How Often Should You Oil Your Sewing Machine?

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A sewing machine is an important investment. Once you've purchased one, you want to ensure years of good service from your machine. One thing you may wonder is if your sewing machine will require oil. We've researched how often you should oil your sewing machine, so you will be well on your way to forming a proper maintenance regime.

The good news is that many newer machines are pre-lubricated and do not require oil. If you have an older machine that does use oil, how often you need to oil will depend on how heavily you use the machine. For lightly used machines, oil about every four months. Suppose you sew daily or use fabrics that shed a lot, oil as frequently as three times a week. If a machine has not been used in four to five years, the oil potentially "goes bad," so professionally service and replace the oil in the machine.

Regular maintenance of your sewing machine is an important but not difficult task. Keep reading to learn details about sewing machine oil, expectations of your machine, and oil substitutes.

A sewing machine on a wooden table with needles and threads on the side, How Often Should You Oil Your Sewing Machine?

Oiling Your Sewing Machine

Different models and makes of sewing machines will require different care. Always refer to the manual that came with your machine for details on how frequently to oil, or if you even need to. Newer sewing machines are pre-lubricated and do not require the addition of oil. If you no longer have your machine's manual, you may retrieve it by an online search.

The more often you use your sewing machine, the more frequently it will require oil. Oiling your machine ensures that all the moving parts are in good working condition. Without proper oil, the parts will develop rust and wear out faster. A good rule of thumb is to oil your machine after every 50-hours of use.

Light to moderate machine users will need to oil their machine about every two months. If you hear any squeaking or your machine seems not to be running smoothly, clean and oil the machine. Your machine will run quietly when properly oiled.

How To Oil A Sewing Machine

An old woman putting on her sewing machine for maintenance

Refer to your sewing machine manual for specific instructions on how to oil it. Before beginning to oil, clean the machine thoroughly. Remove all lint and threads from the bobbin area. Use minimal amounts of oil designed for sewing machines or one of the potential substitutes listed below. Typically the oil is applied to the bobbin unit and casing and any other metal parts that rub against another.

Longevity of Sewing Machine Oil

Generally, sewing machine oil will last for about five years. If your machine has been in storage and not used for this long, it will need professional servicing. The oil can go bad and dry out. It may even have hardened, and the machine parts can be frozen. Hardened lubricate may need to be chemically dissolved and removed by a professional.  A machine that needs servicing will not run smoothly and will sound loud.

Sewing machine oil that has been stored should last for about five years, but it can go bad. Store your oil out of direct sunlight and avoid extreme temperatures. Keep the oil in a clear container so you can easily see if the color is changing. Check your oil for any of the following signs to determine if it has gone bad:

  • color changing or becoming cloudy
  • odd or foul odor
  • sediment in the container
  • thick consistency
  • your sewing machine is making a lot of noise

Do Modern Sewing Machines Need Oil?

Many of today's modern sewing machines have lubricant already injected into the parts. They are considered self-lubricating. You may even have a machine that's lubricant is referred to as "permanent." While these machines do not need to have oil added to them, they may eventually need servicing. A machine that is pre-lubricated should not need any additional lubricant throughout its warranty period.

Can You Use WD-40 To Oil A Sewing Machine?

You may have heard that WD-40 can be used to oil a sewing machine. WD-40 is not an acceptable substitution for sewing machine oil. WD-40 will act as a solvent and break down old oil that has hardened, but it will not function as a lubricant for machine parts and would have to be completely removed before reapplying an appropriate oil.

What Can I Substitute For Sewing Machine Oil?

While it's best to use an oil designed specifically for sewing machines, there are a few options you can use as a substitute. Using an oil that is not safe for sewing machines can damage the parts inside your machine.

Mineral Oil

White mineral oil is an option to use as sewing machine oil. White mineral oil is petroleum-based oil. Mineral oil is inexpensive and available at most drug stores.

Click here to see mineral oil on Amazon. 

Three-in-One Oil

Three-in-one oil is designed for bicycles; however, you may safely use it to lubricate a sewing machine. Three-in-one oil is a general-purpose lubricant safe for moving metal parts.

Click here to see this oil on Amazon. 

Marvel Mystery Oil

Marvel Mystery oil is a trade secret formula originally designed for use in carburetors. This oil is safe to use in small motorized appliances, including sewing machines.

Click here to find this oil on Amazon. 

Tri-flow Oil

Tri-flow oil was designed for bicycle chains but can be safely used for sewing machines.

Click here to find this oil on Amazon. 

Clock Oil

While not a perfect match for sewing machine oil, clock oil can be used in a pinch as a substitute. You can use this product in an emergency but switch back to a sewing machine specific oil as soon as possible.

Click here to find this clock oil on Amazon.

Clipper Blade Oil

Clipper blade oil is a lightweight oil with a similar consistency to sewing machine oil. It can be used temporarily as a substitute for sewing machine oil.

Click here to find this oil on Amazon.

Avoid These Oils

When considering a substitute for sewing machine oil, it's also important to know which products to avoid. This list of oils are not recommended for use in sewing machines:

  • WD-40
  • Baby oil
  • Lamp oil
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cooking spray
  • Butter, lard, animal fats
  • Kerosene, gasoline, or fuels

What Is The Best Oil For Sewing Machines?

There are two major types of sewing machine oils. These are synthetic or mineral-based oils. Synthetic oils are safe for both metal and plastic parts but tend to be a bit more costly than mineral-based oils. Mineral-based or petroleum-based oils are less expensive. They are odorless and colorless. Either option will keep your machine working in top condition when used properly.

Zoom Spout Sewing Machine Oil

Zoom Spout is a mineral oil-based sewing machine oil. This oil is highly rated. It is completely clear and highly pure, which makes it a favorite for using near the fabric.

Click here to find this product on Amazon.

Singer 2131E All Purpose Machine Oil

Singer has long been a name associated with premium sewing machines. Not surprisingly, their sewing machine oil is a great product for lubricating your machine.

Click here to find this oil on Amazon.

Lily White

Lily White is a highly recommended sewing machine oil that is a great option for beginners. It is colorless and will not damage fabrics if you accidentally over apply the oil.

Click here to see this product on Amazon. 

How Long Should A Sewing Machine Last?

With proper maintenance, a moderately priced sewing machine can be expected to last about 5-years. Computerized machines may last up to 25-years. This is a vast range and affected by several considerations. Machines that contain less expensive plastic parts will wear out sooner than a heavy-duty machine comprised of metal parts. This is why your grandma's antique Singer machine may still be running well.

With sewing machines, you do get what you pay for. Higher-end machines with quality parts will definitely last longer than a budget brand. Consider how often you will be using your machine, and whether it is worth the investment in a more expensive machine.

There are a few things you can do to extend the life of your sewing machine.

  1. Clean your machine regularly.
  2. Lubricate your machine with the correct oil.
  3. Consider a tune-up from a professional about once a year.
  4. Make sure you are using the proper needle for your machine.
  5. Make sure you are using the properly sized bobbin for your machine.

In Summary

Proper care of your sewing machine will extend its lifetime and keep it running well. Regular cleaning and oiling are maintenance activities that ensure many years of successful sewing. Using an oil specifically designed for sewing machines will give the best results, but there are a few options that you can substitute in a pinch. Always refer to your sewing machine's manual for specific recommendations regarding how frequently and what parts of your machine to oil.

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