Basic Sewing Machine Maintenance: Tips From an Expert

Want to make sure you get the most out of your sewing machine as it ages? Then keeping it regularly maintained is crucial. Sewing machines are delicate, complicated creatures—but with a little TLC, your machine will last longer, sew better, and require fewer repairs.

Recently, we visited the studio of Rob Appell, sewing machine repair expert and master sewer. He’s also hosts one of the best sewing channels on YouTube: Man Sewing. (Check it out, and prepare yourself to be blown away by Rob’s depth of knowledge and amazing sewing studio.) We asked Rob what owners can do to keep their sewing machines in tip-top shape. Here’s what he said:

Use good needle and thread

Low-quality thread is linty and bad for machines, Rob says. And any waxed or glazed thread should only be used for hand sewing. Even if it says “good for hand sewing and machine sewing” on the package, those coatings are bad news for your machine. Get your thread from a good sewing shop—they’ll know all the good brands. Rob, for his part, recommends Aurifil, Robison Anton, Mettler, or Gutermann.  

Sewing machine ready for maintenanceDull or bent needles can cause stitch problems, so it’s best to change your needle often. How often, you ask? Every 10 hours of active stitching or about four bobbins worth of sewing. Rob recommends starting with a fresh needle every time you start a new machine quilting project. His favorite type of needle is the mircotex sharp, which has an aggressive tip and penetrates the fiber quickly; it also leaves fewer skipped stitches, especially on thick projects like appliqué, or webbing. In terms of needle brands, Rob prefers Schmetz and Organ Needles.

 Don’t use canned air

It’s important to clean your sewing machine often. Get in there regularly and remove any thread bits, dust bunnies, or lint that could gum up the works. But don’t clean with canned air. Cleaning your machine or bobbin case with canned air adds moisture, which creates gunky lint, which jams up machines. Instead of canned air, brush your machine out with a nylon brush (one usually comes with your sewing machine). Rob also recommends brushing out your bobbin case every time you change the bobbin. It’s a five-second habit that will pay off in the long run.

Oil your machine

There’s a lot of moving parts in a sewing machine. Oiling your machine keeps it running smoother and longer. And be sure to use the good stuff: good quality sewing machine oil is clear and very fine, so it won’t ruin your projects (unlike 3-in-1 oil). You only need a couple of drops of oil, and your sewing machine manual should tell you exactly where they go. Be sure to clean your machine, especially the bobbin case, before you apply oil. You never want to apply oil where it doesn’t belong, so take an extra moment to review the manual or check out Rob’s awesome video on oiling and cleaning your machine:

It’s all about who you know

Find an expert that you trust. People usually don’t remember to service their sewing machines often—so when you actually do bring one in for maintenance, it’s important to bring it to the right person. Find a really good repair tech and bring your machine in every couple of years for a regular tune-up.

Manufacturers have brand-specific training, so most repair techs specialize in the repair of one particular brand or another. Rob is a Pfaff specialist—but after years in the business, he’s learned a lot about other machines. That’s the advantage of a repair tech that’s been around for a long time: they’ve seen and worked on just about everything.

If you don’t know someone, check with your local sewing shop or community and get a recommendation. If you’re looking for some more maintenance tips or a quick refresher on some best practices—check out Rob’s videos on Man Sewing. And keep watching this space. We’ll have more tips and tricks from Rob soon.