How to Clean a Sewing Machine Safely: 8 Steps

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Learn how to clean your sewing machine without damaging any of the parts. Any sewing enthusiast will know that a sewing machine needs to be cleaned regularly to keep it operating properly. In fact, a sewing machine should be opened at least once a month to eliminate those pesky dust bunnies. 

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Whether you have been avoiding the task due to lack of time or lack of knowledge, my handy guide to cleaning a sewing machine in 8 steps will help you get the job done efficiently and safely. 

Think Your Sewing Machine Doesn’t Need Cleaning?

Dirty sewing machine
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Check out all that lint and fuzz! This accumulated in just a couple of weeks of regular use. Convinced your machine needs a cleaning? Let’s get started!

**Pro-tip: polyester thread is cleaner and creates less lint.**

The Tools Required

Tools to clean a sewing machine
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You don’t need a lot of tools to clean a sewing machine, but having the right ones makes a huge difference. The tools required are: 

  • a soft, clean cloth
  • a small soft makeup brush (eye shadow size)
  • a small brush with stiff bristles (the kind that probably came with your machine)
  • a small screwdriver for removing the needle and stitch plate screws (if any)
  • a mini-vacuum

*BONUS* Pro Tip: Mini-Vacuums

Mini-vacuum cleaning sewing machine
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I used to use canned air to clean my sewing machines, and while that may be okay for mechanical machines, it is absolutely not recommended for electronic sewing machines. I have switched to using my USB-powered mini vacuum and feel so much better about it!

The mini vacuum I use is USB-powered and plugs into an adapter that I keep close to my sewing machine for occasionally charging my cell phone. It must be plugged in to work and isn’t super powerful, but it’s the only thing I have found that’s small enough to get into those crevices under my stitch plate. It does a good job at that, too.

Step 1: Remove the Spool of Thread

Cutting the thread
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A pro tip for keeping the delicate thread path working correctly: Don’t pull it out from the top when changing or removing a spool of thread.

Cut the thread near the spool. Then, grab the thread in front of the needle and pull it out from the bottom. 

Repeatedly pulling the thread out backward from the spool can cause lint to build up or damage the springs or tension disks. Play it safe by removing the thread from the bottom.

Step 2: Dusting

Wiping the machine
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After removing the thread, give your sewing machine a good dusting with the soft cloth. You could dampen the cloth with mild cleaner, but I usually don’t find that necessary.

Step 3: Remove the Presser Foot, Needle, and Stitch Plate

Remove the Stitch Plate
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Remove the presser foot and needle. In fact, take the opportunity to throw away the needle, too – it’s probably time, right? 

Next, remove the stitch plate. Some stitch plates pop off with the push of a button, but most require removing a screw or two.

Step 4: Clean the Bobbin

Cleaning the bobbin case
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Remove the bobbin case, take out the bobbin, and give it a good cleaning. You can use a soft makeup brush for this. It picks up the fine dust really well.

Step 5: Remove any Lint and Dust Bunnies

Removing lint and dust bunnies
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Start with the mini vacuum and go after all the lint and dust bunnies under the stitch plate and bobbin case. You’ll know the situation is dire when the buildup is so bad it looks like felt!

Step 6: Use Bristle Brush for Hard-to-Reach Places

Using Stiff Bristle Brush to Clean Sewing Machine
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If the mini-vacuum cannot reach any tight spots, try using a stiff bristle brush. 

Step 7: Oil?

Replacing bobbin
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Check your sewing machine’s owner’s manual to see if you need to oil it. If so, it will show you the right spots. Most electronic sewing machines do not require oil.

Step 8: Reassemble!

Sewing machine
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Replace the bobbin case and stitch plate. Put the presser foot back on, and a new needle in… and you’re good to go!

How Often Should a Sewing Machine Be Cleaned?

Woman using sewing machine
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If sewing a lot with cotton thread, try to follow these cleaning steps about every two weeks. Someone who doesn’t sew every day might not need to clean their sewing machine this often, but it’s recommended to clean your sewing machine at least once a month.

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. 🙂