Skip to Content

What to Use to Clean an Old Sewing Machine: Best Tips and Techniques (2024)

This site is supported by our readers. We may earn a commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase through links.

what to use to clean an old sewing machineConsider that old sewing machine of yours your very own hidden treasure, just waiting for renewal. Its thorough cleaning serves to return not only functionality but a fine appearance as well.

This guide, "What to Use to Clean an Old Sewing Machine: Best Tips and Techniques," will equip you with how to go about grime, dirt, and rust. From the outside to the sensitive areas, you will learn precise and effective methods to restore your machine to its former glory and make it look its best in both appearance and performance.

Key Takeaways

Don’t be a "square" when cleaning your vintage sewing machine. WD-40 is like a magic wand for stuck parts, but it’s not the "bee’s knees" for everyday cleaning. Instead, grab some sewing machine oil and show that grime who’s boss.

Treat your sewing machine’s exterior like a "fragile flower." Use mild cleaners and a gentle touch to keep it looking "spick and span." Remember, a little TLC goes a long way!

When dealing with delicate areas, be as "soft as a kitten." Harsh chemicals are like "kryptonite" to your machine’s intricate parts and decals. Opt for gentle, specialized products that will keep your machine "purring like a kitten."

Rust is the "Grinch" of sewing machines, but don’t let it "steal your thunder." Tackle it with fine wire wool and a vinegar solution, and for tougher rust, bring in the "big guns" like an abrasive pad or commercial rust remover.

What to Use to Clean an Old Sewing Machine?

To clean an old sewing machine, avoid abrasive cleaners and opt for mild ones like Gojo with a soft cloth.

Start by using a lightly dampened cloth to wipe the exterior, and test any cleaner on a hidden spot first.

For metal parts, use metal polish or rust remover, and handle varnished areas with care.

Delicate areas require gentle products; use isopropyl alcohol and a soft-bristled brush for hard-to-reach spots.

Skip WD-40 and use sewing machine oil instead. This way, you’ll keep your machine running smoothly.

With these techniques, you’ll keep your machine in top shape! Discover more detailed steps next.

Can WD-40 Be Used for Cleaning?

Can WD-40 Be Used for Cleaning
You can clean an old sewing machine with WD-40, but it’s generally used as a lubricant or used for rust, so that’s not exactly a cleaning fluid. While it works attention-grabbingly to free stuck parts, it isn’t the best solution if you want something for everyday cleaning. Instead, use sewing machine oil lubricating moving parts.

Special cleaners will protect your finish on the machine. Always take safety precautions when disassembling the machine; for instance, always unplug the unit and handle parts with care. Sometimes, WD-40 is too strong, and in that case, sewing machine oil or recommended fluids work better at keeping your sewing machine intact but extremely clean.

How to Clean the Exterior of the Machine?

How to Clean the Exterior of the Machine
If you’d like to use WD-40 for cleaning, start from the outside of your vintage sewing machine. First, attend to the outer surface to handle it properly; this will preserve the condition and finish of your machine. Here’s how:

  1. Cleaning products: Mild cleaners such as Gojo, soft cloth, mild soap. No abrasive materials which would rub the clear coat off.
  2. Surface Preparation: Test the cleaner on an inconspicuous area first to prevent damage to the finish in case of overspray. This step is important if your machine has a delicate clear coat.
  3. Cleaning Process: Use a lightly dampened soft cloth and clean the external surfaces without applying force or, rather, dragging on them. If need be, repeat it; however, don’t get the machine too wet.

This way, you’ll have a clean sewing machine ready for further restoration.

Cleaning Metal Parts

Cleaning Metal Parts
When dealing with machines that have a varnish or clear coat finish, you’ll need to take extra care to avoid damaging the surface. For metal parts with rust, use a gentle metal polish or rust remover to restore the shine without causing further damage.

Cleaning Machines With Varnish and Clear Coat

Knowing whether it’s shellac or acrylic is important when you need to clean machines finished in varnish or clear coat. For cleaning shellac, gentleness and a cotton swab dampened in isopropyl alcohol will work fine. You can use Gojo for acrylic. In case of repainting, do adequate surface preparation and necessary hand-leafing for elegance.

Removing Rust From Metal Surfaces

To remove rust from metal surfaces, use fine wire wool with a vinegar solution to gently scrub affected areas. For tougher rust, an abrasive pad or a commercial rust remover can be effective. If the rust is severe, consider using electrolysis. Be cautious with paint and foils on older Singer machines to avoid damage.

Cleaning Delicate Areas

Cleaning Delicate Areas
When dealing with delicate areas on your vintage sewing machine, you’ll need to take extra care. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasives, as these can damage intricate parts and decals. Instead, opt for gentle, specialized products designed for sewing machine maintenance.

For cleaning delicate surfaces, a soft, lint-free cloth dampened with isopropyl alcohol can work wonders. Be especially mindful when cleaning the presser foot lifting arm, as this area is particularly sensitive. You can also use a small, soft-bristled brush to gently remove dust and debris from hard-to-reach spots.

When cleaning decals or other decorative elements, use a cotton swab dipped in a mild solvent, such as mineral spirits or denatured alcohol. Apply the solvent sparingly and wipe gently to preserve the finish. With a little patience and the right techniques, you can keep your vintage machine looking its best.

Restoring Machine Finishes

Restoring Machine Finishes
Restoring a sewing machine finish does require some finesse.

Determine first if the present varnish simply needs to be preserved or if instead, it needs repainting.

In any case, the surface preparation is primary. Apply the proper techniques for clear coat protection with those machines having shellac or acrylic protective layers.

In cases where the finish has been severely damaged, consider era-appropriate and machine-style techniques for repainting. Antique golden hand-leafs have a character almost all their own.

Proper varnish preservation will keep your machine looking new at all times. Always test products on inconspicuous areas first to avoid those weird reactions.

Respect the history of the machine by taking care with it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What can I use to clean my vintage sewing machine?

To clean your vintage sewing machine, use a nylon stiff bristle brush, Gojo for general cleaning, and sewing machine oil for bare metal areas. Avoid heavy scrubbing, and test isopropyl alcohol on inconspicuous areas for shellac.

Can you use WD-40 to clean a sewing machine?

Whoa, hold up there! While WD-40 might seem like a quick fix, it’s not the best choice for cleaning your vintage sewing machine. Stick to sewing machine oil and a soft cloth – that’ll keep your machine humming like a dream.

How to clean a dirty sewing machine?

To clean a dirty sewing machine, first remove the needle, presser foot, and bobbin case. Use canned air, a nylon stiff bristle brush, and sewing machine oil to clean internal parts, avoiding the motor belt.

How to clean rust off an antique sewing machine?

When dealing with rust on an antique sewing machine, gently use a nylon stiff bristle brush and sewing machine oil. Carefully brush the rusted area, applying oil to help lubricate and protect the metal.

What steps are involved in cleaning the bobbin case?

To clean the bobbin case, first remove it from the machine. Gently brush away any lint or debris using a tiny bottle brush. Then, apply a drop of sewing machine oil to the bobbin case mechanism before reinstalling it.

How should I clean and grease internal parts?

Clean all gears and grease them, ensuring that they’re all nice and coated. Oil areas that are hidden using the oiling ports. Keep the motor belt off. Take out cams and clean them with oil on moving parts. Put it all back together carefully to ensure that it works as best as can be.

Are there specific tools required for machine maintenance?

You’ll need screwdrivers, a tiny bottle brush, a nylon stiff bristle brush, tweezers, canned air, sewing machine oil, blue gear grease, and new needles for proper machine maintenance. Each tool serves a specific purpose, ensuring efficiency.

How do I clean the treadle sewing machine base?

Uncover the secrets of a spotless treadle base! Gently wipe away grime with a soft cloth dampened in warm, soapy water. Dry thoroughly to prevent rust. Reveal its former glory, one stroke at a time.

When should the needle be replaced during maintenance?

Replace your needle during maintenance after the removal of a needle, presser foot, and bobbin case. This ensures that all stray threads are cleared and parts lubricated well to prevent damage and ensure smooth running after maintenance.


Just like the phoenix from the ashes, so shall your old sewing machine be revived by proper care.

With this comprehensive guide regarding what to use to clean an old sewing machine, you’ll be most armed against grime and rust in some of the most delicate areas.

Followed precisely, these techniques will ensure that your apparatus is looking and functioning at its best, ready to take up many more projects ahead.

Don’t let neglect stand in the way of smooth sewing and peak performance.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.