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Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance Tips


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The first Saturday of every month we send out a facebook reminder to our fans that it’s time to clean and oil your sewing machine. Last month Maria J. asked if I had a tutorial for that… well I do now! Thanks for asking, Maria!

Your sewing machine works so hard for you that I know you want to keep her purring. Just a few hours of sewing will cause fuzz and lint to build up under the needle plate. Sometimes pieces of thread can get lost under there too. Cleaning your sewing machine regularly can prevent broken needles and mechanical problems. Your sewing machine might also need a drop or two of oil from time to time – be sure to check your manual about that.

In fact, if you still have your sewing machine’s manual, I highly recommend that you refer to it before you get started. Every sewing machine is different. Some of the new models don’t recommend oiling at all. There may be a trick to getting the needle plate off or the hook race out (if you have one), and your manual will tell you. 

In this post I will show you the basic steps that I follow every month (or more often) to keep my machine clean and running smoothly. If you have any tips or comments that may also help our readers, please feel free to leave them below. 🙂


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You will need at least one brush for cleaning. I like to use a soft makeup brush with a long handle and the stiff brush my machine came with. My sewing machine also takes oil.

Are you ready to see how much gunk is under my needle plate??? And FYI, it has been less than a month since I last did this.


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Start by turning off your sewing machine, removing the extension table (if necessary), and taking out your bobbin. I have a front-loading bobbin, but you would still do these things for a top loading bobbin too.


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You will have to remove your needle plate to clean the fuzz and lint that collects under it. Mine snaps off like this, but my old one needle plate required removing a screw. That’s why some sewing machines come with a stubby little screw driver.

Let’s take a look inside! Not much to see down in the bobbin area but lots of stuff right under the needle plate. I must be sewing a lot lately! 


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Start removing the lint and fuzz. I like the stiff brush for cleaning around the feed dogs…


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And the soft brush for picking up stray pieces. It acts kind of like a fuzz magnet.


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Check your manual to see how to remove your hook race so you can clean behind that too.

I bought this oil with a long spout for using on my serger, but it seems to do well on my sewing machine too. According to my manual, I only need to apply one drop right behind the hook race. Keep a soft scrap of fabric handy to clean up any accidental drops.


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Put the hook race back in and the needle plate back on…


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And sew a bit on a scrap of fabric to make sure everything is working smoothly and there is no excess oil.

Don’t forget to dust and wipe down the top and front of your machine too. And if you haven’t changed your needle since last month (gasp!) don’t tell me that, just do it. I go through several needles a week.

You might also be interested in {this blog post} with troubleshooting tips for some common sewing machine issues.

So how did that work? Is she running like new? Come follow us on facebook if you want a reminder each month to clean and oil your sewing machine.

Happy sewing,


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Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂

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21 Comments

  1. I was noticing the can of air and read the post. I have seen the problems resulting from blowing canned air into a machine. It pushes it up further into the machine and canned air can add moisture to the innards of your machine. Just saying. I know there is a big should/should not debate on this. Whatever makes people happy I guess. Good job cleaning it by the way, amazing how much ‘stuff’ adds up in the needleplate isn’t it? Thanks for the reminder! :0)

    1. Hi Darlene,
      Thanks for your comment. Yes, there is a lot of talk about whether or not the dusting cans should be used. I try to remove all of the dust/fuzz that I can see before I use it. Then I see more come out when I spray! So you’re right, people should use their best judgement.

      Have a great day!

      Caroline

  2. Lisa C in Dallas says:

    Thank you for this post. I was taught to clean my machine after every project and generally change my needle at the same time. I am amazed how much lint gets under there! I do have a question. I had my machine cleaned about a year ago. It was sewing perfectly with the tension set at 4.2 per the manufacturer’s instructions until about a month ago. I had to reduce the tension to around 2.5 to get the correct stitches. I wonder if some bit of thread is caught somewhere making my tension off? While I sew a lot, I have a full-time job (just to give you an idea). Would you suggest just plugging along since it’s working or having it professionally cleaned again?

    1. Hi Lisa!
      I definitely recommend an annual ‘check-up’ for your sewing machine, especially if the tension is obviously off. The problem could be as simple as you suggest, or it might need something a technician can provide. Good luck!

      Caroline

    1. Hi Lola!
      Be sure to check your manual, but I feel safe to say that all sewing machines need basic cleaning as shown above. Mine (although an older model) is computerized too so I don’t open up the top part. I just clean out the area under the feed dogs and around the bobbin case.

      Cute blog!

      Caroline

  3. Diana Mattoni says:

    Another tool that I like to use to get into those hard to reach places is a pipe cleaner. You can bend it to wherever you need it and it attracts all the lint!

  4. Thank you, never thought about cleaning behind the hook race!

  5. I love the fact that that is MY sewing machine. Same model and all. I love her.

  6. Berninatech says:

    Excellent tutorial! Great pictures and descriptions. I use almost the same process when i clean my machine. The one difference is where I put the oil. The out side of the hook race is where it does the most good. While holding the hook just like you have it in the picture of removing it, turn your wrist so the outside rim of the hook it facing up and put your drop off oil on that rim.

  7. The shop where I had my sewing machine recently repaired told me to never use oil in my machine…there is a certain type of grease that they and the manufacturers use that should keep everything running smoothly…and that I should run the foot pedal once a month for 20-30 minute straight and that should distribute the grease into the areas that need it…anyone else get this advice?…they also told me that if I do this I shouldn’t have to have it serviced for another 2-3 years…I do clean out the lint, etc on a regular basis.

  8. Ashley Leyva says:

    I’m a newbie to sewing, so this was great advice. Thanks

  9. Valerie Breyton says:

    I have 2 additional advice:
    1. I have a minivac hose that attaches to my vaccumm cleaner. I use that 1st with the brush. You can get this @ http://www.nancynotions.com, walmart, and JoAnne.
    2. Bernina Dealership has a new excellent oiler that is great!

  10. Sharon Perez says:

    I clean my machine after every project. I have a can of air that I use. Is that ok? I do not read where anyone else has. Please advise if I should be doing this.
    Thank you,
    Sharon Perez from St. Petersburg Fl

    1. There are mixed reviews about that all over the web. Some people swear by it, and some people swear that it ruins sewing machines. I do use canned air on my serger because it gets so linty that nothing else works. Good luck deciding what to do!

      Caroline

  11. I use the "puffer" (which is used to clean a camera lens) to blow out the last of the fluff. It gets the fluff out of inaccessible corners.

  12. Yikes😱 I haven’t yet cleaned my machine. It’s going to be the first thing I do tomorrow before continuing my favorite handbag tutorial. Thank you:)

  13. Someone once told me that a sewing machine is just like a car which is why it needs to be serviced once in a while. I’ve been collecting tips like that because I’m planning on investing in a sewing machine. It’s good to know that you can check with sewing shops to find a technician.

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