me well. Making and repairing sheets, curtains for our various homes, bedspreads, clothes, mending towels and trousers. Bridesmaid and wedding dress and so the list goes. A life of memorieS

Alexa-asimplelife blogging from Sydney, Australia

GG-Shirley said:
GG-Shirley's picture

I'm an old lady who started sewing over 60 years ago and have worn out 2 sewing machines and currently I still have a Kenmore right I bought about 1980.  It's still humming right along even though its been through a LOT of fabrics (including teaching sewing to others).  As we both grow older I suspect my Kenmore is seeing who can last the longer... that wonderful machine or me!! Which ever way it goes, we had a great life (and a busy one too) and its a joy to just think of the hours I spent for sewing for all us (I even made coveralls for my husband and sewed leather around the bottom of his pants.)  The idea was to keep them from catching fire while he was working as a Welder while keeping him warm too. May all of you younger ones have the joy of sewing for your loved ones too!!

FH-Lynn said:
FH-Lynn's picture

Hi GG-Shirley!  I still have, and sew on, the first Kenmore that my parents bought me 40 years ago.  I also have an old 1948 Kenmore with a friction drive, in a blond cabinet, that I still occasionally sew on.  Over the years I have taught several people to sew on these Kenmores, while my primary machines have been Singer, Bernina, and now Elna, I am still happy with my old workhorse that I am sure will outlive me and will serve my daughters for many years more.  Keep 'em clean and they will sew for a long time!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ GG-Shirley - thanks for the inspiring message to us all. May you have many, many more years to enjoy your love of sewing.

Linda B said:
Linda B's picture

I go to quilting retreats and sew on Saturdays at a local church with about a dozen women. My Janome never has a problem but all the Bernina's and Hsquvarnas are always breaking needles and have problems with the tension and bobbins. I have a 12year old 4800 QC and love it! 

Nancyjc said:
Nancyjc's picture

I have a Janome Combi 10 which I have used and loved for 30 years.  I've never had to have it serviced and it works like a charm still!  I have always made sure I cleaned and lubricated it regularly.  I really think that aside from being a fabulously well made machine, regular maintenance has kept my baby running for me.

jsm1144 said:
jsm1144's picture

Please note that canned air does not have moisture-the propellent may be liquid if you spray it too quickly but it evaporates quickly and there is no water in it at all.  Also, the bobbin area is a closed chamber and spraying into it won't push things farther into the machine, everything comes back out because it has no where else to go!!

naushin said:
naushin's picture

Thanks a lot

I use  Usha Janome since nine long years.

It runs like fingers in butter...

Thanks again for instructions.

Mandi P said:
Mandi P's picture

Thanks for the tips. I have a Singer from 1982 --- I'm just 2 years older than my sewing machine. I try to take care of it, and I want it to last a long time. When I was in my aunt's wedding in 1986, she made my flower-girl dress with this machine. In 2000, she took this 1982 machine in for repairs and bought a new one. That's when I "inherited" this one - I love it! However, the closest Singer machine repairer is more than 200 miles from my home. :( 

eenieb said:
eenieb's picture

Thanks for the great refresher on cleaning. I love my Janome and it always lets me know when to clean it. I don't change needles often enough so now that I know I should  I will. Thanks and happy sewing.

wekebu said:
wekebu's picture

Thank you so much for these instructions (loved the politicians joke too).

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ wekebu -  I'm so glad someone actually reads all the way through to the jokes !!

nancyingeorgetown said:
nancyingeorgetown's picture

My Janome Combi 10 is 33 years old and still running like a champion.  I have always taken good care of it.  It usually lets me know when it's time for a cleaning as it will start to get a wee bit noisy.  That's when I know it wants a cleaning and an oiling.  I love it and won't part with it until I absolutely have to and up to now, it's not given me a reason to do so. I'm probably Janome's biggest fan!

norskie3 said:
norskie3's picture

Thank you for this tutorial.  My Janome is just now 2 years old.  I have been keeping it clean, but not as often as I should according to the suggested amount.  Also, learning not to blow into the machine is very helpful.  I did not know that I could harm anything by doing so.  I will not blow into it again!!!!  The side cleaning part of the lesson is good to know, too.   I love my machine and want it to last a long time.  Your help with this is most appreciated.

Jane Coombs said:
Jane Coombs's picture

I have a foot in two centuries machine wise. A Babylock Evolution serger and a 1955 Elna Supermatic. For the Elna I joined a yahoo support group. Recently a sewing repair person remarked that 90% of machine problems can be solved by a thorough cleaning! For the Elna I recently found a video on how to oil it. There were three holes that had eluded me. I could see them in the manual but not in the machine. The Evolution falls into the no oil category. I bought a set of attachments for my vacuum to pick up the debris, if necessary.

tega said:
tega's picture

Where did you find the video on how to oil your elna sewing machine?

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