As we’re talking about organizing your sewing room, it’s a good time to give your sewing machine a good cleaning.
Your sewing machine and serger and coverstitch if you have one all work really hard for you. To keep your stitches looking the best and your machines running the smoothest, we gotta get all that linty buildup outta there.
Here’s a little basic sewing machine maintenance that will show you how to clean a sewing machine plus how to clean your serger and coverstitch too.
A note about your sewing machine manual
I’m not one for reading manuals. Let’s be honest, is anyone? Have you ever actually been held captive by the thrilling prose of a sewing machine manual?
But this is one time when you actually need to read it and pay attention to what’s in there.
Once you start unscrewing things, it’s really easy for you to mess something up and end up with an expensive repair job.
I say so because I once got really *zealous* and tried to clean out the inner workings of my own machine. Oh it was clean by the time I disassembled things, but I also massively messed up the machine’s timing.
I got a fat repair bill accompanied by a kindly fatherly lecture from my repair guy that I absolutely deserved. Mr. Bob told me to read my manual and don’t go beyond the bounds again.
So let’s just start out this process with you pinky swearing to me that you’re only going to do what your manual tells you, okay?!
How to clean your sewing machine
Getting your machine ready to clean
First, take off your presser foot. You might want to take out your needle too. I almost always take out my needle on my sewing machine but rarely on my serger and coverstitch.
Next unscrew your throat plate. This will help you get access to the inside.
Take off the bobbin cover. Next, take out the bobbin, and you’re ready to start cleaning.
Clean the bobbin case and hook race
I use a combo of an old paintbrush and a skinny nylon kitchen brush to clean. The soft bristles of the paintbrush do a better job for me with big lint, and the kitchen brush is more flexible than standard lint brushes. But use whatever lint brush you have.
Also, make sure your power is off while you’re cleaning. Use a task light if you need to see better.
First brush out the bobbin case.
To clean the hook race, grab a piece of flannel or a tissue. Rotate the fly wheel away from yourself while you hold the tissue inside the hook race. This will pick up most of the gunk.
Finish by wiping out any other lint inside the hook race and around it.
Cleaning the feed dogs on your sewing machine
Feed dogs get a lot of gunk in them that builds up in a weird way. Over time, they almost make little felt pads of lint.
If your lint brush doesn’t do well at getting out those little “felt” pads of lint, gently take a straight pin and poke at the lint. The pin should help you delicately lift out the lint if it’s being stubborn.
Finish up by brushing under the feed dogs if you can safely get in there without poking metal on metal.
How to oil your sewing machine?
If you have a vintage sewing machine, you will absolutely need to oil your machine.
Many modern machines are self-lubricating. Here’s another time when you check your manual. If you need to oil your machine, it’ll tell you so and where to do so.
My own manual for my Janome DC2007 does not have anything listed for oiling. That being said, my repair guy recommends me to add 1 drop of sewing machine oil to the hole at the bottom of my hook race every 6 months. After that, I wipe out the hook race again and I’m good to go.
Do not use this “tool” ever as you consider how to clean a sewing machine
I’m not a sewing machine maintenance expert by any stretch, but I have had several good conversations and taken a class from my repair guy.
Do not use canned air when you clean out your sewing machine. It’s really tempting to start blowing air around.
Don’t do it though! Unless you have a machine that you can take apart pretty much completely, every press of that magic canned air is just going to drive the lint deeper inside your machine.
One of the more sobering things my repair guy shared in his class were pictures of machines he’d fixed that had been “cleaned” with canned air.
It was like snow drifts inside the machines. How well do you think those machines worked with lint snow all up in them?
If you need a deep clean, it’s time to take your machine in for a service.
Put everything back together
Now your sewing machine is much cleaner! Pop your bobbin case back into place, and screw down the throat plate.
Put your bobbin back plus the bobbin cover. Add the needle and presser foot and you’re ready to start another sewing session with a much cleaner machine!
Read on for how to clean a serger and coverstitch…
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.