Here's another response to the questions and comments received in our You Asked 4 It survey: "What is the best way to keep my machine running smoothly?" The most common culprit in poor machine performance is usually lint, which is 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. A clean machine is also a quiet machine.
Our You Asked 4 It survey article is still live on the site, and we still check for new comments. Please leave your idea if you haven't already.
Sewing Machine Maintenance
How often to clean your machine depends on how often you use it. Take a peek inside the bobbin case. If you see lint beginning to accumulate, it's time to do some maintenance.
Anytime you experience trouble with your machine, try cleaning it. Many 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 the problem.
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, find your model and see if you can download a copy of the manual. If not, 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
- Your instruction manual.
- Most machines come with a lint brush. If you don't have one, you can buy one at most fabric stores or from your dealer. A small, clean makeup brush will do in a pinch.
- Be sure you have a stock of new needles on hand. You should replace the needle each time you maintain your machine. You should also start each new project with a new needle.
- A soft cloth – muslin is a good choice.
- 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.
- 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 inches away. Spray at an angle to the parts you are cleaning and 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.
Give Lint the Brush Off
- Unplug your machine.
- 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 right on machines with side-loading bobbins.
- Follow your instruction manual to remove the presser foot, needle plate, bobbin and bobbin case. Use your lint brush, canned air, or vacuum to remove lint and and gunk from each of those pieces (see notes above).
- Your manual may 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 clear how to put it back together. If this is not clear, skip this step. In most instances, this is a task best left to your dealer.
- Brush, vacuum or use your canned air to blow the lint collected in the race area and under the feed dogs.
- Reassemble the race.
- Clean the exterior of the machine with your cloth.
- Plug in your machine, and turn it on. Try running it without the needle, needle plate, presser foot, bobbin, or bobbin case to be sure it is working smoothly.
- Now, turn off the machine once again.
- Replace the bobbin case, bobbin, needle plate, and presser foot.
- 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.
Many newer machines DO NOT require lubrication. Refer to your manual.
It takes only a few extra minutes to keep your machine running like a champ.
- 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. You can buy an inexpensive plastic cover at most larger fabric stores. Or you can turn to our pretty sewing machine cover tutorial.
- Don't keep your machine in a dusty area – the kitty litter box should reside elsewhere.
- Brush lint and dust from the machine each time it is used.
- Change needles often. A bent or dull needle will not only damage your fabric, but your machine as well.
- 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.
- 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.