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You Asked 4 It: Care & Feeding of Your Sewing Machine

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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

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  • 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.

Optional:

  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • Brush, vacuum or use your canned air to blow the lint collected in the race area and under the feed dogs.
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  • Reassemble the race.
  • Clean the exterior of the machine with your cloth.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.

Good Practices

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.

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Comments (22)

still baffled... said:
still baffled...'s picture
I know you said check your manual...but I noticed the small comment about oiling the machine...where exactly does the oil go? I am fairly certain to my knowledge it goes somewhere around the bobbin holder (case?) or whatever it is called...but how much of the machine oil (I did get sewing machine oil)...but I "youtubed" it & looked around to see someone actually use it...no luck. Could you elaborate a bit more on how to oil your machine? - Thank you for all you do! God bless & Merry Christmas!
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ still baffled... I'm sorry, but I'm still going to have to send you back to your manual. There's really no way for me to advise accurately from a distance. This article is designed to give you a handy list of the the things you should check on a regular basis, but can't go into specifics of various models. As we mentioned above, oiling the machine has to be done only as shown in the manual - and your machine might not even require it if it is a newer model. If there isn't anything in your manual about it, I would recommend taking the machine into your local dealer. Sorry I couldn't be of more help, but I'd be afraid to give you the wrong advice for your machine... I'm not repairman, that's for sure! smilies/cheesy.gif
bluedeva said:
bluedeva's picture
You should also make sure to run a slightly thicker piece of cotton thread all the way through the tension disks back and forth but make sure you presser foot is raised and this will remove the lint perfectly.
Also when you have cleaned and oiled your machine make sure to leave an offcut or remennant under the presser foot to soak up any oil that it left behind.
I'm a bit obsessed with my machines and give them clean and oil every time i finished using it. Then i know when i need to start something new i won't have an oily stain left on the fabric and the machine is ready to go!
Hope this helps
smilies/wink.gif
Mary Comerford said:
Mary Comerford's picture
I will add that I keep my machine in its case and covered when not in use and I wipe it down and open it and brush it out pretty often - and we do pay someone about $30 every year to professionally clean it and oil it. My machine is a Kenmore that was bought in 1970 - it belonged to my friend's mother. The man who oils it for us says it was one of the best machines ever made and he sees them all the time because people who use them take really good care of them.
Lois Helen said:
Lois Helen's picture
I may have missed it, but you didn't say to change the needle. This frequently is the reason machines aren't sewing well. About every 8 hours of sewing, one needs to change the needle. One also should make sure the correct needle is being used for the type of fabric being sewn on. Also, canned air is a big no-no as it blows the lint and dirt right back into the machine.
maggie cooper said:
maggie cooper's picture
Don't forget your tension discs, build up of lint in those can prevent them working properly, raise your presser foot to disengage them, and simply run dental floss through your thread channel a few times.
janet Thayer said:
janet Thayer's picture
I believe in two things, Clean your machine often and have your scissors sharpened frequently.
Chesapeake Jane said:
Chesapeake Jane's picture
Sally's beauty supply sells highlight brushes that work great on cleaning your machine. I keep a supply of the disposal mascara brushes, they are small and perfect to keep with your sewing supplies for cleaning. I love sharing them with those who don't know about cleaning the bobbin case after every 2-3 bobbin changes.
ZoeB said:
ZoeB's picture
I have been a bad bad girl for not cleaning my machine but now I realize the importance of it and this tutorial was super helpful. Thank you!!
Itsewnicestwin said:
Itsewnicestwin's picture
Just looking at these photos reminds me how much I love my Janomes and the ease of cleaning them and changing the bobbin. I recently moved and still need to get my machines from my old place. Like Jean, I am fairly obsessed with cleaning the machine AND never ever underestimate the value of a new needle. Working with embroidery machines brought that to light for me.
alicia.thommas said:
alicia.thommas's picture
B Schneider - The round camel hair brush sounds like a great idea to me. I'm going to try that!
B Schneider said:
B Schneider's picture
Camel hair artist brush grabs the lint extremly well. Purchase one with long bristles and rounded. (Not trimmed straight across like a house paint brush). The lint clings to the bristles for easy lint picking in those dark spaces under the bobbin case area. Purchase a good one, NOT a "kids cheaper by the dozen" kind.
veryterry said:
veryterry's picture
Thank you! Instructions often refer to the race, without explaining what or where it is. I have no desire to try to disassemble anything - just want to understand my machine better. Thanks again. smilies/cheesy.gif
alicia.thommas said:
alicia.thommas's picture
Hi veryterry. Look at the third photo from the bottom, It shows the inside of the hook race assembly. The bobbin case sits in the race. The race hook catches the bobbin thread to form a stitch. We would not recommend trying to disassemble any part of the race assembly. Instead, gently brush and vacuum out lint. All machines do better with an annual professional inspection and cleaning.
veryterry said:
veryterry's picture
What exactly is the "race"? I'd love to see a picture with an arrow pointing to the exact place. Guess I don't really understand what the race and its purpose are. Thanks!
Pat Whittle said:
Pat Whittle's picture
A pipe cleaner works wonderful. It does go places that nothing else can reach. They are cheap also.
Christina P said:
Christina P's picture
I've heard the same thing about canned air that AprilRain has. It seems that unless you are the professional servicing the machine, then you can't take the machine apart enough to be sure you're blowing lint out and not in.
Kathleen Martin-Brown said:
Kathleen Martin-Brown's picture
I am so bad about maintenance on anything! This is a great tutorial/post! Thanks! I will try to be better... I promise! smilies/grin.gif
AprilRain said:
AprilRain's picture
I have heard many warnings from techs on various machines to NOT use canned air; not for reasons of introducing moisture, but because of the risk of pushing lint and dust in even further into the machine's recesses and workings. Don't know how true this is, but am afraid to try it regardless. smilies/shocked.gif
CarolC said:
CarolC's picture
I too try to clean my machine on a regular basis but I've found that a pipe cleaner is so much easier to get the lint out rather than that brush that comes with your machine. You wouldn't believe the places you can get to. The lint just sticks right to it and it's alot cheaper than canned air.
Jean Creates said:
Jean Creates's picture
I'm obsessive about keeping my machine clean. It gets a thorough going-over after each project. And sometimes in between tasks during the same project. And there's nothing better than a shiny new needle!

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