The Ultimate Guide: How to Clean a Sewing Machine Properly

Have you already looked at your manual to know how to clean your sewing machine?

Many of us when buying our sewing gadgets do not pay attention to these issues. Keeping a sewing machine in perfect condition requires attention in terms of cleaning it periodically. If we don’t take care of it, who will?

I’m not going to lie to you, I have cleaned the sewing machine after 2 years. When my mother found out, she put her hands to her head… No wonder. In fact, in this case, she already had some very strange noises. So, if you sew daily like me, the ideal would be to clean it every 4 weeks.

Clearing a sewing machine is a simple task, especially if you clean, oil, and maintain it regularly. If regular cleaning, oiling, and maintenance of your sewing machine will increase its life and keep it running smoothly.

So if you neglect or put off your sewing machine cleaning schedule, stop doing it. Care, maintenance, and cleaning will make your sewing machine more magical, with smooth, silky soft, and uninterrupted sewing for a long time.

how to clean a sewing machine

For beginners or professionals, cleaning your sewing machine is as important as sewing a fabric. I assure you that cleaning a sewing machine is not as difficult a task as you might think, at least not after following the easy DIY tutorial on how to clean a sewing machine for home use. Let’s grab our cleaning tools, like a microfiber cloth, mild detergent, toothbrush, and cleaning cloth, and get to work.

All machinery that is used to sew, to function flawlessly for a long time, must be properly cleaned. In fact, it is essential to constantly submit your machine to effective and thorough maintenance, to ensure a long life by your side. If the individual parts are not well cleaned and lubricated, there is a risk of occurring failures and malfunctions of various types.

Obviously, the first piece of advice we want to give you for cleaning and maintaining your model is to carefully read the instructions provided, since sometimes, from brand to brand, the arrangements of the mechanisms change.

Worst of all, cleaning the sewing machine is so easy and fast that I no longer have an excuse to review it every month.

Sewing Machine Cleaning Tools and Kits

For those who use it very frequently or for those who keep it in a rather hot and humid place, it is essential to proceed with good lubrication, to be carried out at least once a week. You need simple ingredients to do it, our advice is to always choose products of the highest quality, which do not pose a risk to the correct functioning of your machine. You will need:

  • A small brush;
  • Compressed air can;
  • Specific oil for lubrication;
Sewing Machine Cleaning Tools and Kits
photo: amazon

The first step towards correct machine maintenance is to remove any type of dirt: dust, foreign bodies, threads, or fluff. They are all potential threats to the correct functioning of the machine and must be removed with great care before proceeding with the actual lubrication.

How often should the sewing machine be cleaned?

Cleaning and maintaining your sewing machine depends on how often you use it and the fabric you are sewing. Lint, thread, and fabric scraps clog up your sewing machine, making cleaning essential.

  • If you’re making something out of velvet, you’ll need to clean the sewing machine after sewing the fabric. Velvet settles and can clog your sewing machine.
  • If you are dealing with silk or cotton fabrics, you can clean your sewing machine once a month.
  • If you use your sewing machine a lot, you need to clean it frequently, usually between 15 and 30 days.
  • If you are a moderate or light user, cleaning once a month will suffice.
  • Even if you own a sewing machine and you never use it, you still need to clean it once every two months or it may stop working.

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Clean a Sewing Machine for Optimal Performance

You and Your Sewing Machine: A Sewist’s Guide to Troubleshooting, Maintenance, Tips & Techniques (A Field Guide) Paperback – August 7, 2018by Bernie Tobisch (Author)
You and Your Sewing Machine: A Sewist’s Guide to Troubleshooting, Maintenance, Tips & Techniques; by Bernie Tobisch (Author)

Step 1: Unplug the sewing machine from the power outlet

Before you start cleaning your sewing machine, unplug it from the outlet. It is for your safety and do not skip this step.

Step 2: Clean with a damp microfibre cloth

In a basin, prepare a mixture of warm water and mild detergent. Dampen a microfiber cloth by dipping it in the soap and water solution. Wring the cloth well to remove as much excess water as possible. Make sure the cloth is damp and not dripping. With a damp cloth, clean the outside of the sewing machine. Clean the entire sewing machine, scrubbing and removing any dirt or stains.

Step 3: Dry

With a dry cleaning cloth, wipe the entire surface of the sewing machine from the outside, drying it after getting it wet.

Step 4: Use a toothbrush to clean the lint

Take a soft toothbrush. An old toothbrush can be used. Now clean the lint accumulated in the sewing machine with the brush. It is common for the sewing machine to accumulate lint where the thread passes, which can be easily cleaned with a toothbrush.

Step 5: Remove and Clean the throat plate and needle 

With the same brush, clean the area in and around the sewing machine needle. Also, clean the needle with a soft brush.

Before we start cleaning up, we first need to remove the needle plate and sewing machine needle. For safety reasons, the sewing machine should be unplugged and the foot switch/accelerator pedal removed.

To remove the needle plate we need a screwdriver. With some models (without screws, e.g. Bernina Artista), a determined pressure on the needle plate is sufficient. In my example, I loosen the two screws with a screwdriver.

The sewing machine needle should also be removed. After cleaning, I use a new needle for the next sewing project.

Step 6: Remove Accessories

Now all accessories such as the presser foot, bobbin, thread, spool pin, etc. are removed from the sewing machine. The gripper system is also disassembled and removed if possible. A look at the operating instructions for the sewing machine is helpful if you don’t know exactly how to do it.

With the mechanical sewing machine shown, the metal gripper system can be completely removed. In electronic sewing machines, the gripper system is usually made of plastic and can be removed from the top.

We carefully pack all accessories aside for the time of cleaning, especially the screws of the needle plate.

Step 7: Clean the bobbin of the sewing machine

Disassemble the bottom part of the sewing machine where the bobbin is located. With a soft toothbrush, clean dirt and lint from the bobbin and the space it is inserted into.

Step 8: Clean the machine – brush and vacuum

A lot accumulates over time: dust crumbs and all thread remnants must be thoroughly removed.

My favorite is the vacuum cleaner in this job. Since I have removed all individual parts, there is no risk of sucking anything in. The brush works almost as well. You can also combine both. Use the brush to remove any residue and vacuum with the vacuum cleaner at the same time.

Step 9: Clean the hook race and bobbin case

Now everything is carefully cleaned with a soft cloth. The last remnants are then removed from the gripper track with a cotton swab. If the dirt is very stubborn, you can moisten the cotton swab with sewing machine oil beforehand.

Caution with electronic sewing machines: The bobbin case must not be oiled! Therefore, you should never soak the cotton swab with sewing machine oil, just clean it. All individual parts of the hook system and also the bobbin case must be cleaned from the inside. I’m always amazed at how much dirt has accumulated in the sewing machine.

Step 10: Reassemble the sewing machine bobbin

Once the bobbin of the sewing machine is clean, reassemble it. Put all parts of the sewing machine back, insert the bobbin into the bobbin slot, and close the sewing machine.

Step 11: Oiling – only on mechanical sewing machines

The sewing machine oil must be free of resin and acid! Under no circumstances should vegetable oil be used in a sewing machine. Olive oil and other vegetable oils belong in the kitchen. They tend to go rancid after a while and clog the gripper track. You can get the right oil from any sewing machine dealer.

Attention: Electronic sewing machines must not be oiled. If you are unsure, read the operating instructions or ask your sewing machine dealer.

Wet the hook race only inside and outside with only 1-2 drops of sewing machine oil. Any more is too much and will run out, or come out later when sewing and cause oil stains on the fabric. Oil the hook races as shown in the picture. Small semicircle = inner hook track. Large semicircle = outer hook track.

Tip: Put sewing machine oil on a cotton swab to avoid too much oil.

Step 12:  Insert bobbin-bobbin thread

Once everything has been carefully cleaned, we can put the bobbin back into the bobbin case. Insert the coil as described in the user manual. Pull the thread into the thread tension of the bobbin case.

Reinsert and lock all individual parts of the gripper system in the correct order.

Step 13: Clean the outside of the sewing machine

How to clean the outside of a sewing machine? If the inside of the sewing machine is clean and oiled, we can clean the outside of the sewing machine.

Here, too, the vacuum cleaner does a good job. Superficial dust can be vacuumed off. The sewing machine is then cleaned with a soft cloth. Be careful with damp cloths: No moisture should get into the sewing machine.

Step 14: The sewing machine is clean!

With these simple and easy DIY steps, your sewing machine will be clean again and ready to serve its purpose.

Related: Mastering the Maintenance: How to Clean and Oil a Janome Sewing Machine

Clean the sewing machine with the vacuum cleaner


The vacuum cleaner is the tool of choice when it comes to removing dust and fluff from the sewing machine. If the crevice nozzle is too big for some places, you can use a drinking attachment. It has an elongated “suction nozzle” and is therefore ideal for awkward places in the sewing machine.

The essay can be found, for example, at DM in the children’s department. It is placed on the vacuum cleaner tube. Of course, you have to try out whether it fits your vacuum cleaner.

Clean thread guide

Sometimes (usually inferior quality) sewing thread leaves thread remnants and fluff in the thread guide. Over time, this can lead to problems because the parts of the sewing machine, such as the upper looper, can no longer move freely.

Getting to these scraps of thread can be a challenge. Anatomical tweezers can help with this. But a toothbrush (unwaxed if possible) is also a good idea.

This is how it works: Make sure that you use a very tight-toothed band, stretch it tightly between both hands and pull it through the thread guide. This can often mobilize leftover sutures and make them accessible for tweezers.

Clean the sewing machine with compressed air

Sometimes it is recommended to use compressed air spray for cleaning. Sometimes it is helpful to be able to use compressed air to blow dust and thread remnants out of the machine. There is often no other way of getting at encrustations and dust bunnies inside the machine.

But success depends on blowing the dirt out of the machine. And not in. Use the compressed air spray with a blow nozzle (I don’t know what the real name of the thing is) to mobilize the dirt. You can then wipe it out of the housing with a vacuum cleaner or a brush.

Oil the sewing machine

Before you reach for the bottle of sewing machine oil, you should definitely read whether the use of oil is recommended in the operating instructions for your sewing machine.

With modern computer sewing machines, the manufacturer sometimes advises against oiling the machines. Most modern computer sewing machines don’t like oil.

If it used to be said that everything that moves needs a drop of oil, this view is now outdated. It can even harm the machine even if it is oiled.

On older machines, a small drop of oil should be placed in the center of the hook race. A second drop on the needle bar. Be sure to blot off any excess oil to prevent it from coming into contact with the fabric as you sew and potentially spoil it.

Clean the sewing machine – that’s how it works!

  • Turn off the sewing machine and unplug the power cord
  • Take the sewing thread out of the sewing machine
  • Unscrew the needle and check if it is bent or has nicks. Replace if necessary
  • Take off the sewing foot and clean it with a brush and/or a soft microfiber cloth
  • Remove the needle plate and clean it from above and below with the cloth
  • Take out the bobbin
  • Remove the spool holder and clean it with a cloth or brush
  • Clean all surfaces of the sewing machine with a very slightly damp microfiber cloth – without cleaning agents
  • If you can open the top of your sewing machine, open it up and dust it off with a brush
  • Remove dust with the vacuum cleaner and scraps of thread with the tweezers
  • Now you can vacuum the machine with the crevice nozzle of the vacuum cleaner. Meanwhile, loosen any dust lint inside the sewing machine with a brush.
  • It is best to remove jammed thread remnants with anatomical tweezers.

When should the sewing machine be cleaned?

The general rule of thumb for checking and maintaining your sewing machine is to check for squeaking or snagging or if you feel the machine isn’t running smoothly.

Raise the sewing machine and check for buildup. If you find threads and lint clogging up your machine, it’s time to refresh it. However, I generally clear my sewing machine every four weeks.

Cleaning the sewing machine – why actually?

Basically, you should clean and check your sewing machine thoroughly once every four weeks. Otherwise, dust, scraps of thread, and dirt will collect inside the sewing machine. This affects their functionality.

Even if a machine is not used for a long time, dust from the surrounding air settles. Where materials are processed, the air is sometimes very dusty. The dust particles migrate from the room air into the interior of the machine and collect there.

Before cleaning, it is important to first look at the operating instructions for the sewing machine.

For all of my tips, please follow the instructions in the operating instructions for your sewing machine.

Sometimes it is recommended to clean sewing machines with cotton swabs. I advise against it! Cotton swabs can’t just get the lint out of the machine — they can put it in too. And to where you don’t want them at all.

Also, the cotton balls can detach and get lost inside the machine. It is better to use a brush with long, stiff bristles to clean the sewing machine.

It is good if you also have anatomical tweezers to hand for cleaning. It’s part of my sewing inventory. You can use it to get lint or thread remnants out of the inside of the sewing machine.

Open and disassemble the sewing machine

To be able to thoroughly clean the sewing machine, you must remove all moving parts. The best thing to do is to have a bowl or something similar within reach, in which you can put everything that you are expanding.

If you’re new to your sewing machine and unsure whether to put each part back in the right place after cleaning, make notes of what goes where. A cell phone photo is also great for this purpose.

Reassemble the sewing machine

After cleaning, put all the parts back in – in reverse order. So start with the part that you last removed. If necessary, use the cell phone photo to help.

Put the sewing machine back into operation

Before you can start sewing again, put the bobbin back in place and thread the upper thread. I recommend doing a few stitches on a trial piece so you can test to make sure everything is in place.

If you have oiled the sewing machine, any oil residue can now be absorbed by the test fabric.

How to use compressed air spray to clean the sewing machine?

First things first: Always pay attention to safety.

  • Store and use the compressed air spray only at room temperature
  • Do not tilt the spray can at too great an angle (see product description), otherwise gas may leak
  • Don’t shake the can before using it (this is compressed air – not hairspray!)
  • Only use compressed air to blow dust and lint out of the machine, not in!

I recommend getting a can of compressed air on Amazon (or two different attachments). With the narrow hose, you can also reach inaccessible corners of your machines.

Such a compressed air spray can last forever, it’s worth having something on hand. Incidentally, also for corners and angles on the outer housing of the machines.

Clean the sewing machine regularly

It is best not only to clean the sewing machine when the stitch pattern is becoming unclean or the sewing machine is becoming louder and louder. It is better to clean and check the machine regularly once a month.

For example, you can use the reminder function on your cell phone.

Then you always know exactly when you have a date with your sewing machine. It will thank you with reliability and a long service life.

Quick Learn: The Right Maintenance Step By Step

  1. First, you will need to remove the needle and thread, remove the slide plate, bobbin, and presser foot. At this point, everything will have to be cleaned with a soft cloth and in a very delicate way. You can help yourself with compressed air to get to hard-to-reach places.
  2. Also clean the take-up lever, pressure bar, needle bar, bobbin case, tension discs, and machine body. In this case, it could be useful to take advantage of the action of a cloth moistened with a neutral soap without using too aggressive detergents.
  3. Clean both the feed dog and the hook with a brush and apply a drop of lubricating oil to the points indicated in the instruction manual. This step is very delicate, and for this reason, we strongly recommend that you always keep the precise information provided by the parent company at hand.
  4. Once the machine has been cleaned and lubricated correctly, it will be important to proceed by carrying out a test before starting to sew definitively. In this regard, for all models, we recommend trying to sew a few stitches on a piece of fabric to eliminate excess oil.

Have your sewing machine serviced?

It makes sense not only to clean your sewing machine regularly but also to have it serviced by a specialist. You should discuss the maintenance cycle with your local specialist dealer.

I bring my sewing machines and overlock to service once a year. The costs for this vary greatly and depend primarily on whether and what needs to be replaced. It is best to coordinate this with the workshop or specialist retailer in advance.

I hope my tips on “cleaning the sewing machine” will help you.

Photo: Amazon