Maintaining Your Sewing Machine

maintaining your sewing machine

By Linda Ann Nickerson

In today’s marketplace, the sewing enthusiast may spend hundreds, or even thousands, for a brand-new sewing machine. From a basic appliance to fully-computerized system, this is a capital investment. How can you keep yours humming along in good form?

Notions Count

Sewing machines can be costly, particularly if you opted for extra stitches, attachments, or embroidery capabilities. You will want to protect your investment by purchasing and using
high-quality notions.

1) Thread

Be sure to buy quality threads. Cheap thread is no bargain, as it can destroy your machine from within with fraying, knots, and uneven fibers. Those spools in the close-out bins at the
fabric store are usually not a good deal at all.

2) Needles

Sewing machine needles must be replaced regularly. If your needle accidentally hits a button, snap, zipper, or straight pin, while you are sewing, then you should replace it.  Dented, blunted, or bent needles not only fray delicate fabrics and shred threads, but they can also destroy your stitch plate and engine mechanism. Knit and woven fabrics require different needles, as do varying weights and textures of fabric. Sewing machine needles are usually color-coded, so you can quickly identify the correct choice for each project.

maintaining your sewing machine

3) Bobbins

While you are at the sewing store, it might be a good idea to pick up some new bobbins and needles. These need to be replaced fairly often, to prevent tangling threads and unnecessary
friction inside the machine. Bobbins are inexpensive; they may be metal or plastic. This is a simple way to boost machine performance.

4) Magnetic items

Some pincushions and seam guides are magnetic. If your machine is computerized, magnetic devices may be a bad idea. (Keep magnets away from your sewing software as well.)

maintaining your sewing machine

Keep it clean

Dust and lint are the chief contributors to sewing machine failure. Minimizing these will streamline your sewing.

Every time you sew, you will want to use a soft, clean cloth to wipe down all surfaces of the machine. (Fabric softener sheets work well.)

After every 8-10 hours of sewing, remove the threads from the machine and blow out any dust or fabric-lint that may be stuck in the thread housings. Most sewing machines come with a little cleaning brush. Be sure to clean out the disks in the threading channels. A cotton swab will suffice, if you do not have the brush, as long as you are careful not to leave any cotton residue in your machine.

Before re-threading your machine, you can squirt a few drops of thread lubricant on your spool of thread. Sewer’s Friend and other choices are available at fabric stores. Keep your machine covered when you are not using it, if possible. This will greatly reduce your wear-and-tear and dust damage.

When you vacuum your sewing room each week, you can use your tapered vacuum attachment to clean the bobbin-well and the thread housings. Employ a screwdriver to remove the stitching plate, so you can vacuum inside the machine. (Be sure to unplug your sewing machine before vacuuming it!

Try to keep the entire sewing surface as clutter- and dust-free as possible. A lot of lint and threads can accumulate in the sewing area, and these can destroy your machine. Of course, your sewing area must be as moisture-free as possible, to prevent mildew and rust from harming your machine, as well as your fabrics, patterns, and other supplies.

Maintaining Your Sewing Machine

Basic Maintenance

Keep your manual. If you run into problems, you will find helpful information in the Troubleshooting section. Also, this will contain a toll-free number for technical assistance, if you need it someday.

Be sure to check your power cords regularly. Make sure they are connected properly to your machine and to your power outlets. A surge protector is a must, as a single electrical storm can spell the end of your precious machine.

Use clear sewing machine oil periodically to lubricate moving parts. This comes in a special bottle for simple application. You can purchase refills by the gallon online. (Do not use standard oil, as it will stain everything you sew.) Look in your manual, if you are not sure which parts to oil. Sew on a scrap afterwards, to prevent leakage on quality fabrics. Change the light bulb, when it goes out. Check the wattage, and match it exactly to prevent overheating.

At least once a year, you will want to have your sewing machine professionally cleaned and serviced. The technician will adjust tensions, tighten screws, and replace any worn-out parts.

You can search online for sewing machine repair services, or check with your local fabric or sewing store for referrals. (Many fabric merchants have regular in-store repair schedules.) A basic tune-up is usually less than $100, unless you have a computerized machine requiring more complex service.

When you carry your sewing machine, be sure to use the handle, if it has one. Use your other hand to support the base of the machine. (If you have a carrying case, close all latches carefully.) In your vehicle, select a sturdy location where your equipment will not tip or wobble.

Enjoying Your Investment

Your sewing machine can serve you faithfully many years – even decades – if you take good care of it. Whether yours is a simple straight-stitch machine, or deluxe, multi-tasking automated equipment – if you keep it in good working condition, it will serve you well.

This article was first published by our good friends over at Sewing Machine Reviews, the internet's best source for objective and unbiased reviews of all the latest sewing machines.  Before you buy that next new sewing machine, don't forget to check Sewing Machine Reviews.

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18 Responses to Maintaining Your Sewing Machine

  1. Actually, the worst thing you can do for your sewing machine is blow are into it. I work for a company selling and servicing sewing machines. All that does is blow dirt and lint back into the machine where a service tech can’t reach it.
    You should periodically clean the bobbin case and whatever lint you can see with a Qtip dampened with alcohol. Then every year or two (depending on use) take your sewing machine in for professional servicing.

  2. Myrna Rochelle says:

    I have never heard of thread lubricant either. I have a Bernina and the manual doesn’t mention it.

  3. Julie J says:

    About bobbins – some computerised machines can’t have =metal bobbins and must have plastic – again read the manual if your machine came with plastic ones and you want to try metal ones.

  4. Michelle says:

    Thank you for the article! I didn’t know a lot of these things. I had no idea that old bobbins or cheap thread could damage machines. And I’m so glad I already use a surge protector. It was because I needed more outlets; not for safety. Now I will be certain to always use one for safety. I’ll also be more careful to keep magnets away from my machine. I’ve never heard of thread lubricant. Is it still needed if you oil your machine? If yes, why? Also, thanks to the previous commenters for their tips, as well!

  5. Janet Hammond says:

    Like Jennifer Mc, I think you should NEVER blow your machine – all you are doing is driving the detritus further into the mechanism. I bought a little keyboard vacuum from Amazon and I use this to suck it clear away from the machine.

  6. Shirley Cox says:

    Good advise…manual is vital tho’ new machines are expensive. They are getting so specialized like the embroidery machine that it is getting complicated to sew…

  7. Suzanne says:

    There are inexpensive little specialty vacuums available with tiny nozzles that will fit in sewing machine nooks and crannies. I’ve had one for years. They’re easy to use and should be available on Amazon or Ebay. Easier than lugging in the big vac.

  8. Jennifer Mc says:

    Bad idea to blow out the machine. It can blow fibers into the working components. Best to use a small vacuum to remove the fibers.

  9. Janet says:

    My Brother Innov, purchased in 2015, actually has a spot on the top that is magnetic to hold loose pins and the small tool to open the bobbin plate. It is a computerized machine. I was also told to not ever oil my new machine or use canned air to clean it. Please check your manuals, every brand is different.

  10. Charlene Cairn says:

    Relating to oiling, read your manual. My 1975 all-metal Elna needed to be oiled every day it was used. My 2011 Pfaff, mostly non-metal, should never be oiled by me, but only by the technician when it has it’ service. My friend’s Bernina has a counter and indicates after so many million stitches that it’s time to oil it. Each brand or model has its own requirements, so definitely read the manual.

  11. Charlene Cairn says:

    I used to carry my little old Elna Supermatic (all metal) on the floor behind the front seats, but a friend advised me that the vibration can be harmful to the machine. So I started to put it on the seat and belt it in like a person. This worked well, but now I have updated to a Pfaff with an 11 inch throat, and I find it too hard to get it on the seat, so I carry it in the back of my hatchback, sitting on a folded quillt and wedged in firmly so it can’t tip over.

  12. Heidi says:

    Great reminder of easy things to do to keep sewing well.

  13. Joan says:

    Hi there I have a singer future CE 350 which I willnuse for normal sewing. I have other embroidery machines. When the needle goes into the bobbin area to pull up a thread it dislodges the whole bobbin case and I end up breaking needles. I have replaced the bobbin case but I still have the same problem.please help!!

    • Jenny Waites says:

      Make sure the bobbin case is inserted correctly – level and with the plastic nub on the left front against the flag shaped spring on the right. If that is ok, then take out your needle and check that it is all the way up in the needle clamp. Sometimes there can be a bit of broken needle in there that is keeping the new needle from going all the way up.

  14. Dolores says:

    //This info was very helpful.. I have a Baby Lock Jet Threader Serger machine and my lower looper will not jet thread. Where can get help on my serger?
    Thank you

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Dolores, you need to google for your closest Baby Lock service center. They are the ones that can answer all the questions. There are forums and You Tube videos that can helps you. It is my opinion that most of the problems with a serger boil down to incorrect threading and tension. It is so important to get to know your own equipment, sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

  15. I am glad this info is available. Not only is it informative but also a reminder in maintaining your sewing machine no matter make or model. It will be one that I will comeback to often. Thank you.

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