Saturday, 15 December 2007

Cleaning Old Sewing Machines

Clean Restore Singer 201K Sewing machine
This is my Singer 201K from the 1950’s. When I bought it, it had only been used as a hall table for many years and the machine itself was never used by the owner. The table was in really good condition and clearly had been polished regularly. The machine however needed cleaning and the power lead, pictured below, needed replacing. Thankfully after a good clean and service I ended up with a great working machine. Here I will share with you how I clean my machines, no matter how old they are.
Vintage Singer 201K Sewing Machine in cabinet

Things you will need:
  • Newspaper - to sit your machine on and protect the surface underneath
  • Rags - lots for cleaning and polishing
  • Paper towels to sit cleaned items to dry
  • Toothbrush or paintbrush - to clean stubborn areas
  • Cotton tips
  • Vacuum cleaner with a Computer attachment (it allows you to reach small areas easily)
  • Kerosene
  • brass or silver cleaner
  • good quality sewing machine oil
  • gloves to protect your hands from the dirt and chemicals
  • notepad and pencil or digital camera to make notes as you take things apart
How I Clean My Old Machines:
Vintage Singer 201K Sewing Machine clean underneath
Remember to only do one section of your machine at a time to make it easier to put back together!!!It can help to take photos or takes notes as you work. If you have a manual for your machine keep it handy, just in case you need to refer to it
Take note of where the parts belong. Then remove all the shiny parts and clean with brass or silver cleaner. I was told by my local sewing machine repairer that brass cleaner is much softer on the metal parts and will cause less wear in the long term. If find it safer to remove the needle from the machine during the cleaning process. 
Remove lint from the bobbin case and under the machine. I use my vacuum cleaner with a tiny computer nozzle attached to make it easier. Some people use canned air but I don’t like the dust blowing around getting into places that may cause damage later. I prefer to get rid of it completely with the vacuum.                                                                                                                                               NOTE: If you find something that looks like a piece of red felt, LEAVE IT THERE! It is felt and helps to lubricate things. It is meant to be kept oiled. Do not take it out. The model in the photo below is a Singer 66-1   Singer Antique 66-1 Sewing Machine Red Felt Bobbin Case
Clean areas under the faceplate and underneath with some kerosene on a rag, paintbrush or cotton tip. This is also safe to use on decals but I would be careful on worn areas anyway to help preserve them. Don’t forget the feed teeth. Wipe away any excess.
Oil the machine on all the moving parts where metal touches metal. It also helps to refer to the manual if you have one for your model. You can find out the model number of your machine at ISMACS using the serial number which is found on the front base plate of the machine. This site will also tell you approximately when your machine was manufactured.
Replace all removed parts. Worn bobbin winder tires and belts should be replaced with new ones, especially if you intend to use the machine. Keep the originals.
Once you have finished cleaning, the whole machine can then be given a polish with some machine oil or a wax and polish with a gentle car wax. I just used sewing machine oil as I didn't have any car polish. Just be careful over the decals. Do not allow any oil to come into contact with the rubber bobbin winder tyre or belt. This will cause them to perish quicker, and will make them slip if you intend to use the machine.
Any gears on the machine will need to be greased. I use grease from my local sewing machine repair shop. Follow your manual for application points as grease should NEVER be used like sewing machine oil and the oil should NEVER be used in place of grease
Inspect any electrical wires and cords if your machine has them. Damaged ones should be repaired or replaced by a licensed electrician. A power cord that looks like this really needs replacing, even if it does work! This one has perished from being in the same coiled up position for years. I usually give this job to an electrician. Singer 201K Sewing machine perished cord
Polish the wooden table or bentwood cover if you have one with a quality wood polish. I used marveer.
If you find this helpful or something is not quite clear, please feel free to leave a comment or email me.

More information on antique and vintage Singer sewing machines can be found here at my post on Helpful Antique Sewing Machine Links, ISMACS and Treadleon.

Sewdelish signature


  1. This is just what I've been looking for. Thank you :)

  2. Thanks. Glad to be of help.


  3. Hi this is wonderful! I have a very old singer in my loft and your tutorial has given me the oooomph to get it going again! thank you! x

  4. Wonderful site - I've been given an old Singer Foot Machine from 1913 and I would love to bring it back to prestine condition. I have no problem in cleaning and repairing the inners and underneath workings, but I am so concerned about the outer houseing. That beautiful black metal is loaded with gold colour decal scrolling (and of course, the Singer name) It has many years of dirt, grime and grease and I am so nervouse about damaging those gorgeous decals...I want them to glow and shine against the black background. Can you give me a suggestion on something that's going to remove all that grime and grease and not damge the decals, please. I would so appreciate it........Thank You.

  5. Reply to J. Ferguson wanting to know a good product to clean her old Singer. According to the treadleon web blog, an automotive product called TR3 is recommended by almost everyone. It's a car finish cleaner that leaves a shiny resin finish. If used properly, it should not damage the decals.
    You can join Treadleon for free (although a one-time donation is appreciated) and search for references to TR3. Good luck on our restoration project.

  6. Two good products are Dr. Woodwell's for wood, and Renaissance wax (used by museums for restoration.) They also sell a putty used to clean old books that is great for taking gunk out of tight places and doesn't harm anything.

  7. thank you for the information...i wss able to date and identify the sewing machine i just bought for my is an AJ 66-16 model... it was made in 1950 and released by march 2 it is a full size looks real nice...and i am in the process of cleaning it...thanks again for the cleaning tips...

  8. Thank You for posting this.I just bought a 99K 13 yesterday.It is in a very good condition works really well.And thanks to this post,I hope to keep it that way.I can't wait to get started.

  9. Excellent blog, these tips to clean old sewing machines are very helpful, i am glad i found your blog, great pictures thank you.

  10. Thank you so much for this - I have an old machine and was just debating how to get it clean and working

  11. Thank you for your valuable info! Older sewing machines are gaining in popularity every day. It's convenient to have a new, fancy embroidery machine for the 'special' sewing, but nothing beats the functionality and endurance of the old black workhorses.

    We're just beginning to learn how to take care of and soon, hopefully, learn enough to begin to do light repairs on these old lovelies. We have a centennial featherweight 221, a Singer 66, an older possibly 128 that is small like the featherweight and several 60's/70's singer cam-type models; stylist, rocketeer.

    I have PDF downloads of manuals for the singer 221, 66, 500 and 404; if you cannot find one of these, I will gladly forward a copy to you.


    See Here

  12. I've just been gifted with an old singer and would love to get it back to some former glory but it has been poorly taken care of and the shellac is badly flaking off, any tips on how to remove it without damaging the paintwork? I've tried Methylated spirits but it isn't giving a 'clean' finish, it seems to remove more/less in certin areas and leaves a residue mark, if anyone has any tips I'd appreciate it.


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