Cleaning and maintaining your sewing machine is often a task many stitchers overlook – but if you look after it, clean it often and get it serviced regularly then it will stitch better and last longer.
Keep it covered
The simplest thing you can do for your machine is to keep it covered when you’re not using it. This prevents dust, lint, dirt and pet hair from getting into the tiny workings of your machine. Most machines come with a cover, either soft or hard but if you don’t have one, you can make your own from fabric.
When to clean
Ideally you should clean your machine after every few sewing projects – especially if you have been sewing with fluffy fabrics. The main problem is lint which is the short, fine fibres that come off fabric whilst working with it. This attracts dust then gets stuck in your machine, so it doesn’t work as efficiently and causes real long-term damage. Some manufacturers recommend cleaning after ten hours of sewing but try to get into the habit of doing it regularly after a few projects and it won’t take long at all.
When to oil
Many machines, particularly the newer ones, are self-lubricating and do not need to be oiled at all. If your machine does need oiling then your manual will tell you how. Always use approved sewing machine oil and nothing else.
When to change your needle
A bent or blunted needle can result in skipped stitches, broken or looped threads, runs or pulls in your fabric or damage to your machine. You should change your needle after about every eight hours of sewing and always use one to suit your fabric type.
Always use the bobbin your manufacturers recommend for your machine. It’s best not to wind a new thread over an existing one as this creates extra tails that can jam your machine. If you have a low bobbin sensor then this won’t work if you have more than one thread colour on your bobbin.
When to get it serviced
You should have your machine serviced once a year by a recommended sewing machine technician. They will check and adjust the tension and timing as well as cleaning areas of the machine that you cannot reach without taking the machine completely apart and replace anything if necessary. This should keep your machine running smoothly but if you have any problems with it, then get it checked by them too.
Most sewing machine manuals will give you a list of troubleshooting tips but if your machine isn’t operating properly then try these three things first:
Take the top thread out and remove the bobbin. Now re-thread the machine completely.
Replace the needle with a new one making sure it’s the correct type for your fabric and thread and make sure it’s screwed in tightly.
Clean your machine following our guide below.
If none of these work then you need to take it to a sewing machine repair shop – don’t try to fix it yourself!
How to clean your machine
Gather your manual and tools
To start off you need your manual and tools. If you can’t find your manual or never had one then phone a sewing machine dealer near you who stocks your make of machine as they may be able to help or search the internet. Many manuals are often available to download for free.
Cleaning tools such as a small lint brush, screwdriver and oil come with your machine which are perfect for the job. You can also buy brushes from sewing machine shops or even a quality paint brush will do the job. A pair of tweezers are also useful and a couple of clean cotton buds. Don’t blow the lint out as your breath contains moisture which can corrode the parts.
Cleaning the bobbin area
First, turn off and unplug your machine for safety whilst you clean then remove the needle and the foot. Follow your instruction manual to remove the presser foot and needle plate then lower the feed teeth if your machine has this option. Use a screwdriver or whatever special little tool came with your machine to remove the screw that holds the needle plate in place or lever it off.
Clean the feed teeth with the brush and using an old needle, remove the lint inside the feed channels. Using tweezers, carefully remove any balls of dust and lint but take care here so you don’t push them further into the machine but remove them completely. Gently wipe over these areas to remove any residual dirt using a cotton bud.
Cleaning under the bobbin area
Now remove the bobbin case holder but take a quick photo of it before you do, if possible. This will help you put it back in properly when you’ve finished. Your manual should tell you how to replace it but a photo helps. Now remove all the dust and lint balls with tweezers and brush the whole area especially around the hook race which is the metal hook that catches the thread. Move the hand wheel around slowly in order to clean all the way around.
Cleaning the thread tension disks
Dust, lint and pieces of broken thread often stick between the tension discs. This can cause a gap between the discs so not enough pressure is put on the thread resulting in thread loops underneath. To clean them, raise the 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. This will remove any lint residue. Many sewing machine problems are related to the thread tension. The upper tension determines the under stitch and the bobbin (bottom) tension determines the upper stitch so if one of these is incorrect then cleaning the discs and bobbin will often solve any tension issues.
Reassemble your machine
Now it’s time to look at your photo or manual to put everything back in the right place. Replace the bobbin case first, carefully lining up the case as before. If you have difficulties correctly placing the bobbin case, gently turn the hand wheel back and forth, until you find the right place.
Slide on your stitch plate (also called a needle or throat plate) and replace the screws (if your machine has them, some just clip back in place.) Put the presser foot back on then insert a new needle making sure you put it in the right way. The needle will have a flat side and a rounded side and your manual will tell you which way this needs to face. Once the needle is inserted correctly and pushed up into the needle clamp as far as it will go, tighten the thumb screw firmly but only with a screwdriver if your manual tells you to!
Clean the outside of the machine
Once everything is back together, wipe down the surface of your machine. Use a soft cloth to remove any dust, lint or threads. You can use a slightly damp cloth to wipe over the surface but take care not to over wet it or get any water near the moving parts. Make sure you squeeze it out firmly before wiping down the surfaces. Now wipe over it again using a dry cloth for a final polish. Try to get into the habit of giving your machine a quick wipe over after each project then it will be all ready and clean for the next time you stitch. Put your cover back on to keep it dust free too.