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How To: Clean/Oil Your Sewing Machine


I know it’s not spring, but it’s time to “spring clean” those sewing machines.


Not sure how to to actually clean up and add oil to your machine??

Well, if you’ve never done it before, it’s a lot easier than you’re probably thinking.


You know, this is a tutorial request that I get asked for pretty often.  And I’ve never pulled together a tutorial because everyone uses a different machine.  But I decided to show you how I keep my own machine purring (…or how I change it from growling to purring again).  And I’m sure you’ll be able to use bits and pieces of this for your own machine.




And how often should a machine go between cleanings?


Well, for sure before your machine gets too gunked up like mine.  Ooops.



It’s probably been about 4-5 months since I last cleaned out and lubed up my poor little Bernina.  And she’s not very happy about it.  Sorry, my friend!



So if you really want to keep up on your machine maintenance, you’re supposed to clean it out and add oil after every few projects.  (Not small projects like hemming some pants.  I’d say after making a couple dresses, some curtains, and then maybe a baby quilt.  Then it’s probably time to spruce it up again.)


Here’s how I clean my own machine:





Then, gather some tools.  Grab your machine’s owners manual, some machine oil, a stiff brush, a soft lint-free cloth, and maybe some tweezers.  That’s it!  (Be sure to take a look in that owner’s manual and see what it says about cleaning and oiling your machine.)



Now, take off all the extra parts of your machine that are in the way of your cleaning.  If you have a drop in bobbin, your machine will look a little different, but take off plates, remove thread, presser feet, needles, and bobbin cases.


And if you have a similar Bernina, you’ll have to push on the back right corner to release the stitch plate.



Then, start cleaning up. Brush all that icky lint away. I’ve always been told to NOT use compressed air inside of here.  It will force pieces of lint into places that could harm or jam up your sewing machine.


If you have a bottom load bobbin, start brushing down below as well.


If necessary, use some tweezers to grab those compacted clumps of lint.  They can be too stubborn to just brush away.


Now, again, your machine may be very different so take a look in your owner’s manual to see if there are other moveable parts that need to be cleaned behind.  But if you have something similar to mine, you can move that bobbin housing out of the way and start cleaning behind it.


Then, on my machine, there’s a bobbin hook that comes out.  So I pulled it out and very carefully cleaned it out and wiped all the gunk out with a soft cloth.


Now, add oil.  All you need is a small amount.  Take a look in your owner’s manual to see exactly where to drop it.  I added a small drop right inside the hook race.  It’s the silver ring on the inside that the bobbin hook fits onto.  These two pieces rub together, so keeping them oiled keeps the machine quiet and performing correctly.  I also added a drop of oil to the outer ring of the bobbin hook, where it slides along the hook race.


Then, if there are other pieces of lint that aren’t coming out with your little brush, place a little bit of oil on a q-tip and grab that excess lint with your q-tip.  The lint will stick to the oil on the q-tip and you can really spruce up the innards of your sewing machine.


As for the outside care of your machine, slide a folded piece of lint-free fabric along the inside track of the tension disks (folded edge facing down), removing any lint or stray pieces of thread.  Be sure to slide it inside there towards you, in the same direction that the thread is pulled through.


Then wipe down the outer surface of your machine, making your little friend sparkle. :)



Now, plug your machine back in and rev it up!  Push your foot pedal all the way down and let your machine run steady for several minutes.  This will move your oil all around, just where it needs to go.  Do you hear an improvement??  Hope so!


And lastly, wipe out the bobbin case and remove any unwanted lint that’s inside.  Then re-load with your bobbin, put your thread back in and put all your plates back on.



But instead of putting your old needle back in, replace it with a new one.   It will really help your machine’s performance.


And that’s it!  Now sew a few stitches along some fabric to soak up any unwanted oil, just in case a bit of excess rubbed off in some places.


Now, enjoy your nicely cleaned machine.


**Even though this regular cleaning can really help keep my machine happy and lubed up, I like to take my machine in about once a year to get it serviced.  They check all of the settings, tensions, and machine parts……and adjust/replace anything if necessary.  If you don’t use your machine much at all, you could go longer in between shop visits……….but this is just what I do. :)


Best of luck!




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Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with my craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
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  1. William Bowie says:

    Absolutely beneficial article :)
    life of machines can be increased by implementing the above maintenance tricks.

  2. Sindy says:

    I just wanted to thank you so much for this tutorial!!! I was looking at buying a new machine because mine was so loud, I couldn’t sew if someone was sleeping, or even hear the phone ringing. I just bought it 6 months ago, and the noise is my only complaint. After I oiled the bobbin case and parts, it ours like a kitten! I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for the tip! You saved me hundreds of dollars! Thanks again for your awesomeness! Sindy

  3. Julie Jones says:

    How much did it cost to take it to be maintained?

  4. Bill Smith says:

    This is fabulous! I was looking for exactly such a post.

  5. Diane Fama says:

    I use a chenille pipe cleaner to get at all the fuzz and dirt in the raceway. It works wonderful and it doesn’t shed like a q tip can.
    Just be sure to get the ones that do not have any metal in them.

  6. Siobhan says:

    Thanks for this. Very useful.

    My mum always taught me to pick up long feathers when I see them as they are perfect for getting into books and crannies in the sewing machine. It works a treat.

  7. Mary K Kay says:

    I have watched tons and tons of videos showing how to oil the bobbin case/feed doggies (get a Long, little Doggies!) But NO ONE lubricates the crank under the hood, where my machine has a handle – I take off the top casing but an mot sure where to place the oil droplet? do you,

    Mary. – loves her 26 year old machine almost as much as her 25 year old, youngest child. (35, 32, 30, 25. been sewing for yyyeeaaaaaaaars!

  8. Allan Wells says:

    An elderly local sewing machine mechanic says the number one problem he’s encountered is owners who lose/don’t bother to read their machine manual (which usually includes information on cleaning and maintenance). With such a wealth of free information on the internet there is absolutely no excuse for a poorly maintained machine.

  9. Krissy says:

    I was quoted $100 for a service (apparently the cheepest in town) + extra for parts
    I’m a poor student at the moment – you just saved me $100!

    I also found that using DW40 for lubrication much easier than oil because it comes with the small extended nozle – meaning i can get into those real tricky parts!

    BTW i self-serviced a 12 year old Toyota 6160 which had never been serviced since it was purchased!

    <3 <3 <3 this site thank you

    1. Amy says:

      I’m was told that WD40 was bad for sewing machines.

    2. all8garden says:

      Never use WD40 on a sewing machine. It will eventually ruin your machine. Don’t use 3-In-One oil either for the same reason.

  10. Mindy Fisher says:

    This is my first newsletter from Stitched as I just discovered your shop. This is a great
    tutorial and my trusty 24 year old Bernina 1130 will be all the happier because I watched
    this and will clean her more often. Thank you!

  11. Jeana says:

    Thank you for posting this tutorial on how to keep my machine purring like a kitten. I’m afraid I am one of the biggest offenders when it comes to neglecting my ‘Buddy’ as I call my Kenmore. I do have to say that Buddy is the oldest Sewing Machine that I have, as I do a lot of fashion design and trim making. I tend to run the less expensive machines right into the ground. Typically I go through a machine a year (and now I know why, it’s because I wasn’t cleaning it between projects or getting it tuned up as you suggested). This Kenmore, however, is about five years old, and shows no signs of giving up on me. So, now that I know how not to give up on my ‘Buddy’, I will be much more vigilant in caring for this very hard working, loyal friend.

    Following your instructions made cleaning my Kenmore so easy! I just took it apart bit by bit and cleaned it up with q-tips, a little brush and some silicon lubricant. My Dad, who is a RC Airplane fanatic says that Silicon Lubricant will actually last longer than traditional machine oil. So I’m going to give it a shot, and see if it will work for me.

    Thanks again for taking the time to post this!! You rock!

  12. Amber says:

    If you cannot find sewing machine oil, the oil for hair trimmers is the same as singer oil; also cheaper. And if you are having trouble getting it where you want it just put a sizable amount on a qtip and rub it on

  13. Lindy says:

    Thanks you so much for the tutorial, I didn’t realize how much it took to keep a machine going so well and since I have an older one I need to clean mine more often.

  14. Dorothy Kenny says:

    Thank you for the great tutorial I had forgotten about the bobbin case and bobbin hook being removable and had not been taking them out and cleaning them.

  15. Laura Daugherty says:

    I’ve always been told that your oil should be completely clear. If it is discolored, it is time to replace it. Yours looked discolored to me. Did you do that on purpose for the photos?

    1. Ashley says:

      I’ve heard that before about clear oil too but this is the oil that came with my machine and it’s not very old. So I’m just assuming Bernina wouldn’t send me bad oil. I hope!! :)

  16. Shirley Schoen says:

    My Bernina repairman told me to also put a drop of oil on the little post that the bobbin slides onto. It sews quieter. Also, clean make-up brushes work well. They’re soft and seem to attract lint.

  17. Lori says:

    Do you have to use Bernina oil with a Bernina machine? I no longer have my oil, so I bought Singer brand oil at the sewing store and it seems much thinner. Also, it was hard to get it in the right spot because it doesn’t have the long neck like the Benina oil bottle did. Once I turned the bottle upside down to try and put a drop in the right spot it dripped out and I didn’t have as much control as to where to apply it. Would love to purchase Bernina oil but have been unable to find it.

    1. Ashley says:

      Yeah, the oil in the pictures came with my Bernina machine. So I’m not sure where to find replacement oil. I would find a Bernina dealer and ask if they can order it in. Or I bet they’d even have it in their store.

      Good luck!

  18. Peggy Higer says:

    thank you so much on the cleaning instruction. I didn’t know that cleaning the area were the thread come through AT THE TOP OF THE MACHINE. WILL BE CLEANING THAT AREA THIS MORNING .

  19. Elaine says:

    Excellent ! Thanks

  20. Sandie Crawford says:

    I am religious about oiling and cleaning my machine! very 8 sewing hours or less. And I have my machine serviced every year. One additional thing I do is clean my Bernina brush with a little warm water and soap. If you clean your machine regularly it will become pretty nasty. And if you have never needed to go buy more sewing machine oil then you either don’t take care of your machine or you don’t sew much, or you get a new machine every year or so.

    After 32 years as co-owner of an auto repair shop, I see what happens to automotive engines which do not receive the maintenance they need! Your sewing machine is much the same. Both cars and good sewing machines come at a dear price. It is up to each owner to do their part or suffer the consequences!

    Happy sewing:)

  21. Alicia says:

    Thank you, thank you! My machine needed this more than you will ever know. I should have taken a picture of the lint I got out of my old Pfaff. Not good. But now I know what I’m doing and will do it more often!

  22. Colleen P. says:

    LOL-got a good giggle out of “sewing porn”!

    I am SO glad you mentioned replacing the needle! The FIRST thing I tell people to do when they start having tension problems, after cleaning of course, is to put a new needle in. Often it isn’t a tension problem, it’s a bent or burred or dull needle. Often new or self-taught stitchers have never been told that the needle needs to be changed fairly often, and that you use different sizes and types of needles for different fabrics. If they’ve never learned it, they just don’t know to do it. Next, make sure the bobbin is put in correctly and spools off the right direction, then make certain the needle thread is threaded correctly. But nine times out of ten, cleaning, oiling and a new needle will fix what ails it.

    That said, if you buy a used machine, it is almost always best to just take it to a machine repair shop right away for a tune-up. My local place (Sew-A-Lot, in Centerville, OH) charges I think $90 for a tuneup. Often old heavy good quality machines are worth far more than this, even used, and it is well worth the money to let a professional give it a once over.

  23. Meesa says:

    It always seems like your posts read my mind. Flutter sleeves, ruched leggings, dinner ideas. And now perfect timing on sewing machine cleaning. My Bernie was giving me trubs, and i’m new to the sewing world so i couldn’t think why. Then your post. Duh, clean it. Wow was i shocked to see the gunk build up! It’s like learning you have to change the vaccum bag!( ( Don’t pretend you just “knew” that as a kid) Hahha – awesome revelation. Thanks for all the great posts. Love reading everyone.

  24. Kathy says:

    I’ve had my Bernina for over 25 years and it runs like a charm! Always clean it and change needles like Ashley said. The price of a needle is nothing compared to a piece of expensive fabric ruined because the needle snagged. Another good hint is to NEVER blow the lint away. You will blow little droplets of moisture into the machine and this will promote rust. Tuning up your machine once a year is another really good tip. You take your car into be serviced. Think of your sewing machine as car for your fabric.

  25. Heidi G says:

    What a timely post. I just bought a used sewing machine on Saturday and have been struggling to get the tension right. I have tried everything I can think of–except oiling the machine. It is a genly used machine, so I’m hoping that is all that is needed to make it work.

  26. annie! says:

    Hi there. I saw a link for your tutorial in my Craft Gossip and had to come look. Good for you! I would like to say that I clean my machines every 4-5 hours worth of sewing…but it really depends on the project as to whether you need to do it more often or not. The difference in the way they sound…and sew is huge! I don’t oil it that often…but it does get it pretty often. A clean machine is a happy machine. Thanks for getting the word out.

  27. Kristin PG says:

    Okay, I feel a bit ridiculous admitting this, but for the past couple of months my stitch plate hasn’t been fitting well, it pops up randomly and I’ve broken countless needles because of it; The machine was given to my a couple of years ago, and in all this time, i NEVER even thought to remove that stitch plate and clean it out. Thanks to you and your tutorial, I removed the stitch plate and took out SO MUCH dust and fuzz. I can’t believe I’ve never cleaned it out. My stitch plate fits like a charm again. Thanks so much for your tutorial and great pictures.

  28. Maureen M. says:

    My Bernina and I thank you for the great pics…I do clean it regularly but the refresher is very helpful!! Never quite sure I was doing it right. Thanks again!

  29. gerry Lee says:

    I bought a kit that fits on my vacume, I do everything you do, take it all apart and the vacume will clean all lint you can’t see that has worked inside the machine, not just what you can see, Then I oil it , wipe it down and put it back together. I oil the thing that hold the presser foot, from the top , and anything that moves inside it. I put a paper towel under the presser foot and turn down the needle to catch the oil. This is what the shop does, so I have never taken my machine to anyone but me. I have cleaned other peoples machines, and they work great. My husband got one from the dump, I took it apart and gave it a good cleaning, and after a couple hours of getting all the built up crap out, oiled it and wiped it shinny She worked like a charm. I gave it to a lady who didn’t have one, and as far as I know she is still useing it. Have a Happy Day, Gerry

  30. Christina says:

    Thanks for the great advice! I’ve found that using a chenille craft stem (aka pipe cleaner) is handy for picking up lint in those hard to reach places.

  31. Ann says:

    I do all of this stuff too except that I have two brushes and I keep one of them oiled (same reason as the q-tip, but I find the bristles are better at getting into all of the little nooks) and I use a scrap of stiff interfacing to clean the tension disks. Also, I use the little screwdriver to make sure that my bobbin case is at the right tension.

    It’s weird, but I really love cleaning up my sewing machine.

  32. Edna Batista says:

    I’m Edna, I am Brazilian and I loved knowing your blog, because I love sewing and pretty much find here. Your tutorial was very good and super informative. One day when you can buy my sewing machine he will be very helpful for sure.

  33. Shawnda says:

    lol! I just cleaned out my Bernina 153QE (circa 1999) last week. I did not know about the fabric through the thread tensioner at the top though. I’ll have to do that. Thanks! I *love* my Bernina. It’s such a trouble-free workhorse.

  34. Rhadonda says:

    Thanks sooo much. I use a little paint brush and brush out around the bobbin and up above that a lot but it has been forever since i had removed the face plate and oiled. Just finished and man there was a lot of lint under the face plate. Thanks again!

  35. Carole M says:

    Ok, I have to tell you something funny… I was just going to comment that a while back I took a quilting class and the 1st thing she did was walk us through how to clean our machines, and I’ve always kept up on it. Excellent info. Craftsy had a free class on this a while back for people who want a bit more info.

    Anyhow, the funny thing, my husband sees me coming over to your page to comment and says “are you looking at sewing porn? Make it….. love it… ” LOL. I hope that at least makes you giggle. Yep, my quilting/sewing blog roll is my sewing porn! Have a good day :)

  36. cucicucicoo says:

    very useful, thanks! i’ve never cleaned my machine on my own because i’m afraid i’m going to mess it up! but i guess i have no excuse now… ;) lisa

  37. agy says:

    It’s good to clean out the dust in the sewing machine. i once had mine jammed and the repair man showed me what to do – I was hitting myself for not knowing what was wrong because I had to pay the repair man to do it!

  38. Patty says:

    Totally been waiting for this!! Thanks you!!!

  39. Emily says:

    The q tip is a good tip. :) I’ve never cleaned the tension discs but I do clean out and oil my machine and get a new needle after every major project.

  40. Jennifer says:

    So helpful! I have an old bernina and clean out the lint fairly regularly but i have never oiled it. Ever. I think I’ll have to give that a try.

  41. texmex says:

    Ouah I did it yesterday with the vaccum cleaner but I did not know about how to remove the plate, and many other things. Thanks.

  42. Margaret says:

    How expensive is that sewing machine check up you get? Servicing a machine seems so expensive to me, at least $100. They did say my inexpensive machine was worth servicing, because it was not made of plastic and would last a long time.

  43. Christina @ The DIY Mommy says:

    Thanks so much for the tut, Ashley! It really is helpful and so much better than the instructions in a machine manual because of all your gorgeous pics!

  44. Marie says:

    Once again you read my mind and anticipate my questions. Thanks for that. :)

  45. Amberly says:

    I am a super newbie when it comes to using my hand-me-down sewing machine. I need alllllll the great tutorials I can manage to get! Thanks for this wonderful one!


  46. kathryn says:

    I took a class when I first got my machine from an actual sewing machine mechanic and he said it would be best to clean/oil/replace the needle every 8-10 hours of sewing time. He said it can be a pain to try to remember but well worth it because most of the issues people bring their machines in for could’ve been prevented by doing those simple things regularly. Just FYI. Nice tutorial..

  47. mrsblocko says:

    If you’re worried you can’t find lint free fabric, you can always use a crisp dollar bill to clean out the tension disks.

  48. Amy says:

    You always seem to post the exact thing that I have been thinking about! My machine is my mom’s first machine, a Phaff that she bought in 1984 (and she put 10,000+ hours on it). It still works just fine, but it has been a little sad lately so hopefully I can make it happier!

  49. British American says:

    This is very good to know! I never realized that the bottle of stuff inside my machine is oil and that I should be using it! :P I do give it a little brush inside every now and again, but nothing like this!

  50. Sara says:

    Thanks! That was very helpful.

  51. Allison says:

    Ooh, I totally need to go do this, stat!! Thanks for the great tips on how to!

  52. Amanda says:

    Thanks for the great tutorial!

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Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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