Quilting Basics Tutorial: Cleaning a Sewing Machine

If you sew lots (chances are you do) you need to take a few minutes to clean your machine.  With every bobbin change, (if you can take the time to stop) and in between piecing and quilting – those are my usual intervals between cleaning.

I recently mentioned needing to have my machine serviced, but decided to figure a few things out on my own! After a reading my manual and a bit of research online, I learned that my Janome should not be oiled.  Huh?  Ya, that’s what I thought!  There’s one little oil wick beneath the bobbin that needs a teeny bit (not very often), otherwise just clean it.  Check your manual for specifics for your machine!  It makes a difference.  I also switched thread, which has made a huge difference in the amount of lint generated – who knew!?

Here’s the basics for regular cleaning —

See your face plate – take it off.

Undo the screw(s) to get to the inner workings of you bobbin case.

Remove the bobbin case too.

Take your little lint brush, and brush everything clean.

In and behind the bobbin case.

Take some spray air, or a mini vacuum if you have one, and clean out all the lint. ETA – there’s been an ongoing conversation about not using canned air in the comments. It’s best for your machine if you don’t push it further in, so brush and vacuum are best!

Also clean the inside of the bobbin case.

And the outside.  You want everything to be smooth and clean.

That way your thread runs over everything easily and smooth :)

Now you are ready to quilt!

Here’s a free quilt pattern to get you started!

Online Quilting Class

By |2017-02-06T09:18:54-07:00May 13th, 2010|Tutorial|36 Comments


  1. momto2wasd May 13, 2010 at 10:37 am - Reply

    Wow…I've never done such thorough cleaning in the 10 years I've had my machine. I guess I'd better get to it!!

  2. Amy May 13, 2010 at 10:41 am - Reply

    I just wanted to mention to you that my Viking/Bernina/Babylock/Janome dealer says you should never use the spray air on your machine because it tends to force lint down into your machine where it will build up and be hard to get out and cause all sorts of trouble. I stick with just the little brush, but a mini vacuum attachment would be nice!

  3. Amy - Park City Girl May 13, 2010 at 10:53 am - Reply

    I can see that being a problem. I was super gentle with the air and not a lot – I did notice a little fluff ball come out a small hole in my free arm. When in doubt us it sparingly :)

  4. Gerry May 13, 2010 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Thanks for the reminder.
    I have a new Bernina and am getting used to the difference between it and my previous machine [Viking]/
    Thread, I know, does make a difference –

  5. live a colorful life May 13, 2010 at 11:52 am - Reply

    Thread makes so much difference. I LOVE Superior thread. Masterpiece rocks. I have even taken Bob's (from Superior) course in threadology. I found learning about thread fascinating. Yep, pretty geeky when it comes to stuff like that.

  6. Happy Cottage Quilter May 13, 2010 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Wow thanks for the tutorial. I've used the special attachment for my vacuum cleaner and that really helps to get some of the fluff out. I know I really should do it more often.

  7. Sara May 13, 2010 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    You forgot to say, "Put it back together!"

    My machine is going in for maintenance at the end of the month, I'm going to ask them about taking out the bobbin case. I never heard of doing that before.

    • Reverant Stitcher November 1, 2013 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      Oh my goodness you would not believe what you find if you have not ever taken out the bobbin case. The silver outer ring with the delivery hook that surrounds the black I have literally taken out lint that looked like a thin sheet of felt. The person who I did this for had never taken her machine apart like that before & thought it was one of those felt disks that sometimes comes with machines to place under spools of thread. She was absolutely amazed how much better her machine worked once I had cleaned out under the bobbin plate.

      Depending on how old your machine is it should have come with a flat silver “key” shaped like a profile of a mushroom (domed top with a rectangular base to loosen & tighten the screws that hold the bobbin plate.

      Right now I am cleaning out my machine every night at the end of the day because of the amount of sewing I have been doing.

  8. Angie May 13, 2010 at 12:42 pm - Reply

    it is amazing what a difference cleaning your machine does!! Do you oil your machine too?

  9. Melanie May 13, 2010 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    Hmmm mine has been cranky lately, maybe I should clean it up!
    I totally know about the thread though… whenever I use my cheap thread, there is lint everywhere!!

  10. laurenaphelps May 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm - Reply

    Should we be worried about the other mechanics of the machine? Thanks for the post! I've always wondered how I should be cleaning my machine.

  11. audrey May 13, 2010 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    I do this after each project and it helps! One other thing to consider with the canned air is that if you have a computerized machine you want to be extra careful with the canned air, when it gets cold enough liquid will come out and can rust the innards of your machine.

  12. Annelies Dease May 13, 2010 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    My husband is a photographer and has this cool thing for cleaning lenses. It looks like a turkey baster, gives puff of air for gentle cleaning and works like magic on my sewing machine too. So no more canned air….and a very inexpensive thing to pick up in a camera shop.

  13. Leah S May 13, 2010 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    I used canned air on my modern singer machine and it blew out the wick under the bobbin that has oil in it. It was a MESS trying to get that wick back in!!

    Now I have front-loading Berninas, no more wick worries. Just a drop of oil in the bobbin area after you clean out the lint. :)

  14. Terriaw May 13, 2010 at 6:12 pm - Reply

    I often neglect cleaning out my machine, but this is exactly what I do when I make the effort. The manual really is becoming my friend too!

  15. Suedio May 14, 2010 at 3:28 am - Reply

    I find that a cotton bud (q-tip) is really handy for grabbing the lint from in and around the bobbin compartment. I've been using my Janome for 22 years and have only had to add to the tiniest drop of oil to a belt wheel last year as it developed an annoying squeak. I usually give it a good clean around the bobbin and change the needle after I've finished a quilt, as well as a bit of a vacuum about once a year. That seems to keep everything ticking along nicely.

    Thanks for sharing your tips.

    Regards, Sue

  16. OliveStreetStudio May 14, 2010 at 6:04 am - Reply

    oooo my machine is so overdue for a good cleaning….it is on my morning "to-do" list. Thanks!

  17. "Lois Grebowski" May 14, 2010 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    When I purchased my big Janome a few weeks ago, the repair guy at the store said to use a Q-tip to lightly remove the lint in and around the bobbin case. the q-tip is like lint and will pick up lint. The dealer also stressed using good thread.

  18. Kari May 19, 2010 at 7:09 pm - Reply

    What thread do you like best? I just started using some Presencia to see how much lint it makes. I just had some bad luck with Valdani.

  19. Sherry May 31, 2011 at 11:29 am - Reply

    I have a Janome 6600. Should I also remove the bottom and clean or leave that to the dealer?

  20. Tsoniki Crazy Bull October 17, 2011 at 8:25 am - Reply

    This is an old post I know, but I have always been told to not use spray air in my machine. The reasoning being that dirt or fluff is pushed into other areas of the machine. I could see using a vacuum though. Have you ever had a problem w/ using the spray air?

  21. Cathy Byrd March 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    Who would have thought it! No oil!? Crazy but true.
    Thank you for the tutorial!

  22. Connie December 13, 2012 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the cleaning tips. You might try using a pipe cleaner very gently. It works well for me.

  23. Nancy April 28, 2013 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    I know this is an old site but hope to find someone who can tell me about the threads mentioned. My long arm is using one thread from Connecting Threads site ,Essential (a 50 wt) and the quilt shop Signature machine quilting thread of 40 wt. Which is sthe better weight to use and are there any places to get a good line of threads on line?

  24. LaRena May 20, 2013 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    I clean my machine at least every time I finish a project. but if I have a very large project I clean it several time. It runs better when it’s clean. If I forget it doesn’t run well. And I never use air just my rush I don’t even blow into it. It’s a great machine Emerald 118.

  25. chickadee November 2, 2013 at 9:24 am - Reply

    I was told by Singer to use unwaxed dental floss to clean between the tension wheels. Just run it thru like your were threading your machine (works great) I had got some of that real linty thread and you would not believe how much was in the tension wheels. Now I just need that little vac.attachment and pipe cleaners. Thanks

    • Dixie Lee November 3, 2013 at 7:48 pm - Reply

      I thought I knew just about everything about cleaning a machine but never about dental floss for the tension disc’s.
      I done some teaching kids to sew and we had a bunch of old machines given to us and they came in every brand, shape and year but most where mechanical machines and I did a lot of work on them and learned a lot at the same time. I have always kept my own machines cleaned and use good thread and change needles when they have about 8 hours on them.

  26. LaRena April 27, 2014 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    I clean my machine evey time I run out of bobbin thread.

  27. John Brown March 12, 2015 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Wow thanks a lot for this in-depth tutorial. I need to clean my machine sparingly now.

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  29. […] these fun blocks up! They are nice and big, and I have lots of tips to help. If you haven’t cleaned your machine lately, you may want to take a few minutes to pull out all the dust bunnies hiding under your […]

  30. Lisa W. Degregorio October 15, 2015 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    Information needed for beginners. Thank you for sharing this article.

  31. Merci Jollibee January 6, 2016 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    I did a lot of work on them and learned a lot at the same time. I have always kept my own machines cleaned and use good thread and change needles when they have about 8 hours on them.

  32. best sewing machines for beginners March 29, 2016 at 10:38 am - Reply

    Awesome for a beginner :D i will share this with my students

  33. Barbara Davis December 2, 2016 at 3:22 am - Reply

    This is a good step by step tutorial and it saves me a lot of time on trying to figure it out how to clean my sewing machine on my own. Thank you very much!

  34. Stephanny Reefs September 5, 2018 at 5:00 am - Reply

    thanks for the tutorial and the tips for quilting. its not an easy job to do so. this quilting is really comfortable and amazing job and a great art of sewing. thanks for your amazing post

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