Do Sewing Machines Need Oil? (Explained for Beginners)


If you’ve recently taken up sewing as a hobby you’re probably eager to try lots of new stitches and techniques using your sewing machine. Well-loved sewing machines will experience wear and tear and like every piece of craft machinery you’ll get the best out of it when you keep it well-maintained and lubricated.

Sewing machines are mechanical systems and require lubrication with oil to ensure they perform as quietly and smoothly as possible. To create stitches, internal parts rotate and rub together, so special sewing machine oil is needed to reduce friction.

Your sewing machine will appreciate being oiled as part of its regular maintenance, but sometimes it will let you know that oiling is needed urgently by making strange noises! Keep reading to find out when oil is needed in your sewing machine, which type of oil is best suited to sewing machines, and crucially which parts of the mechanism you should oil.

How Do I Know If My Sewing Machine Needs Oil?

Obvious signs that your sewing machine may need oiling can be things like:

  • Funny noises that aren’t regular or consistent with its normal sound during operation (healthy sewing machines should run smooth and quiet!)
  • Needles are breaking
  • If the thread is getting routinely stuck or breaking off easily
  • Oil starts appearing on the fabric you are using, suggesting a leak or blockage in the mechanism
  • The thread is failing to catch onto the mechanism (so stitches aren’t appearing or not appearing in full)

These are typical signs to look out for in any sewing machine, but if you have purchased or inherited a vintage or second-hand sewing machine, you may not know how the machine has been treated or its age. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to get your sewing machine serviced by a professional to assess its quality and whether or not it needs oiling.

A professional maintenance check for your sewing machine is recommended every couple of years and they will normally oil the machine for you as part of the service. They may also make suggestions of how, where, and how regularly you’ll need to oil yours based on your use. Lifelong seamstress Cara from the Sewing Society advises getting your sewing machine professionally serviced “every year or two”.

What Kind of Oil is Used for Sewing Machines?

As obvious as it sounds, sewing machine oil (made specifically for the purpose of sewing machines) is the best kind to use. Often, substitutes for proper sewing machine oil don’t evaporate and tend to stick to the moving parts in the mechanism, causing a huge maintenance headache!

Before we go any further, we should state here that you should never use car oil or WD-40 to oil your sewing machine as the viscosity and color of these products were not designed for sewing machine lubrication and will not only damage the mechanisms but probably discolor your work.

Let’s look at different types of oil that may be substituted for traditional sewing machine oil, their unique properties, and why certain types are not suitable:

Is Mineral Oil Good for Sewing Machines?

Yes, sewing machine oil is made from white mineral oil. Just make sure that it is thin and odorless and always check before buying or using that the mineral oil product mentions applicability with sewing machines. If this isn’t written on the label, it isn’t worth the risk.

Is 3 in 1 Oil Okay for Sewing Machines?

No. 3 in 1 Oil should not be sued on your sewing machine. 3 in 1 oil products tend to leave a thick, gummy residue. It also evaporates, meaning gears and mechanisms will not remain oiled for long, leading to increased friction and performance issues.

Can You Use Clipper Oil on Sewing Machines?

Clipper oil is often cited as a suitable oil substitute because it is often used in fast motors that generate a lot of heat, so it can handle sewing machines that run at high speeds.

It’s important to note, however, that clipper oil possesses a different thickness, so if you’re unsure it’s best to stick to the sewing machine oil recommended by your machine’s manufacturer.

Can Clock Oil be used on Sewing Machines?

Some sewing communities mention Clock oil as a substitute, but caution should be taken with this because while Clock and instrumental oil is made from mineral oil, it has a different fluidity. Whilst sewing machine oil flows and spreads to where it needs to be, clock oil is a little more rigid and tends to remain in place, which may cause friction and performance issues with your machine.

How Often Should a Sewing Machine Be Oiled?

This will depend on your use. The more you use your sewing machine, the more it will require oiling and maintenance. For average use, oiling every 4 months or so is a good rule of thumb, but if you use your machine repeatedly every day, then it will benefit from more frequent TLC.

Threads magazine advises “cleaning and oiling your sewing machine every time you finish a sewing project, and only using the smallest amount of oil to prevent over-oiling.” We’d also recommend changing the needle between each project and wiping away dust and lint in your machine to keep it running as smoothly as possible.

Should I Oil My New Sewing Machine?

Often, brand new sewing machines will come pre-lubricated with oil and won’t require oiling straight away, so you may be good for the first few months. Again, consider how often you plan to use it – daily, weekly etc – as this will affect when you should oil it for the first time.

If you do decide to oil your brand new sewing machine, it won’t hurt to add a drop or two into the bobbin case.

What Parts Do You Oil on a Sewing Machine?

The owner’s manual that came with your sewing machine model will typically tell you where to place the oil.

In most cases, the parts that specifically require oiling are the main housing unit where the bobbin case sits (the bobbin or spool holding of thread you use), and the shuttle hook (this part is the circular groove or silver ring that surrounds the bobbin case which allows the sewing thread to catch and be carried all the way around the bobbin case/cage to complete a stitch).

So 1 small drop of oil will be needed directly in the main housing unit or the center of the revolving shuttle hook, and a few drops will also be needed on the outer ring where the thread slides along the ‘hook race’. Because these two parts of the mechanism rub together in operation, oiling these sections will make your sewing machine quieter and help it perform smoothly.

Keep in mind that your sewing machine will require cleaning and prepping before adding any oil to it to avoid dust and debris getting into the parts. Here’s a good step-by-step guide of the typical cleaning and oiling process.

We hope you found this helpful – you now have the tips needed to oil your sewing machine in a safe and timely manner!

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