How to Care for & Clean Your Sewing Machine

In this article, you will learn how to clean your sewing machine thoroughly; why a clean sewing machine is critical; the truth about oiling your machine; when you should take your machine in for a professional cleaning and service; and how to store your machine.

I love a clean, clutter-free home. I love a clean, clutter-free sewing space.

Both a clutter-free home and a clutter-free sewing space give me room to exhale and allow my imagination to run wild and free. For me, none of that is possible in a cluttered space.

Well, sewing machines like to be clean and free of dust too. A dirty sewing machine will be a noisy, unhappy sewing machine.

How uncluttered you keep your home or sewing space is entirely up to you. But there is no excuse for a dirty sewing machine! Keeping your sewing machine clean is the #1 thing you can do to keep her blissfully humming along.

If you fail to clean your sewing machine after each project, she will choke on her lint and fuzz balls, make a horrible, grinding noise, and refuse to run! It’s that simple.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Bobbins

Ewwwwww, right?!

And you know what else a clean sewing machine means to you?!

It means that you get to sew insanely pretty dresses without a hitch!

And after all, isn’t that why you’re here?!

Anyhoo, I like to start with some ground rules. Here’s what you need to know to keep your machine happy…

Rules for Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

Rule #1: NEVER clean your machine with it plugged in! It would make me sad if you accidentally hit that foot pedal while in the process of taking care of your machine.

Rule #2: Keep your sewing machine covered when not in use. This will protect her from all those invisible, airborne dust particles looking for a home!

Rule #3: Do NOT use canned air. It will just move dust and lint balls deeper into your machine.

Rule #4: Do NOT blow into your machine–your breath contains even more moisture! And you don’t need to be adding any moisture to the inner workings of your sewing machine because moisture can cause corrosion.

How to Clean Your Sewing Machine

A dirty machine will rudely come to a screeching halt and take your fabric hostage, forcing you to spend some quality time with it!

Here’s what you will need to negotiate your way out of this mess if it happens to you (or ideally, so it doesn’t happen to you):

Cleaning a Sewing Machine
  • Your sewing machine owner’s manual (of course!)
  • A clean, soft microfiber cloth
  • Q-tips
  • A child’s toothbrush
  • A quality, clear sewing machine oil

Now, that you’ve got your cleaning supplies, here’s how to clean your feed dogs, bobbin case, and hook race unit in under 10 minutes…

Step 1: ALWAYS turn your machine OFF.

Step 2: Next, remove the presser foot and set it aside.

Step 3: Now, remove the old needle and discard responsibly.

Step 4: Now, remove the set screw(s) from the needle plate using a screwdriver, lift out the needle plate, and set your screw(s) on their heads so that they don’t roll. Check your owner’s manual for instructions on how this is done on your machine.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Bobbins

Step 5: Lift out the bobbin case and check it thoroughly for dings, needle holes, and chipped areas.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Bobbins

If you find any dings, holes, or chipped areas, the bobbin case needs to be replaced unless you enjoy being frustrated and disgusted when you sew!

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Bobbins

Step 6: Next, apply ONE drop of sewing machine oil to a clean Q-tip. ONE drop — you don’t want the Q-tip soaked in oil.  And use the Q-tip to swab the inside and outside of the bobbin case until it is free of fuzz and lint. Set it aside.

Step 7: Now, take a lint-free brush or even a child’s toothbrush and dust the needle bar and the feed dogs free of fuzz and lint.

Step 8: Then, apply ONE drop of sewing machine oil to a second clean Q-tip and swab the inside and around the hook race unit. Depending on how dirty it is will determine how many Q-tips you need to get the job done.

Cleaning a Sewing Machine

Step 9: Next, wipe out the hook race unit with a clean microfiber cloth. Yes, you really want to get this area fuzz-free!

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Bobbins
I am clean.

Step 10: Now, insert the bobbin case into its compartment by lining up the arrow/dot on the bobbin case with the arrow/dot on the sewing machine. Again, consult your owner’s manual for details on how to do this on your machine.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Bobbins
See the white triangle?!

If you are having problems inserting the bobbin case, manually turn the hand wheel towards you to make sure the needle is its highest position and try again.

Step 11: Now that your machine is super clean and feeling the love, replace the needle plate, screwing the set screw(s) until they are just snug but not too tight.

Step 12: Replace the cover to the bobbin area.

Step 13: Insert a fresh needle.

Step 14: Replace the presser foot.

Step 15: With a damp, clean microfiber cloth, wipe the exterior of your sewing machine.

Bottom line: A clean sewing machine is a quiet, happy machine that sews and sews!

At this point, you can rethread your machine, and you’re ready to sew again…

Sew easy tip: WD-40 or other household oils are NOT a substitute for a quality, clear sewing machine oil!

How to Oil Your Sewing Machine

While my mechanical Janome 415 sewing machine requires oiling, my computerized Janome DC2014 does NOT. In fact, most modern machines are self-oiling!

Am I going to tell you where to oil your machine?!


Why not?

Well, first, every sewing machine is unique. The only way to know what you machine needs is to refer to your sewing machine owner’s manual.

And, second, I want you to get in the habit of referring to your owner’s manual!

However, I will tell you this…

If after you’ve checked your owner’s manual and determined that your sewing machine does need oiling. I want you to do this:

  1. Turn your sewing machine OFF and unplug it.
  2. Raise the presser foot.
  3. Raise your needle to the highest position by pressing the Needle UP button or turning your handwheel until the takeup level is visible.
  4. Now, follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for oiling your machine.
  5. You only need to apply a tiny dab of high-quality sewing oil to the areas your owner’s manual recommends. Please don’t drown your machine in oil!
  6. Once you’ve oiled your machine, plug it in and press your foot pedal all the way and run it at full speed for 30 seconds.

Yep, this is your one and only opportunity to pretend that you’re Danica Patrick at Daytona 500!

How to Store Your Sewing Machine

This is how I like to store my machine…

  1. Place a small square of fabric under the presser foot.
  2. Then, lower the presser foot.
  3. Next, sink the needle all the way into the square of fabric.
  4. Finally, cover up your sewing machine with a hard or soft cover to protect her from dust.

When you think about it, this is pretty much how new sewing machines come out of the box.

Sew easy tip #1: I recommend that you plug computerized sewing machines into a high-quality surge protector. Pick a brand name surge protector with enough $$ coverage to replace your sewing machine if an electrical surge should kill it! Check out my Resources page to see the one I like by Belkin.

Sew easy tip #2: Get into the practice of unplugging your machine when it is not in use.

Now that you’ve learned how to “tuck in” your machine for the night, let’s talk about…

Professional Service

Can you guess what you and your sewing machine have in common?!

Yes, you both need an annual or every other year check-ups!

If you use your sewing machine a lot, then it is a good idea to have it serviced by an authorized dealer at least once a year.

If you are not a heavy sewer and/or you really love and care for your machine, then you can probably get your machine serviced every other year!

It will cost you anywhere from $80 to $150. During this service, they will lubricate all the major moving parts, clean your tension discs, reset tension and timing back to factory settings, deep clean all those hidden nooks deep inside your machine, and more.

Sew easy tip: Once you get your machine back home and before you sew your first stitches, do your own tension test for both the straight stitch and the zigzag stitch!

The End

The instructions given here are general in nature. Modern sewing machines are very similar, but how you accomplish a task can vary slightly from brand to brand. So you do need to consult your owner’s manual for specific directions on the care and “feeding” of your machine.

Bottom line:

  • Clean your machine after every major project.
  • Keep your machine covered when it is not in use.

And I can guarantee you this:

If you keep your machine free of fuzz and lint, you will be blessed with hours of happy sewing!

Okay! That’s all I got.

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!