10 Ways To Keep Your Sewing Machine Running Trouble-Free With Regular Maintenance

Keep Your Sewing Machine Running Trouble-Free

Would you allow your home’s air conditioning system to run without regular maintenance?  You wouldn’t neglect regular maintenance on your car, truck or van now, would you?  Of course not!

Your sewing machine is also a highly efficient and technical power tool that requires a certain amount of maintenance to keep it running trouble-free, as well. I have always kept my sewing machines extremely clean of dust and lint build-up from the time I began using them, and they’ve given me many years of smooth sewing. 

Keeping our sewing machines clean and oiled, when needed, and a fresh needle in the machine, are the three most important things we can do to maintain them.  And always check your owner’s manual for specific instructions on cleaning and maintaining your sewing machine.

10 Ways I Keep My Sewing Machine Running Trouble-Free With Regular Maintenance:

1. Use the small brush that came with your machine to get the lint and bits of threads out of the inner workings of the machine.  Some people advise using canned air for this purpose, but I like to use my vacuum cleaner with an attachment that is made for cleaning computer keyboards, called “Mini Vacuum Attachments.”

The Mini Vacuum Attachment has a hose with an adapter that fits onto a vacuum cleaner hose.  The vacuum cleaner must be turned on for the suction to pull the adapter into the vacuum’s hose for a sealed connection.  It also comes with several different attachments that are small enough to get into tiny places to reach clumps of lint and threads in the bobbin area and around the feed-teeth (feed-dogs).

2. Remove the sewing machine throat plate, needle, bobbin case, and bobbin race assembly, if possible.  Using the vacuum attachment will thoroughly suck out the lint, fuzz and dust “gunk” along with any metal shavings from broken or nicked needles.

A build-up of “gunk” and “fuzzies” can cause your sewing machine to stop running (lock-up), to produce bad or skipped stitches, or to make strange sounds.  If you hear a “clunking” sound, it’s time to change your needle and/or clean your machine! (You don’t want to hear a clunking sound!)

Tip: I like to place each of the parts as I remove them on the table in the same order I take them out of the machine.  Lining up each item in order as it comes out of the machine makes it easier to put everything back together in the proper order.  Of course, you can rely on your owner’s manual for help with the correct order.

3. Clean the bobbin case by wiping out the bobbin housing with a cotton swab or paper towel to get out any old oil, first.  Then, using the cleaning brush or vacuum attachment, remove any clumps of lint or dust.

4. Where appropriate, put one drop of a light sewing machine oil – NOT household oil – especially around the bobbin race assembly.  See your owner’s manual for appropriate oiling locations and frequency.  Some manufacturers don’t recommend oiling their machine at all because they are self-lubricating, so check your instruction manual to be sure.

WARNING: Be very careful, too much oil can build-up and cause corrosion over time!  Also, oil that isn’t specifically for sewing machines can dry-rot plastic.  DO NOT use oil that has turned yellow!  Wipe off any excess oil.  I oil my machine about once a year, after its been thoroughly cleaned.

Tip: Always do a test-run of stitching after cleaning and putting your machine back together.  With no thread in the machine, run it at top speed for about 30 seconds to distribute the oil throughout the mechanisms of the machine.  Wipe off any excess oil before sewing a project.  You don’t want oil spots on your beautiful fabric!

5. Clean your machine, inside and out, after every three-four projects; more often if you’re sewing a napped fabric that produces a large amount of lint, such as flannel, fleece, terry cloth, corduroy, or any loosely woven fabrics.

Also, vacuum the foot pedal.  It gets dusty and linty, too!

This single cleaning technique can be one of the best things you can do to keep your machine running smoothly and trouble-free.

Tip: Either before, or after, each project, I use my cleaning brush to remove any little clumps of dust and lint from the bobbin area before they have a chance to build up.  Depending on the fabric, I clean it out several times during each session.

6. If you have pets, your machine may need to be vacuumed more often, as the pet hair will settle on the inside of your machine.  Along with house dust, you will have more to clean out.  Keeping a pillowcase or custom-made covering over your machine really does help to keep it cleaner!

7. When changing threads on your sewing machine, raise the presser foot, cut the thread above the tension discs and pull it out through the needle eye, not back up through the tension discs.  This is like “flossing” the discs and will pull any lint or thread toward the needle and out of the machine instead of causing it to be lodged in between the tension discs or inside your machine.

8. On machines with automatic tension, raise the presser foot, then use a length of small gauge (size) crochet thread to draw through the thread path, from top to bottom toward the needle, to remove any lint build-up between the tension discs.

**Do NOT draw thread up from the needle to the top of the machine.

On machines with an adjustable tension-setting dial, set the tension dial adjustment to zero, raise the presser foot, then use a length of small gauge crochet thread, or 2-3 strands of all-purpose thread, tied in small knots every 2” – 3” to pull through the tension discs from top to bottom.

This technique helps to clean out any  “fuzzies” that have accumulated.

Remember to re-set the tension dial back to normal after completing this step!  (I can’t remember how many times I have forgotten to do this.)

Tip: Raise the presser foot before cleaning the tension discs so the thread can pass through easily.  Also, be sure to raise the presser foot when threading the upper threading path to the needle.  This enables the thread to seat properly between the tension discs.

Tip: DO NOT use “cheap” thread; that is, low-quality thread that’s priced at less than $1.00 per spool.  It is fuzzy and will break easily, thereby jamming up the threading path and the entire bobbin area!  Also, don’t use old thread; it can dry-rot and break easily.

9. Sewing over pins?  NEVER!  My rule-of-thumb is to never, ever, ever sew over pins!  This can cause a nick in the needle, it can cause metal shavings to fall off into the bobbin case, or it can break the needle, which could fly into your face or into your carpet, causing new problems!  Just don’t do it, okay?!

10. Change needles often: every 6-8 hours of sewing time, or after every project or two.  Buy them on sale so you’ll have plenty available.  Dull needles can cause stitch problems, and bent needles can cause damage to your machine.  Needles with burrs on them can also cause a multitude of problems.

Always use the proper needle for the thread and fabric you’re sewing.  Schmetz Needles has a great chart on their website with information on which needle type and size are appropriate for different fabrics.  They also have the same information available in a downloadable app for smart phones.

Tip: If you’re in the habit of pulling the fabric from behind the needle… Break. That. Habit!  It isn’t good for newer machines nor for needles, and can cause the needle to get bent, or even to break.  Let the feed teeth (feed dogs) do their job.

You don’t need to push the fabric through, either!  The feed teeth are there for a very good reason!

Following A Regular Sewing Machine Maintenance Schedule Allows You To Be Ready At A Moment’s Notice!

Sewing machine manufacturers recommend regular maintenance or “tune-up” for your machine every one-two years, depending on how often you use it. 

I have found that if I follow a regular sewing machine maintenance schedule, as described here, that my machines can stay out of the repair shop for a longer period of time. Many sewing machine problems occur because of a dirty machine or a damaged needle. 

I have followed this regimen for all of my machines for years.  Only once, when my current sewing machine was eleven years old, did I have to take it to be repaired.  And, that was because a small piece had broken off near the bobbin-winding assembly. 

My machine, that’s now 30 years old, is still running perfectly and gives me top performance – I guess because it’s happy!  With regular and proper care, you can keep your sewing machine running trouble-free. 

Your sewing machine will give you many years of trouble-free operation, and you’ll be confident that your machine is ready to go any time you’re ready to sew your next creative project.

Be blessed, Be creative, And Let’s Sew!

Sandy Davis, Certified Sewing InstructorYour Sewing Coach


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