How to Clean a Very Old Sewing Machine

Written by gwen bruno
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How to Clean a Very Old Sewing Machine
Old Singer sewing machine (cesarastudillo/

Sewing machines went into mass production in the 1850s. Although the early sewing machines required foot power to operate, they were a great labour-saver when compared to sewing by hand. Whether you have inherited Great-Grandma's old sewing machine or you bought one from an antique store, there is a good chance it is covered in grime. Follow these directions to clean a very old sewing machine.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Digital camera, or paper and pencil
  • Newspapers
  • Small tools
  • Metal cleaner
  • Tweezers
  • Compressed air
  • Toothpick
  • Kerosene or kerosene-based product like WD-40
  • Toothbrush or other small brush
  • Rags
  • Sewing machine oil
  • Gentle dish soap
  • Furniture cleaner/polish

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  1. 1

    Take the machine head out of the cabinet and place on a thick layer of newspapers.

  2. 2

    Remove any metal plates and parts with appropriately sized tools. Take photographs or notes as you take things apart. This will make it easier when you put the parts back together again. Clean with metal cleaner.

  3. 3

    Clean out any lint that is under the plate with tweezers or compressed air. With compressed air, use a very light touch so you don't accidentally drive the lint farther into the machine.

  4. 4

    Use a toothpick to work out any jammed-in grime. If you see any red felt next to moving parts, do not remove it. It is wicking and is intended to hold lubricating oil.

  5. 5

    Look for dried-up grease around any of the moving parts. Use kerosene and a toothbrush or other small brush to remove this grease. Wipe clean with a rag.

  6. 6

    Add sewing machine oil (not WD-40) in any little holes next to moving parts and anywhere metal touches metal. Clean off all the excess oil.

  7. 7

    Replace any pieces you have removed for cleaning.

  8. 8

    Now carefully clean the surface of the machine using gentle soap and water. Use extra care when cleaning over any decoration such as paint or decals. Too much rubbing can change their colour or even erase them.

  9. 9

    Wipe the machine head well with sewing machine oil, then rub it with a clean rag. This will polish and protect it.

  10. 10

    Replace the belt, if you like. Belts on old treadle machines are almost always brittle and in poor condition. If you do replace the belt, save the original from your antique.

  11. 11

    Clean the metal base of the sewing machine with metal cleaner. Polish the wood cover with a quality furniture cleaner, and finish with wax or oil meant for furniture.

Tips and warnings

  • If your sewing machine is a Singer, you can find its serial number on the front baseplate. Singer's website lets you use this number to find out when your machine was manufactured.

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