spring cleaning for your sewing machine

11-brush-clean

I’ve learned from teaching workshops that many sewers are hesitant to give their bobbin cases a good cleaning as often as they should. It seems as if some are afraid to remove the parts necessary to give their machines a good cleaning and others simply forget.

So my partner in crime, Bill, and I have put together a series of tips and photos that should help you get started. While there are a lot of different machines out there, we trust that you will be able to extrapolate the information here and consult your manual to figure out the differences between the machine we photographed and your own. If you have questions, don’t be shy about asking your machine repair person to show you some maintenance tips. They want your machine to run well. If you have other tips, please post them in the comment section. We’ve left the photos large so you can see the parts easily.

If you get in the habit of cleaning and oiling your machine every time you change the bobbin, you won’t forget when you last cleaned and oiled it. At first it may seem like a lot of steps but once you get used to it, the whole process takes less than a minute.

Here’s our general cleaning routine:

First, remove the foot and the needle.

1-cleaning-start

2-remove-foot-and-needle

Then remove the throat plate.

3-remove-throat-plate

Remove the lint from the feed dogs and the area under the throat plate.

4-remove-fibers

Wipe it down with a soft cloth and replace the throat plate.

5-wipe-with-soft-cloth

Now direct your attention to the bobbin.

7-bobbin-area

Remove the bobbin and lift the lever to gain access to the bobbin hook and race. Clean each part as you go with a small brush.

9-access-bobbin-race

Remove the bobbin hook and wipe any lint off.

10-remove-bobbin-race

Inspect the hook for blunting, burring or damage at the point. This could cause skipped stitches, split threads or other problems. A new hook is about $70.

14-inspect-hook

Use a pin to clean out the groove near the race that accumulates lint. Once it’s clean, place a drop of clear machine oil on the race. Replace the hook, close the latch and reinsert the bobbin.

12-oil

If you have a thread cutter, remove it.

15-remove-thread-cutter

Clean the debris from the thread cutter and put it back in place.

16-clean-debris-from-thread-cutter

Rub the side of your needle along the top of your fingernail. If there’s any mark left on your fingernail, it’s a sign that your needle has a burr and should be replaced.

17-inspect-needle

18-burred-needle

Here are some additional Dos and Don’ts

DON’T use compressed air, it simply blows the dirt deeper into the machine. This can cause future problems or premature wear of hard-to-reach parts.

no-compressed-air

DO use vacuum attachments for small-scale cleaning. They are available online, at vacuum repair stores or often at computer stores (techies use them to clean keyboards and CPUs).

vacuum-adapter

DO use clear machine oil, not yellow machine oil. Our machine repair guy, a second-generation sewing machine repair expert says that the yellow oils can gum up parts over time. He even said that although our Bernina’s manual states that oiling the hook race (the circular point inside which the hook rotates) is unnecessary, he advises using a small drop of oil from time to time. We’ve done so for years with no problems and it certainly makes it run more quietly.

Once your machine is clean, listen to the sound of it sewing. It should be more quiet. Try to remember this sound so you’ll know when it gets louder that it needs another cleaning.

23 Comments

  1. Nancy
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very much for posting these tips on cleaning out the sewing machine! I typically perform all of the functions you noted, however, I had no idea that I could remove thread cutter! Go figure! I just removed it and there was a bunch of lint in there, as well as a whole piece of thread! Thank you, thank you!

  2. Alma
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the great, clear instructions. You guys are performing a public service!!!

  3. Posted March 10, 2009 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that! You didn’t say anything about oiling inside the top part. Is this not necessary?

  4. Posted March 10, 2009 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    thanks for the tutorial! Especially the part about when to change the needle. That was good info! Another tutorial on where to oil the common parts of the machine would also be helpful. Love your blog! Thanks again.

  5. Posted March 10, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for this. While I do clean my machine out regularly I haven’t put oil in the race before. It will become one of my “to do” items.

  6. Posted March 11, 2009 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Thank you for this helpful tutorial! I’ve had my machine for years and never cleaned it, other than ridding it of obvious lint!! What surprises will I find when I open it up tonight?

  7. Posted March 11, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this. I have never cleaned, oiled or checked my race hook, either. Off to do so…

  8. Linda Mitchell
    Posted March 11, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I’ve sewn for 45 years and you just taught me something I never knew about oiling the race!
    Thanks so much, as a quilt piecer I use my machine daily.

  9. Posted March 11, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I was just about to buy compressed air for my new sewing machine. So glad I read this first. I have been using my little brush on the bobbin. Now I know to get some machine oil too. I wonder if they might sell it at the fabric store.

  10. thewhimsicalbee
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Wonderful information! Now this is a simple, clear-cut and concise instruction guide. I will definitely bookmark this and refer to it. Thank you so much!

  11. Posted March 12, 2009 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Wonderful information! Now this is a simple, clear-cut and concise instruction guide. I will definitely bookmark this and refer to it. Thank you so much!
    BTW I love your blog!

  12. Posted March 12, 2009 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the tips. I know I should do this more often.

  13. Posted March 18, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the tips. I clean and oil fairly regularly, but I had no idea the thread cutter could be popped out so easily. Looks like I have the same machine as the one in the pics. Love it!

  14. Mom's smart daughter
    Posted April 6, 2009 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I so all you showed. HOWEVER, rather than use a pin to clean the race (the small track in the bobbin area) I use a small shish-ka-bob stick. A pin can scratch the area and the wooden stick cannot do. I also use this smae kind of stick for a guidence tool. My fingers don’t get pierced by a needle and if the needle hits the small pliable stick, we don’t have the damage that could happen if the needle hit a metal guide. Please, people, always wear your glasses or safety glasses while sewing. And if you hear grinding noises , it is probably your bobbin area pleading to be cleaned out!

  15. Posted April 13, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Glad I read this, because I found at least two things I would have screwed up! Excellent tutorial…I like having lots of pics to guide me.

  16. Posted August 12, 2009 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    This is a wonderful tutorial. Thank you. I sew almost every day. And I know so little of maintenance. I especially appreciate the photos.

  17. Posted September 21, 2009 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much for this advice!!! I’ve been wanting to oil my sewing machine, but did not know how to do it… with these great photos i can finally clean my machine!

  18. Erica
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Mom’s Smart Daughter is completely right about using something wooden (or another non-scratch) material to clean it up. I’ve scratched far too many things by using pins and needles on them, even if they were only hairline scratches. It’s worth spending a little longer to do it without causing any cosmetic damage.

  19. Posted November 18, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    I have cleaned my sewing machines at least once a year for many years. It takes time but well worth the effort

  20. Posted May 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    THANK YOU so much for the oiling my machine suggestions! It’s running so much better. Wow

  21. Posted June 5, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Amazing post, thank you so much for writing it!

    Now… if I can just get the hook back in the machine :)

  22. Helen
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Is there a manual that shows the part that holds the bobbin case in place? I have a Singer 4562 electronic sewing machine, and the bobbin case moves around. Would this be a small metal piece? I have someone that can replace this without a lot of expense if he has this information. Thank you so much for the cleaning information; however I cleaned it and evidently failed to put it back together correctly.

  23. Helen
    Posted February 11, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Is there a manual that shows the part that holds the bobbin case in place? I have a Singer 4562 electronic sewing machine, and the bobbin case moves around. Would this be a small metal piece? I have someone that can replace this without a lot of expense if he has this information. Thank you so much for the cleaning information; however I cleaned it and evidently failed to put it back together correctly.


17 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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