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How to Oil a Sewing Machine--Or Not

Updated on September 18, 2014
oiling a sewing machine
oiling a sewing machine

If you love to sew and make things, then your sewing machine is probably one of your favorite and most important tools. We are supposed to treat our tools with respect, but that's not always the case, we sew over pins, let the feed dog get gunked up with lint and forget to apply oil--like I did . . . for more than five years . . . until a discussion among quilting friends prompted me to think about my lack of maintenance. As someone who sewed for years without oiling my machine, I shouldn't be talking about this topic, but that's the same reason why I am such an advocate of well-oiled machines.

Here's the really important part: NOT ALL SEWING MACHINES NEED TO BE OILED!

Many modern, computerized machines are self-oiling, like by Brother Project Runway is, and yours might be too! Always check the manual before applying oil. Self-oiling machines have a reservoir of oil that slowly drips out and lubricates the moving parts.

If you have an old mechanical sewing machine, you'll need to apply oil. Machines like these include vintage Singer featherweights, old Vikings and traditional models like my Kenmore Mini Ultra.

As a rule of thumb, sewing machines should be oiled after every 8 hours of use. Let's take a look at when, where and how to oil a sewing machine using my Mini Ultra as an example.

Oiling a sewing machine is a simple yet important task. Once you're familiar with your sewing machine and which parts need to be oiled, the process can be completed quite quickly before you start a big project or after.

This process and the appearance of the parts varies slightly from machine to machine. So, if your unsure, check your manual or look for a manual online. Your manual will also tell you if your machine doesn't need to be oiled, which is just as important.

For this process you'll need a small screwdriver or the coin wrench that came with your machine. You'll also need a bottle of sewing machine oil. The products mentioned in the shopping list below are my favorites.

Remember that oiling moving parts reduces friction and wear. You machine will like it! And you will like that it sounds quieter and sews smoother!

Time required: 30 Minutes

Difficulty: easy

Cost: $5


  • Stainless sewing machine oil ( I like Zoom brand)


  • A screwdriver or coin wrench

Markal 79704G Zoom Spout Oiler 4 Oz
Markal 79704G Zoom Spout Oiler 4 Oz

Zoom! This is my favorite sewing machine oil. It even has a cool name! The spout magically pulls out of the bottle, giving you access to parts that would otherwise be out of reach. Plus, the bottle holds 4 ounces. Buy this now, and you'll have sewing machine oil for the rest of your life. Did I mention that it won't stain fabric?



1. Unplug your sewing machine.

2. Open the bobbin compartment. Remove the bobbin holder and shuttle race.

3. Apply one or two small drops of oil around the center of the bobbin chase. Use a scrap of cloth or batting to remove any excess.

4. Remove the upper cover that protects the light, cams and drive shaft. Undo the screw. Lift upward. Then, pull outward.

5. Apply one or two drops of oil to the small button-like cam that moves the thread uptake lever in an elliptical motion.

6. Oil the larger cam located at the bottom of this same apparatus.

7. Finally, apply oil to the drive shaft, the circular pole the moves up and down with the motion of the needle.

8. Distribute the oil that you have applied by turning the handwheel on the side of your machine. This will help lubricate all of the moving parts. You should feel the the machine's moving parts glide more smoothly immediately.

9. Replace the plastic cover, fasten the screw, connect the power cord and start sewing!

© 2013 QuiltFinger

Have you figured out how to oil your sewing machine? Let me know how it worked out!

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      2 years ago

      I have the Janome green Hello Kitty, which is just like your machine. She was sounding a little sick today at quilt guild, and the person I was sharing a table with suggested that I oil her. There are no instructions in my manual, but I was able to follow your tutorial and she is sounding MUCH better. Thank you---see that you posted this quite awhile ago, and I hope you get my message.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you!!


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