How to Clean a Sewing Machine

How to Clean a Sewing Machine

Learn how to clean a sewing machine with this simple steps all with photos to guide you along the way. Whether it’s the first time or you just need a refresher because it’s just been that long, this will help you get your machine running smoother than ever.

Every time you sew, lint forms from your thread and from your fabric, these get inside of your sewing machine and keeps things from working quite as smoothly as they should. This lint especially gets stuck under your throat plate where your bobbin and feed dogs are. We’ll focus on cleaning this area as well as cleaning where your needle and presser feet go, where your thread spool and bobbin winder are, as well as the outside of your sewing machine.

I took these photos when I was cleaning out my sewing machine which I probably haven’t done for about six months. I was in awe at how much lint had collected. After I cleaned it and put everything back, my sewing machine had more even stitches, the feed dogs ran more smoothly, and it even sounded better.

Besides the fact that it will run better after you’ve cleaned your sewing machine, it can also keep you from having to spend money on costly repairs later down the road. A clean sewing machine is truly a happy one.

How often should you clean your sewing machine? I recommend setting up a system so it won’t get overlooked anymore. Clean it either every time you change a needle or whenever you put a new bobbin in. You can usually peek down in your bobbin case and see if lint is beginning to collect there. Once you get in the habit, you’ll have a well-running machine all the time.

You can also protect your sewing machine from dust when you aren’t using it by sewing up one of these sewing machine covers. It’s a quick and fun project that will help you keep your machine clean from household dust and pet hair.

What You’ll Need:

Here’s what you’ll need to gather before you start cleaning your sewing machine.

Supplies needed to clean a sewing machine

@Stacy Fisher

  • Sewing machine
  • Sewing machine manual
  • Screwdriver for your sewing machine
  • Tweezers
  • Cloth (microfiber works best)
  • A small brush of some kind such as:
    • Brush that came with sewing machine
    • Makeup brush
    • Paint brush
    • Pipe cleaner
    • Toothbrush
    • Q-tip
    • Angled-edge lint brush

How to Clean a Sewing Machine:

Find the section in your sewing machine manual for maintenance. This is going to tell you how to get to the areas that need to be cleaned for your specific machine. If you don’t have your manual anymore, Manuals Online has a huge selection of sewing machine manuals for Kenmore, Singer, Brother, Bernina, and lots of other machines. My sewing machine is a Singer 9985 Quantum Stylist which is what you’ll see in the photos. A lot of modern sewing machines are set up the same way and you should be able to follow along quite easily.
The Maintenance section of a sewing machine manual

Turn off and unplug your sewing machine. You may be tempted to skip this so you can have your sewing machine light on to help you see better but it’s not worth the risk of getting
Unplugging a sewing machine

Find the screws on the throat plate (the metal plate under your needle and presser foot) of your sewing machine and unscrew them. My sewing machine came with this little screwdriver but you could use on you have in your garage if you don’t have one like mine. Set those screws aside somewhere safe so you don’t lose them while you’re cleaning your sewing machine.
Screws removed from throatplate

Use a screwdriver (this one came with my machine as well) to remove your presser foot.
Removing the presser foot

Use the screwdriver to remove the needle. We’re getting everything out of the way so we have more room to clean.
Removing the needle

If you have an extender or a drawer on your sewing machine that you can slide off, go ahead and do that too.
Removing a sewing machine extendor

Take off your throat plate and set it aside.
Taking off throat plate

Remove your bobbin if you have one in your machine.
Removing a bobbin

Reach in and take out your bobbin holder. These can be tricky to put back in so you may want to snap a picture before you take it or make sure you know how to put it back in.
Removing the bobbin case

Now is the time to gasp because you really get to see just how dirty your sewing machine is. Thank goodness you’re cleaning it! Mine has lots of lint as well as some loose threads.
The inside of a bobbin case

Use your tweezers to remove any stray threads. Be gentle here, it’s much easier to pull them out as they are than to break them and have to go fishing around for all the pieces.
Removing threads with tweezers

Use whatever brush you’re using (this is an old makeup brush) and clean out where you removed your bobbin holder.
Using a brush to remove lint

Clean your feed dogs. A brush might do it here but I had some lint really stuck between the grooves so I used my tweezers.
Using tweezers to clean out the feed dogs

Use your brush on all those metal surfaces to pick up the lint. Here I’m using an old paint brush which also worked really well.
Using a paintbrush to pick up lint

Take your brush and put in all those spaces that drop into the machine. You should get a lot of lint stuck to your brush doing this.
Cleaning the bobbin case

Take your cloth, microfiber works best here, and wipe down any of the surfaces. This should pick up the last of the lint. What a big improvement!
Wiping down the bobbin holder

Before you put your bobbin holder back in, use your brush or cloth to get any lint off of it.
Cleaning the bobbin holder with a brush

This is a great time to oil your sewing machine if your manual says that you should do it as part of maintenance.

Applying sewing machine oil to hook race

Put your bobbin case back in by referring to your manual or photo you took when you took it out. Put back on your throat plate as well and give it a good wipe with your cloth.
Wiping down the throat plate

Take your brush and clean your auto threader, presser foot holder, and needle holder.
Using a brush to clean the sewing machine

Let’s pay attention to where your thread spool sits. It may be inside your machine like mine, or on the top. Remove any accessories you might have on.
Taking off the thread spool acccessories

Use your brush to clean anywhere that your thread goes when you thread your sewing machine.
Cleaning out thread

Don’t forget to clean where you wind your bobbins.
Cleaning out bobbin lint

Give everything else a nice wipe with your cloth, including your spool holder.
Wiping the inside of a sewing machine

Close everything up and give the outside of the machine a good wipe. Don’t forget buttons, screens, dials, and the back of the machine. That’s it, you now know how to clean a sewing machine!
Giving the machine one last wipe with the cloth

Sewing Machine Cleaning Tips:

  • Do NOT use canned air for cleaning your sewing machine. The pressure from the air could damage parts and it may cause moisture to build up which can eventually cause rust
  • If you find that you’re always cleaning your sewing machine and you want to make quick work of it, you can buy a micro vacuum attachment kit that hooks on to your vacuum cleaner
  • Before you add oil, check with your manual to make sure that it needs it (mine doesn’t)
Next article 13 Free Sewing Machine Cover Patterns
Previous article Sewing Machine Needle Sizes and Types

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