Sewing Machine Maintenance

Spring Cleaning Your Sewing Machine

It is time for a little spring cleaning of my sewing machine. I noticed lately that my feed dogs are not pulling the fabric forward properly. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Have you ever cleaned the interior of your sewing machine?

I was surprised how many people were actually afraid of doing this, afraid of doing something wrong. But, before you take it to a dealer or an expert, just spring clean (can also be done in autumn, summer or winter, of course!) your machine with these simple steps, test if the problem persists and if “yes” get your machine serviced. I promise you that a regular lint clean-out will give you a happier machine and it is not overwhelming at all.

Sewing Machine Maintenance

There are two things you can do that you can do on your own to keep your sewing machine in good shape.

  1. Cleaning the inside of your machine. This means removing little thread ends and dust. Doing this can make a huge difference in the performance of your machine. How often you have to dust the interior of your machine, depends entirely on how often it gets used and what type of fabrics you sew with. If you use fabrics that “shed” like velvet or fleece for example, then you will need to clean your machine more often.
  2. Oiling some parts of your sewing machine.

If you still have problems with your machine after a thorough clean-up, get in touch with your dealer, or local shop for a check-up.

Go to another Madam Sew blog page if you want to learn more about the different parts of a sewing machine, how you set up your machine, and how a sewing machine works. This is our most extensive article about sewing machines and it links to many other blog posts that give you more information about sewing machines. For problems with the thread tension on your sewing machine, check out this article. There are some useful tips for troubleshooting your sewing machine yourself.

Sewing Machine Cleaning Tools

These are the tools you can use, but you probably won’t need all of them. You will go a long way with just a screwdriver to get to the interior of the machine and a small thin brush to remove the lint.

different tools to clean a sewing machine
  • Different sized brushes, both soft and harder brushes, you can use a toothbrush or a pipe cleaner. Most machines come with one or two brushes.
  • A screwdriver that fits the screws of your machine. The ones with a short handle are used to remove the needle plate.
  • Tweezers to pick up little thread ends in hard to reach places
  • A flat head screwdriver to help get the lint from in between the feed dogs
  • A soft cloth to clean the exterior
  • Sewing Machine Oil
  • Cotton swabs to remove some extra oil

Sewing Machine Cleaning Process

I’ll walk you through the process of cleaning my Brother Anniversary Innovis 10. With a different machine, the mechanisms will probably look different but the principle is the same. Follow the recommendations of your brand’s or model’s manual. If you don’t have a manual, check online with the manufacturer. Most brands have an online library of past manuals.

You can clean two parts of your sewing machine, the top part, also called the sewing machine’s head and the bottom part, also referred to as the sewing machine bed. I wouldn’t recommend trying to open and clean other parts. I leave that to a professional.

In the little video below you see me cleaning my sewing machine. All the details about how to do this, some tips and what to use, can be found further in this article.

1. Before you Start

  • Turn off and unplug your sewing machine
  • Remove the spool and bobbin
  • Take your needle out
  • Remove the presser foot

Regularly wipe off the dust from the machine’s exterior with a soft cloth.

2. Clean the Interior of the Sewing Machine Head

Remove the cover of the head of the machine, if possible. Mine can be removed by removing one little screw and some “head caps” just click off. Check out your owner manual to see how to do this with your machine.

Be careful not to loose these screws, put them in a safe place right away.

Brush gently on all of the different parts of the interior of your machine to remove lint and dust. This part of the machine doesn’t get as dusty as the bottom part.

hand with screwdriver to open sewing machine head
sewing machine head cap removed showing the interior of the sewing machine
hand cleaning the sewing machine head interior

3. Clean the Interior of the Sewing Machine Bed

To clean the bottom part of your sewing machine, you can remove the needle plate on your sewing machine bed or remove the cover entirely, if that is possible. The needle plate or throat plate is usually made out of metal and can be removed by unscrewing one or two screws or just sliding it off. Lift up the metal plate when it is loose. Be careful not to drop the screws into the machine. This is where a magnetic screwdriver can come in handy. The screw sticks to the screwdriver.

hand with screwdriver to open sewing machine needle plate
hands with screwdriver to open sewing machine throat plate
hands lifting the sewing machine throat plate

Carefully remove the shuttle hook if you have a top-loading bobbin compartment (drop-in bobbin loader). It is the separate piece that the bobbin sits in. Front loading bobbin sewing machines will typically have two removable pieces: the bobbin case and the shuttle hook.

hand removing the shuttle hook from the bobbin compartment of a sewing machine

If you can remove the cover, you will be able to reach the different parts even better.

hand with screwdriver to remove the cap of the sewing machine bed

Using the little brushes, carefully remove all loose lint. Make sure to get inside and in between the feed dogs. Use the end of a flat head screwdriver to push out the dust or brush out with a nylon brush.

dusty sewing machine interior
sewing machine interior, dust removed

To prevent dust from entering your machine, always cover your machine when it is not in use. MadamSew has a nice sewing machine cover in our store but you can also make one yourself with this free sewing machine cover tutorial that comes with a YouTube video.

sewing room with a sewing machine on a table covered with a machine cover
a women that made her own sewing machine cover in gray fabric with birds

4. Oiling a Sewing Machine

Another part of machine maintenance is oiling some of the parts. This is a more delicate job. Always consult your instruction manual before doing this. What to oil can be very different from one machine to another. Computerized sewing machines, for example, don’t need oiling.

Sewing machine oil is a specially formulated lubricant meant to keep machine parts operating smoothly. Your machine may come with a small oil container.

The parts that need to be oiled are the moving parts that touch, where friction is created. Turn the hand wheel back and forth to see where this is. Put a little drop on these parts. Crank the hand wheel back and forth a couple of times to work the oil in. Now sew some stitches on a scrap fabric to distribute the oil further and remove excess oil. You don’t need to thread the machine. Continue sewing on scraps until your fabric is ‘clean’ to avoid oil stains.

Wipe your machine bed again with a clean cloth to remove oil or dust before you put back the shuttle case, bobbin case and needle plate.

And this is it. Not too overwhelming, right? I find it a mindful thing to do and it is very satisfying, once you are past unscrewing everything 🙂

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning can be more than just a machine cleaning, but I’m happy with little steps. My machine is happy, I’m happy and I might plan another round of fabric stash reorganizing :-) I did some of it in January already but a regular check won’t harm. Read my tips on destashing fabrics and sewing materials in this blog.

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If you still have a problem after executing these useful tips, find a local sewing machine service center and let an expert take a look at your machine. It is wise to have your machine serviced every year or two years. A well maintained machine will last longer!

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send me a little message 


Happy Sewing! Happy Quilting!


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1 comment

What do you know about using your printer to create labels for quilts.

Duffy, Maggie

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