Can Sewing Machine Oil Go Bad? (Explained and Quick Facts)


If you have owned a sewing machine for a while, it is easy to think that sewing machine oil does not expire. In fact, many people will probably try to convince you that you don’t have to worry about replacing it because it lasts forever. However, this could not be further from the truth.

Sewing machine oil can go bad. The typical shelf life of most sewing machine oils is about five years. However, if the oil is not stored properly, this shelf life can be drastically reduced.

Almost all sewing machines will need to be oiled for durability. It is important to ensure that the oil you are applying to your sewing machine is not only the right oil but also oil that has not gone bad. In this guide, you’ll learn how long sewing machine oil lasts, how to tell if your oil has gone bad, and how to properly store your sewing machine oil to ensure that it lasts as long as possible.

How Long Does the Machine Oil Last?

Standard sewing machine oil lasts about 5 years. After this period, it starts to go bad and will need to be replaced. It can also go bad sooner than this if not stored properly. We explain exactly how to store your sewing machine oil properly in later sections of this guide.

Sewing machine oil is important as it lubricates your sewing machine and prevents rust. While most modern domestic machines do not have to be re-oiled often, older machines and industrial sewing machines require oiling to prevent the moving parts from breaking down.

This is why it is important to keep track of the age of your sewing machine oil to ensure that you do not use oil that has gone bad.

How to Keep Your Sewing Machine Oil Good for as Long as Possible?

Sewing machine oil can go bad after about 5 years. However, it can also go bad sooner than this if not kept properly. Poor storage is one of the main factors that reduce the shelf life of sewing machine oil.

If you want to keep your sewing machine oil good for as long as possible, here is how you should store it:

1. Store It Away from Direct Sunlight

Sunlight increases the rate of deterioration of sewing machine oil. It also makes it evaporate faster.

2. Store It at Room Temperature

Storing your sewing machine oil in an area with very high temperatures will make it evaporate faster. Storing it in cold temperatures will make the oil cloudy and alter its moisture content. This is why you should never keep your sewing machine oil in the fridge/freezer.

3. Store It in an Airtight Container

If you have your sewing machine oil in a damaged container or a container that is not air-tight, air will get into the container and speed up the evaporation process. Additionally, water can also find its way inside the container and damage the oil even further.

4. Do not Mix Oils

Do not mix your sewing machine oil with another type of oil, even if it is another sewing machine oil from a different brand. Different oils have different textures and consistencies. If you have an oil that is not appropriate for your sewing machine, keep it separate from the rest of your sewing machine oil.

5. Keep Your Sewing Machine Oil Away from Contact with Liquids

Liquids like water increase the rate of bacteria growth in oil, which speeds up the process of your sewing machine oil going bad. Always store your sewing machine oil in a dark place that is neither too hot nor too cold and away from contact with any liquids.

Are All Sewing Machine Oil the Same?

No, all sewing machine oils are not the same.

There are three different types of sewing machine oils: natural oils, synthetic oils, and mineral oils. While all these oils serve the same function, they are not the same and different people in the sewing community have different preferences.

Mineral oil is oil made from petroleum. It is cheap, easy to find, odorless, non-toxic, and colorless. It is an affordable way to get the job done.

Synthetic oil is a little more expensive, but you can use it in other ways that mineral oil falls short. For example, you can use it to lubricate plastic parts if your sewing machine has them. Plus, in the event of over-oiling, you will have to deal with minimal damage as compared to mineral oils.

Natural oils are the most expensive of the three types of sewing machine oils. They are made using natural materials like jojoba, silicone, and ester. They are also environmentally friendly. However, they can also be rather inefficient and ineffective, so while you might want to use them for good reasons, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on your sewing machine to see how the natural oils affect its performance.

All three oils are a great way to keep your sewing machine’s gears lubricated. They will go a long way in helping you prevent rust and inefficiency that comes from the various parts grinding against each other and wearing out.

That said, note that the best oil for your sewing machine will always be the one that has the name of the machine you are using on it. Consider oiling your sewing machine’s gears at least once every 8 hours of sewing to keep things running as smoothly as possible.

What about 3-in-1 oil? Well, 3-in-1 oil was initially designed to be used in bicycle chains. Over time, this use has been expanded to general and household uses as well.

While 3-in-1 oil is great for a wide variety of uses, you DO NOT want to use it in your sewing machine. 3-in-1 oil evaporates pretty quickly and over time, it will leave a sticky residue that will leave your sewing machine in a worse condition than before you oiled it.

Is Sewing Machine Oil Flammable?

Sewing machine oil is not flammable. If a fire starts near your sewing machine oil as a result of a different ignition source, put it out using the proper extinguisher according to the fire type.

Sewing machine oil is negligibly hazardous at normal temperatures (up to 38 degrees Celcius). As temperatures rise, instead of combusting, it may form vapors, mists, or fumes. This can be irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat if inhaled, so it is best to avoid inhaling it.

Is Sewing Machine Oil Toxic?

Mineral and synthetic sewing machine oils are non-toxic. Some natural sewing machine oils may be toxic. No matter what type of sewing machine oil you are using, do not ingest it or inhale its fumes. And always handle it carefully as you use it.

Ingesting any toxic component is dangerous and poisonous. Some oils contain hydrocarbons, which can increase the risk of aspiration when consumed. Oils with high volatility and low viscosity are more likely to cause aspiration. 

Consuming sewing machine oil can lead to nausea and stomach discomfort. Prolonged exposure to the skin can lead to itchiness, reddening of the skin, and rashes unless removed quickly. Contact with the eye causes irritation and will need to be washed out.

When in doubt, go for mineral and synthetic sewing machine oils which are known to be non-toxic and safe.

Does Sewing Machine Oil Evaporate?

Yes, sewing machine oil will evaporate over time if it is not stored properly. Evaporated sewing machine oil will look thick and dry.

A good rule of thumb to use when checking whether your sewing machine oil has gone bad is to check its color. If it is clear and colorless and less than 5 years old, it is likely fine to keep using. If it is yellowing, thick, or gunky, it has likely gone bad.

Other signs that your oil has gone bad include:

  • Color: from white or transparent to a dark or murky color
  • Texture: if there is sedimentation in the container
  • Viscosity: if it is thicker or stickier than before
  • Odor: if it suddenly has a bad smell
  • Noises: if the sewing machine is making unfamiliar noises after you oil it
  • Residue: if there is residue around the label, outside the bottle, or around the bottle’s opening

Will Sewing Machine Oil Freeze?

Sewing machine oils are thin and light. If the temperature gets too low, they will freeze and no longer flow or lubricate your sewing machine effectively.

The freezing temperature for mineral sewing machine oil is -22 degrees Celsius. It crystallizes at this temperature, freezes, and loses its ability to perform.

For other oils, the freezing points will vary depending on the type of oil. For most oils, performance is most effective in cold temperatures from between zero to minus ten degrees Celsius. At -10 degrees Celsius, performance starts to drop, and by -20 degrees Celsius, solidification and freezing occur.

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