Introduction: Basic Sewing Machine Cleaning

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This certainly isn't a glamorous Instructable but it is one of those things like brushing your teeth: A basic cleaning of your machine before starting each new project will help ensure the long life of your sewing machine and will help avoid frustrations that might pop up if your machine is gunked up with thread-fluff. You'd be surprised at how much lint can collect from just one project sewn.

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There's a great instructable here about servicing your machine ( ). But a complete servicing like that only needs to be done about once a year if you use your machine frequently. I'm more comfortable leaving the opening of my machine with a screwdriver to the seasoned repairman at the sewing machine shop. This will run you about $100 by a professional but that is well worth the cost to me. You would do fine with every other year or every third year for servicing if you clean it regularly following these EASY steps.

Here are the simple regular maintenance tools you will need:

  • Brush (comes with machine) or something similar if you bought yours used and don't have all the parts
  • Sewing machine oil (no other kind of oil will do)
  • White pipe cleaners or tissue with lotion

Step 1: Clean Under Throat Plate

Cleaning around the feed dogs (the teeth that move the fabric forward as you are sewing) is the first order of business. This is where the most lint collects and can cause problems when there is a build-up.

On my machine, I need to lower my feed dogs to get the throat plate removed. (Sometimes this metal piece underneath the foot is also called the stitch plate.) My feed dogs are lowered by a knob on the right side of my machine as shown by the arrow. Each machine works a bit differently so you will have to look around. (Or read the manual to find it. :)) I also removed the presser foot so my photos weren't obstructed but I usually don't bother with that.

You can see the lint build up after just one rather simple project. It might be because I wanted to use up some cheap red thread I had... more on that later.

Once the throat plate is removed, raise up the feed dogs again so you can better get underneath with your brush. Take your brush and lift the lint out from underneath as best you can without pushing the lint down in. I just touch the brush and lift to start with. You don't want to blow nor use an air can because you don't want any lint getting blown further down (or up) in the machine. Brush toward you and out of the machine after lifting the big pieces of lint out.

Just remember to lower the feed dogs again to put the throat plate back on. And then raise them again to sew. Done with that area!

Step 2: Clean Bobbin Compartment

Next open the bobbin compartment and remove bobbin and bobbin casing if possible. Of course your manual is the best way to learn how to do basic maintenance but I didn't bother reading mine - it took a Chicago quilting instructor many years ago to teach me the importance of regular cleaning.

Once bobbin and casing are out, you can use a pipe cleaner or tissue (tissue with built-in lotion = extra good) and gently run it around the casing to pick up and remove lint in this compartment. They key is just touching it with the tissue to lift lint and not rubbing hard to push the lint into the machine's crevices. You could also use a Q-tip but it will be too thick to fit into certain areas of the compartment. Just don't re-use the Q-tip/tissue/pipecleaner - one swipe and throw it away so you don't reapply the lint you just picked up.

Before putting the bobbin compartment back together, you'll want to...

Step 3: Oil Inside Compartment

Apply a drop of oil on one side of the component that turns the bobbin (circle shape). Manually hand crank the needle down and up one rotation then apply another drop of oil on the other side opposite of where you put the first drop. Again, manually hand crank the needle down and up another rotation to lube the component that turns the bobbin. Be sure to use the oil that came with your machine or buy oil specifically for a sewing machine (which will also have a pointy applicator to get that drop of oil exactly where you need it.)

Wipe off all bobbin components with the tissue before putting back into the machine and you are done. This all should only take you a couple of minutes. Well worth the investment of time.

Step 4: Use Better Quality Thread

This is a bonus: your machine will last longer if you use a better quality thread like a Gutermann or Ikea thread. Cheap thread, while tempting to buy, throws off more lint and is just limp and lifeless. I do have both cheap and good thread pictured here - can you tell the difference?

Hope this helps keep your machine humming and your projects trouble-free for years to come!

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