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How to Oil a Sewing Machine the Right Way

A sewing machine, like most other pieces of equipment, is an investment. You will want to protect that investment and ensure that it operates smoothly and trouble-free for many years. Routine maintenance like oiling can help you achieve that goal. That is why knowing how to oil a sewing machine the right way is such an important skill to learn.

Why Do You Need to Oil Your Sewing Machine?

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The reality is that maintenance isn’t what you had in mind when you picked out your new sewing machine. It is important, though, and performing basic cleaning and oiling of your sewing machine can help keep it running smoothly on all of your projects. Here are some reasons why you should oil your sewing machine.

  1. There are a lot of moving parts in a sewing machine. When those parts move, they create friction. Oil helps to ease that friction and reduce any heat produced. That means less wear on the moving parts that keep your machine stitching away.
  2. There will be much less noise. A sewing machine that needs oil will become louder. This goes back to those moving parts and the friction they can create. Proper lubrication will allow for smoother movement, and that will result in a much quieter sewing machine.
  3. Oil helps minimize rust. Keeping your sewing machine well-oiled will help you avoid rust on any metal surfaces. Besides being unsightly, rust can lead to a host of operational problems.

How Often Should You Oil Your Sewing Machine?

This will largely depend on how much sewing you do. If you use your machine for hours every day then you will obviously need to perform more routine maintenance than someone who takes their machine out of the closet once a month.

A good rule of thumb is that you should perform a light cleaning of your sewing machine when you start to see visible lint. If you allow this to accumulate too much, it can not only clog up your machine, it can actually increase wear on moving parts and shorten the life of your sewing machine.

Another way to know your sewing machine needs maintenance is that it suddenly becomes louder. This is a result of increased friction within the machine and can be easily fixed by applying a few drops of oil.

What Oil Should You Use?

Now that you know why you should oil your sewing machine, you’ll need to look at the types of oil that are available and decide which is best for you and your machine. It is important to use oil that is specifically designed for sewing machine use. Make sure you do not use a household lubricant like WD-40 when you learn how to oil a sewing machine. You also might want to check your owner’s manual to see if a specific type of oil is required under your warranty terms.

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There are two main categories of sewing machine oil: mineral and synthetic. Both are readily available and offer numerous protective properties. They will often come in specially designed bottles or tubes with precision applicators to make them easier to use.

Mineral Oils

These are natural mineral and petroleum-based lubricants. They are the most affordable sewing machine oil option and are generally free from harmful substances. This makes mineral oils a safe bet for households with curious kids or pets. They will safely and effectively protect the metal surfaces of your sewing machine.

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Synthetic Oils

These are oils that are manufactured specifically for lubricating your sewing machine. Like mineral oils, they will protect the metal components of your machine. Synthetic oils can also be used to polish plastic components to help maintain a like-new appearance. These are generally slightly more expensive than mineral oils.

Step-By-Step Guide for How to Oil a Sewing Machine

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At this point, you’ve picked out your oil, rolled up your sleeves, and are ready to learn how to oil a sewing machine. Follow this step-by-step guide to oil your sewing machine like a pro.

Unplug Your Sewing Machine

This should always be the very first step whenever you are working on your sewing machine. Flip the power switch to off and unplug the unit from the power receptacle. Verify that there is no power to the sewing machine before you proceed to the next step.

Check Your Owner’s Manual

This may seem obvious, but now is a good time to check your owner’s manual for any maintenance instructions that are particular to your specific sewing machine. In fact, some units have internal oiling mechanisms and do not require additional oiling. Any instructions in your owner’s manual should be followed carefully to keep your sewing machine running smoothly for years to come.

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Gather Your Supplies

Now is a good time to gather all the supplies you will need to properly clean and oil your sewing machine. A basic list of supplies will include:

  • Soft, lint-free rags
  • A stiff-bristled brush
  • Compressed air canister
  • Screwdrivers appropriate for your machine
  • Tweezers
  • Sewing machine oil

Clean Visible Lint

Making sure the machine is free of visible lint is an important part of how to oil a sewing machine. In fact, small patches of lint are a sure way to know that your machine needs to be cleaned and oiled.

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Start by taking a soft rag and wiping down all flat surfaces on the machine. Then use a stiff bristled brush to carefully wipe away lint from around the presser foot and any other moving parts. Compressed air is a great way to get fine lint particles out from within the bobbin housing, under the needle plate, and any other hard-to-reach places. If you have large or stubborn clumps of lint, they can be carefully removed with a pair of tweezers.

You want to make sure all the lint is removed before you apply oil. Otherwise, the oil will stick to the lint and potentially create friction or clog your sewing machine down the road.

Determine Where to Oil

Carefully examine your machine for parts that move against each other. This is a clear sign that they should receive lubrication. Here are some areas that will likely need oil on most machines.

The Bobbin Housing

The metal in and around the bobbin housing will probably need oil. This part of your machine is subject to near-constant motion when you are sewing, so proper lubrication is crucial. Don’t forget to oil the shuttle hook and hook race. These are the small metal ring that fits around the bobbin case and the metal piece within it.

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Tension Discs

These help keep the thread at the correct tension while you are sewing. Carefully run a thin material between them to clean them, and add a drop of oil if you notice any signs of rust or sticking. If you are able to access the upper workings of your thread arm, this could also use a drop or two of oil to keep it moving smoothly.

Apply the Oil

It sounds simple and straightforward and, in reality, oiling a sewing machine is both of those things. However, like with any new skill, it will take some practice before you know how to oil a sewing machine correctly.

You want to apply a very small amount of oil at each location on the machine. You may have noticed that many of the oil applicators have small, needle-like tips. This is to help place the oil exactly where it needs to be and to control the amount applied. Start with one or two drops of oil at each placement and add more one drop at a time if it is needed.

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It may take several tries for you to get a feel for how to oil a sewing machine and how much oil to apply at each point of contact. Don’t worry if you accidentally use too much oil. Instead, simply remove it with a soft, lint-free cloth.

Generate Some Friction

After you apply the oil, gently and carefully move each connection. This will allow the oil to work between the pieces and fully lubricate the point of contact. If you feel resistance, you may want to add another drop of oil and try again. You have applied the correct amount of oil once the resistance is gone.

Rub Down the Sewing Machine Housing

This is purely aesthetic. Now that your machine is all cleaned and oiled on the inside, go ahead and apply a small amount of oil to one of those clean rags. Gently rub the oil onto the body of the machine to polish the housing.

Stitch Some Scrap Fabric

You’ve successfully navigated how to oil a sewing machine and are ready to get back to work. Before you do, however, take a minute to sew a few lines on a piece of scrap fabric. This will help get any excess oil out of the machine. Oil can stain pretty easily, so you want to make several passes on a scrap piece before you start sewing your next project.


Properly oiling your sewing machine can minimize wear and extend its useful life. Please keep in mind that you should follow the recommendations in your owner’s manual. However, if you do not have a manual, or you have misplaced it, this basic guide on how to oil a sewing machine will help you maintain your machine and protect your investment.

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