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How to maintain your sewing machine


Are you guilty of neglecting your sewing machine maintenance duties?

I know I am. So I did some research on how to properly care for my machine. Some things should be done everyday, some on a per-project basis, and some annually. Each one is important to keep in mind, because good habits make for happy sewing results!

Day To Day


Use your cover

Prevent dust, lint, dirt and your pet’s fur from infiltrating your machine by covering it when not in use. Most machines come with a cover. If you don’t have one, you can make a pretty one out of fabric or use a pillow case.


Here are some tips on what to do if you’re tension is off or your stitches are skipping.

Per Project


Change needle


It’s important to remember how much work your needle does.

A bent or dull needle can result in skipped stitches, broken or looped threads, runs or pulls in your fabric or worst of all, damage to your machine.

Suggestions on when to swap needles ranges from every 8 hours to whenever you complete a project. You will also want to change your needle to match the weave and weight of your fabric.

[Image Source: La Vie En Orange]

After Big Projects

You should consistently clean your machine yourself after every extensive sewing project, when bits of thread and lint build up around the throat plate and feed dog.


  • Piece of muslin
  • Screw Driver
  • Small Lint Brush
  • Compressed Air
  • Sewing Machine Oil


Step 1: Raise the presser foot to loosen tension springs, then run folded piece of muslin between tension discs to dislodge lint and loose threads.

Step 2: Remove throat place, bobbin and bobbin case.


Step 3: Use small lint brush to dust under the feed dogs, around the bobbin area.

sewing-machine-maintenance-4 sewing-machine-maintenance-5

Step 4: Spray tension discs, under feed dogs, and around bobbin areas with compressed air to remove any excess lint and thread. To avoid introducing any moisture into your machine, hold the can of compressed air so the nozzle is at least 4 inches away.

You will also want to spray with the nozzle angled away from the parts you are cleaning, so as to blow lint out rather than further into the machine.

Why not just blow with your own breath? Your breath contains moisture and will eventually cause erosion damage to your machine.

A Note On Canned Air: “Compressed” or “canned” air is actually fluorocarbon gases that are compressed into liquids. These gases are ozone safe but are potential greenhouse gases.

When using these products, you may notice the can become quite cold if used for an extensive cleaning. At this point, less gas is produced. Set the can aside and wait for it to return to room temperature.

Step 5: Follow your sewing machine’s guide to oiling your machine.


Professional Servicing

A good service person adjusts tension and timing during regular service, as well as cleaning areas of the machine that you cannot reach without taking the machine completely apart.

Do you have any other tips regarding good machine cleaning habits? 

Rachel Rasmussen

Rachel is a nerdy Oregon native with a philosophy degree and classical dance background. She fancies her personal style to be quirky sophistication, focusing on the importance of fit while adding special touches of handmade embellishments. She is also a connoisseur of whiskey and nap-taker extraordinaire.



October 28, 2013 #

This is such a useful piece. I’m constantly guilty of neglecting to care for my machine because when I have the time, I’d honestly rather sew than housekeep since I figure I can put it off. But this is a good list of things I should be doing, thank you!


October 28, 2013 #

Note that many modern electronic machine don’t need (much) oiling.


October 28, 2013 #

I do all this… except for the annual maintenance (actually my Bernina retailer said once every two years is fine) because I love my machine and the maintenance takes forever (not many Bernina retailers in Paris able to do a real good maintenance job)!!!!!
Maybe I should ask for another sewing machine as a present (and a bigger appartement as well…) :-)

Teresa Ward

October 28, 2013 #

Always remove your needle thread by clipping it near the spool, then pulling it out at the needle end. Taking it the other way results in more lint unnecessarily!


October 28, 2013 #

Wow, thanks for this! Some of it I didn’t know. I’ve been remiss in caring for my little machine, and I will do better now. I may even print this page off and post it in my sewing room.

I do have one question: In the first picture, I can’t really see what you’re doing. My machine’s manual is *very* chintzy on the details of its workings and I never knew there was anything “up there” you could or should clean. Is there a picture showing what, exactly, is getting cleaned?

Thanks again!


October 28, 2013 #

You’ll want to run a piece of muslin (or scrap fabric) on either side of the take-up lever (the metal finger that guides the thread up and down). The actual tension discs on newer machines are hidden behind the plastic body of the machine.


October 28, 2013 #

Ah, thanks for the reply. I have an old Baby Lock, and I think they’re parallel to the front of the machine, sticking out. Old style, I guess you’re probably familiar with those. But now I know to clean them! Thanks.


October 28, 2013 #

Anybody have advice on finding a repair shop for the annual tune-up? Every time I start researching on Yelp, I get scared by the inevitable horror stories I see in reviews, or frustrated by the lack of useful reviews, and I give up. I have a nice Janome machine, and it’s my baby — I’m protective! (Though refusing to take it to the doctor for its annual physical probably isn’t protecting it much…)

And if anyone has any specific recommendations for the Seattle area, I’m all ears!


October 28, 2013 #

I take my machines to Quality Sewing and Vaccuum in Ballard, though they have plenty of branches. Adam is suuuuuper nice and a great sewist to chat with!


October 28, 2013 #

Shannon, you should ask at your favorite sewing shop where they would recommend. Who would know better than they?


October 28, 2013 #

@Shannon – I hail from Seattle and I give a second thumbs up to the Ballard Vac n Sew. I’ve taken my Janome 8077 there for excellent service (they fixed a timing problem after a serious jam and threw in a cleaning for free.) I love feet and they have unpackaged second-use feet for $10, I think the walking feet were $20. Whenever I have sewing notion needs I ask them and they always crowd source answers- they’ve lots of employees with various specialized experience and they’ll get consensus before weighing in. I’ve been to the Vac n Sees in Kirkland, Burien and Northgate and they’re just sales people. There really is something special about the Ballard store.


October 31, 2013 #

Awesome! Thanks, ladies — will definitely check out Quality Sew and Vac. Potentially this weekend, because now I have no excuse not to get it done. :)


October 28, 2013 #

I use an old machine and oil frequently. I tend to put a drop of oil in the shuttle race every use and oil other parts slightly less frequently.


October 28, 2013 #

I’m good with changing the needle after every project, but I’m not so good at cleaning the bobbin area. Thanks for the tips!

French Toast Tasha

October 28, 2013 #

I need my machine for part of my business, as well as just because I love to sew, so I clean and oil it frequently. My process is pretty much like yours, except I don’t use canned air, I never have and I’ve never had a problem with moisture. I do live in a dry climate and try to use my breath sparingly, cleaning out as much lint as I can with a brush or a soft cloth instead.


October 28, 2013 #

I gave my machine a thorough cleaning at the end of a project recently – it was a nice way to finish off. I’ve read elsewhere that you shouldn’t use compressed air OR ever blow into the machine because of the risk of blowing the fluff deeper into the works. And now I know the ‘air’ is a greenhouse gas anyway, I definitely won’t be doing that! I’d guess a good place to ask about a repair shop in your area would be the manufacturer – they’ll have a list of ‘approved’ engineers, if you can’t find one on the recommendation of local sewers. I don’t get my machine serviced annually – can’t afford it. By the way, there’s a free Craftsy class on machine maintenance (Sewing Machine 911, I think it’s called).


October 28, 2013 #

oh boy, I don’t think I’ve ever changed my needle (had my machine just under two years)…eep! I figured you could use the needle until it broke or caused problems… I am pretty good about annual tune-ups (my mom has a temperamental pfaff, so she’s impressed the merits of annual tuneups on my from an early age!)


October 28, 2013 #

It’s funny, when I started sewing I was chatting with my mom about different kinds of needles. She said she had used the same needle for nearly 10 years! She has a Singer from the 80s and tends to sew about 1 big project a year. I was shocked to hear she never had a broken needle or skipped stitch, even with switching between sewing wool, to denim, to cotton voile. I bought her a multi-pack and made her change it anyway ;)

cynthia gehin

October 28, 2013 #

My mom and I used an ancient Singer. It was converted from a peddle to electric by my Grandfather! We never changed the needles unless one broke. It ran as smooth as butter, until I tried to sew on ‘swimsuit’ knit. That machine could handle heavy upholstery or the lightest voile and even cotton knit. I think we did switch to knit needle in the ’70s! It was an incredible machine. We would oil it quite often and kept the lint swept out of the feeds.


October 28, 2013 #

That’s so neat that your Grandfather converted it from pedal to electric!


October 28, 2013 #

Thanks for this post! I work with sewing machines as my Real LIfe job, and too many people don’t take care of their machines.

I would really suggest not using compressed air on your machine, however. There is still a chance of condensation forming from the air. Instead, a small vacuum will do the trick.


October 28, 2013 #

Thanks for the heads up, Liz!

Diane @ Vintage Zest

October 28, 2013 #

I haven’t done a single thing to my sewing machine since I first got it in April 2012. I haven’t been sewing too much lately, but I think she’s due for a check-up before the holiday sewing begins! Thanks for this, I’m definitely pinning this for future reference. :)


October 28, 2013 #

Love the tip about canned’s not just for computers anymore!

Lisa S.

October 28, 2013 #

This is such a valuable post! Thank you for the tips!

Anita McAdam

October 28, 2013 #

As always you do the best posts. Love your machine people. :)


October 28, 2013 #

You are the best !!!! This is an awesome post. Thank you so much !


October 29, 2013 #

Great post, really helpful. My local sewing shop recommended using a hairdryer on cold air setting rather than compressed air.


October 29, 2013 #

Oooh, I like that. At 25 I still don’t own a proper vacuum but I definitely have a hair dryer ;)

Sally James

November 29, 2013 #

I use a hair dryer too! As someone else mentioned, a small vacuum as well for sucking clean the nooks and crannies every now and then. Some of us (looking at myself here) need to do this quite often as we are guilty of neglecting to cover up our machines :( On some days the little things can seem like so much work!

Brian Foster

October 29, 2013 #

My dealer suggested using a dollar bill to run between the tension discs to remove lint. It’s evidently close to a thread thickness, and lint free….


October 29, 2013 #

I love this idea. I’ve used folded fabric and paper, but never a dollar bill.


October 29, 2013 #

I take mine apart as much as it will go with the supplied screwdriver, which enables me to get in under where the bobbin sits to a large extent–the bobbin holder pulls right out. I use a good (so it won’t leave hairs), soft paint brush (as in watercolor, not house paint) and it gets the stuff way back. I just clean the lint off the brush and keep going until I’m not pulling any more lint. I also use a cloth to wipe around the bobbin area.
I’ve never known how to clean the tension area–mine are vertical and have a very narrow access area. I’ll try the dollar bill! Thanks.


October 29, 2013 #

My dealer told me NOT to use canned air because it leaves a residue that builds up and can cause damage. Hmmmm.


October 30, 2013 #

My dealer tells customers on a regular basis to NOT use compressed air because it introduces moisture into the parts of the machine and can cause rust. This would be for any machine. A better idea is to get a mini vacuum tool set and attach it to your regular vacuum cleaner to suck out the lint and dust.


November 1, 2013 #

I found I was reluctant to take my beloved Pfaff in for a tune-up because I did not want to be without it for an extended period of time. After some serious years of sewing and some serious lint build up I was forced to take it in-right in the middle of a project. The technician was booked and I would not get my machine back for three weeks!
I went on eBay and wound up buying a second, same model Pfaff from a dealer with good feedback. Best decision! Yes it cost but now I just change machines once a year when I take the in-use machine in for servicing. I can share feet, bobbins, embroidery unit, and my own experience and never have to worry about missing my machine or a break down.


November 4, 2013 #

After ten years I went to the shop where I bought my benina and wanted a service. The owner asked surprised: Why do you want a service? Have you got a problem? You don’t need a service…
Well, shortly after that, I had serious problems and the machine needed expensive repairs…
I went to another shop…

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December 26, 2013 #

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January 4, 2014 #

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Will K

January 29, 2014 #

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June 9, 2014 #

These are the exact tips I give my sewing students for maintaining their sewing machines. A simple maintenance program will keep your machine in tip top shape and extend its lifespan.