Cleaning and Restoring Antique Sewing Machines

Person with gloves sewing
  • 1-5 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-200
What You'll Need
Kerosene oil
Sewing machine lubricant/oil
Flathead screwdriver
Rags/dry cloth
Mineral oil
Carnauba wax
Medium-grit sandpaper
Steel wool
Lacquer thinner
Silver-polishing cloth

The basics of cleaning and restoring antique sewing machines are the same irrespective of the kind of sewing machine in question. Whether you have a hand-crank or treadle sewing machine, some basic cleaning and maintenance is required to sustain its functional and aesthetic features. You can easily restore your antique sewing machine using the following guidelines.

Step 1 - Cleaning Antique Sewing Machine Exteriors

Use a dry or very-slightly moistened cloth for wiping the machine. This is necessary to wipe-away the dust and grime settled on the machine’s surface. When cleaning the working surface of the sewing machine that includes small parts like the bobbin, bobbin case, and needle plate, using a cloth is not recommended. It can easily get stuck among these parts. Use a dry paintbrush to dust-off these parts. Tweezers are recommended for pulling-out bits of fibers that are often stuck around the needle plate.

Step 2 - Cleaning Antique Sewing Machine Interiors

The gear and inner machinery of sewing machines can be accessed by removing the panel enclosing the inner parts or by turning over the machine to access its underside. The panels are usually metal plates fastened with screws. Using a screwdriver, loosen the screws and remove the plate. Some parts of the machinery might seem very difficult to reach and remove the small traces of grime. You can use a screwdriver covered with cloth for cleaning such parts.

Use tweezers to pull-out threads that are stuck among the moving parts. For cleaning the gears, use a dry cloth moistened with a few drops of kerosene oil. The other alternative is to use branded sprays/solutions retailed specifically for cleaning manual/electronic motor parts. Remember to secure the plate you had removed.

Step 3 - Lubricating Antique Sewing Machine Interiors

woman using an older style sewing machine

You need to lubricate the moving parts of the machine. Apply sewing machine lubricating oil to the gears and wheels. Do this very slowly and apply a minimal amount of oil. Ensure you wipe-off any excess oil with an old rag. If you are not sure about the amount of lubrication needed, run the treadle to check if the machine is running smoothly.

Step 4 - Replacing Antique Sewing Machine Belt

Inspect the condition of the belt. If the belt seems cracked or loose, it is advised to replace it. You can find a belt in hardware stores or shops that service old sewing machines. Some online stores retail such belts. You can find a replacement by using the model number or serial number of your sewing machine.

Step 5 - Restoring Luster of Antique Sewing Machine

For restoring the appearance of antique sewing machines, you need to minimally polish its surfaces. Wipe the machine with a cloth dipped in mineral oil. Use carnauba wax for shining the wooden surfaces. This includes the table-like surface and the outer casing. However, if the surface seems stained, you need to clean it before proceeding with waxing. Use steel wool for scrubbing-off the stain.

If the surface around the stains seem scuffed, sand them with medium-grit sandpaper. Wipe waxed surfaces with a piece of cloth dipped in some lacquer thinner to remove wax residues. To brighten dull-looking metallic parts of a sewing machine, use silver polishing cloth. It is useful for buffing most kinds of metals used in antique sewing machines, including nickel and chromium.