Products to Oil & Lubricate a Sewing Machine

Using the wrong lubricating product or oil for your sewing machine can be a slippery slope to problems for your sewing machine or serger.  Don’t risk damaging your machine or make things more difficult for yourself, get the correct tool and product for the job.

As far as where to oil, refer to your user’s manual for that information. If your manual doesn’t have any oiling instructions, then it is the manufacturers intent that any lubricating that is required is to be done by the technician when you take the machine in for service and not the owner/ user. If this doesn’t sit well with you, then you should consider getting a quality, classic, vintage machine which you can clean and oil yourself. The instructions will be right in the manual.  For generic cleaning and oiling instructions, try This Sewing Machine Maintenance Guide from the New Mexico State Cooperative Extension Service.

Let's start by covering what oils you shouldn’t use and then give some good product options for oiling your sewing machine.


Fist, do not use 3-in-1 oil. The solvents it contains which give it is cleaning properties will evaporate over time and the remaining product It will “varnish up”, becoming a sticky gumming residue and binding up your machine.

Do not use WD-40. It can interfere with the lubricating properties of the graphite deposits in sintered bearings on newer machines, and will not provide sufficient,  long term lubricating properties on any machine.

If it smells like gasoline just don’t use it.
 
Don't  use motor oil. That’s for you car.

Don’t use olive oil or vegetable oil. That’s for your salad.


Sewing Machine oil with precision applicator tip
Guess what you should use? SEWING MACHINE OIL! See, this isn’t complicated at all!

Make your sewing machine happy and your life simpler by using a good, clear sewing machine oil. These are sold at Joann’s , Target, Wal-Mart, any sewing machine shop and other fabric stores. It’s cheap (less than a few dollars per bottle) won't harm your machine when used according to the directions in you manual, and works fine.

If you feel like using the BEST oil for sewing machines (IMHO), you can get yourself some Tri-flow oil. It comes in an aerosol spray can and a drip bottle. I like the drip bottle (shown here). It’s easier to control (has a little straw that fits in the tip)and far less messy than the aerosol spray. Tri-flow has PTFE (Teflon) suspended into the mix, so be sure to shake it up well. It’s slightly more expensive than standard sewing machine oil and it’s nice to use, but not an absolutely necessary expense.

If you find an old bottle of sewing machine oil and it isn’t clear and colorless, don’t use it. The oil breaks down over time and just won’t do the job like fresh oil.

What about grease?
Grease is used on some sewing machine gears. Oil would just fly off as the gears spin, so it is not a substitute for grease in this case. Also, many of the vintage Singer motors require grease. The grease is used in the tubes and pots that hold the wicks which transfer the lubrication required to the motor bearings.

On machines with metal gears, I REALLY like the Tri-flow grease. It’s sticky and doesn’t fling off as the gears spin.  I do NOT recommend using lithium grease . Why? Because I have personally chiseled & chipped it off of one to many sets of metal gears. It apparently turns into an opaque, concrete like substance over time.

For plastic gears, please proceed with caution. On many models, the manufacturer specifies no lubricant is to be applied to the synthetic/ plastic/ nylon/ non-metal gears. Using a lubricant in this case is not advised. For many other machines, the manufacturer recommends a product such as Molykote EM-40M or similar. In such an instance, it is safe to use Tri-Flow grease or Di-electric grease. Neither will harm the plastic gears, and they will provide the lubricating properties required.  Many other types of grease are not safe on plastics or nylon, so be very careful about what you use on non-metal gears.

For Singer motors with grease pots, I no longer suggest the Singer grease.  The new formula (2013) no longer has a low enough melting point to have the needed capillary action to travel through the wick and lubricate the motor bearings.  I suggest petroleum jelly for this particular application at this time. 


If you like to use something not mentioned here or that I’ve cautioned against, that’s your prerogative, but please don’t expect me to endorse it. I’ve developed a repertoire of safe, effective products, and I’m stickin’ to ‘em.

 

 You can find the Tri-Flow oil and grease for sewing machines right HERE

 

 
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  • Monday, January 12. 2009 Art Blum wrote:
    I will be receiving a Singer 201-2, DOB
    20Feb51 and this is the information that
    I'm looking for. Thank you Jenny, first
    you helped me with the 201-2 PDF, now with this most important detail of the proper type of oil and grease to use on the machine.
    1. Monday, January 12. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Art,

      I'm gald it was useful info. - Happy Day !
  • Sunday, May 03. 2009 Neale wrote:
    Sometimes the grease gets old and the plastic gears do not slide on the shaft. How do you clean the old grease off the shaft and inside the gears before putting new oil and grease on the gears? (I WAS going to use WD-40)
  • Monday, June 01. 2009 Rohs Screening wrote:
    Hey,

    I think my Euro-Pro 464XC now needs to be lubricated and I was wondering which oil is best suitable to sewing machine.
    Looking forward to hear from you at the earliest....
    1. Monday, June 01. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Ummm...that's exactly what this entry is about...see above.
  • Wednesday, June 24. 2009 zero4file wrote:
    Using the wrong lubricating product or oil for your sewing machine can be a slippery slope to problems for your sewing machine or serger. Don’t risk damaging your machine or make things more difficult for yourself, get the correct tool and product for the job.

    zero4file
  • Monday, July 06. 2009 Diane wrote:
    Jenny,
    Is TriFlow grease OK to use on the motor's worm gear AND in the grease tubes?Or do I need Singer lube as well?There is a thread at the vintagesingers group that has me confused.Thanks! DianeR
    1. Monday, July 06. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:

      This is my understanding:

      The Tri-flow grease (solid stuff) does have a high melting point, but it does have capillary action, but the added PTFE (Teflon) doesn't.  So, the “grease” portion of the tri-flow will provide lubrication for the motor bearing through the wick, but the Teflon won't make it through as it doesn't have capillary abilities. 

      For 15-91's, I like to remove the armature, and clean the bearings, grease pots, hand wheel,  worm gear, etc.. of all old grease.  I then place one drop of Tri-flow oil inside the bearing, and wipe away excess with a clean Q-tip.  This leaves a very light film of Tri-flow with Teflon on the bearing surface. I also like to put a small dab of the Tri-flow grease)on the tip of the wick as I replace it in the machine after the armature is back in place.   This places a light film of the Tri-flow grease  with the Teflon right on the armature shaft inside the bearing.

      If you want to use Tri-flow grease to pack the grease pots or Singer lube, I seriously doubt it will make any difference at all. Removing all of the old, deteriorated, dirty grease and grime- that makes a difference.  You coud also use petroleum Jelly in the grease tubes.

      Both the Tri-flow grease and the Singer lube are fine for the worm gear and the handwheel gear.


  • Saturday, July 18. 2009 iamthatiam wrote:
    Hi, I have a Singer 638 which was recently given to me. I turned it on and the wheel and needle went up and down- it seemed to get stuck, and no stitches, but I cleaned it very well. I took it to get it serviced/cleaned + it ended up costing me $80.The repairguy claims that it was frozen-how can that be if it was moving? and he said he had to soak it with wd2? has that ruined it?I have a 301A that the needle thread is constantly breaking-the thread loops the bobbin but it breaks +no stitches.help
    1. Thursday, February 11. 2010 Susan wrote:
      First make sure the machine is threaded correctly. Sewusa.com has threading diagrams for many machines. A small error can make any machine act stupid.
      Then if the thread continues to break, change the needle. Many times this simple step is all that is required! Make sure you've put the needle in the machine the correct way. Some needles go in with the flat part facing right, others to the rear. Make sure you place the needle in all the way until it stops.
      Is the needle the right gauge for the thread? Use a quality thread--my Mom had problems with her machine and guess what? She had cheap Walmart thread in it. We changed the thread (I like Coats), the machine went to sewing like it was new.
      Sewing machine guys that are honest are few and far between. They're out there, but get a recommendation from a trusted friend. I took a machine in and it cost me $79 and all they did was oil it and stick one of their stupid stickers on it! I am told I got off easy....
      I am now learning to repair my own machines. Here is a link that has been a lifesaver:http://www.tfsr.org/... TFSR is an organization that takes sewing machines to third world countries and donates them to women so they can become self-reliant. Fortunately they want machines that work pretty well so they posted a huge file of instructions on how to repair sewing machines! YEAH! I have learned so much from this website.
      The Smithsonian has manuals on line that you can read and even save to a file on your computer. Just looking at the pictures is fun.
      Next, Singer has machine manuals and repair manuals you can look at for free. Here is the parts charts link:
      http://www.parts.singerco.com/CPpartCharts/1_19999/

      Here are the manual links:

      http://parts.singerco.com/IPinstManuals/

      We sewing machine fanatics have to stick together. Buy sewing machines that are similar to your own for $20-25 and use them to practice repairing on. I got two rusted out machine for $5 at an auction. Hands on practice is the way to go. And don't be afraid to mess up on your repair! What's the worst that could happen?
      You can take it to that recommended repair person!
      Happy sewing! Susan in Ga.
  • Thursday, September 03. 2009 Oregacyn Oil wrote:
    could you please tell me from where we can buy it?
    1. Thursday, September 03. 2009 Sew-Classic wrote:
      I will be stocking Tri-flow products in my Sew-Classi on line parts and Supplies Store very soon!
  • Sunday, February 14. 2010 Miriam wrote:
    Also, the vintage Singer motors require grease. The grease is used in the tubes and pots that hold the wicks which transfer the lubrication required to the motor bearings.
    Could you expand on this or explain how this is done? I think I need more info please. Thanks - you have a wonderful website.
    1. Sunday, February 14. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Your question isn't very specific, but...here it goes......The grease is place in the grease tube or grease pot loacted at each motor bearing/bushing.  Inside of these, there is a wick.  The lubricant is absorbed and transfered into the motor bearing by virtue of this wick.


  • Thursday, April 08. 2010 Tammy wrote:
    Hi, I have a Signature sewing machine, Model UHT J276C. It does great stitching a straight stitch but it a sliding thingy (i know kinda silly) on the top of the machine that appears to be where I would push or pull or press down on to put it into the catagory of Zig Zag and for some reason it won't move at all. I don't know if its stuck or what. I even took the top plate off to see if there was something holding it up but there is nothing I don't see how it releases to move unless it is just stuck to the bar that it's on. I just wondered if your experience would know how the heck I might change the slider to zig zag.. i don't want to force it and risk breaking something. I don't have a manual. Thanks for your help.
  • Friday, April 09. 2010 Miriam wrote:
    "Also, many of  the vintage Singer motors require grease. The grease is used in the tubes and pots that hold the wicks which transfer the lubrication required to the motor bearings."
    OK - Let's try again. That was a quote from you from the 401 blog entry - the part about motors. I still don't understand where any grease ports would be on a 401. Where would you grease the 401's motor without damaging it?
    1. Friday, April 09. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Sorry Miriam, - just read the 401 review and refurbishing entries- no such quote to be found.  I do see that exact quote in this entry,  "Products to Oil & Lubricate a Sewing Machine ".  Yes, indeed, some, infact many,  vintage Singers do have grease tubes and pots, but not all. 

      The 401 has a sealed ball bearing at the upper most portion of the shaft, and a standard, sleeve type bearing at the lower end,.  Obviously, a sealed ball bearing isn't going to have a wick lubricating system.  The lower bushing is supposedly self lubricating, but after 40 or 50 years does benefit from some supplemental oil.  I do this with the motor at least partially disassembled.
  • Thursday, July 08. 2010 E Smith wrote:
    Your site it not user friendly with regard to viewing answers to questions from surfers. Please explain how you find the answer rather that the question??
    1. Saturday, July 10. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:

      Your site it not user friendly with regard to viewing answers to questions from surfers. Please explain how you find the answer rather that the question??

      What question(s) are you talking about?  The comments on the bottom of blog entries are in chronological order.

  • Thursday, July 08. 2010 gingerbee wrote:
    hi! i just acquired a 1938 singer 201-2. i don't actually sew much but i have researched a lot about it and have decided to repair and keep this beautiful machine. your site is very helpful! i am currently taking it apart to clean, lubricate and rewire it since the shop wanted $125.

    i would like to know what kind of cleaning fluid i should use to clean the old grease and oil off. in my research i came up with kerosene but that contradicts another site that says not to use certain flammables.

    since i can't find any straight answer, what type of cleaning fluid do you use to clean the old oil and grease?

    (i have wd-40 and goo gone on hand)

    thank you in advance
    1. Saturday, July 10. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:

      i would like to know what kind of cleaning fluid i should use to clean the old grease and oil off. in my research i came up with kerosene but that contradicts another site that says not to use certain flammables.

      since i can't find any straight answer, what type of cleaning fluid do you use to clean the old oil and grease?

      Tri-flow and sewing machine oil are the safest.  I hesitate to suggest products for cleaning the old finishes on machines.  Why?  Because you name the product and somebody, somewhere has had it damage the finish.  So, what ever you decide to use, test in an inconspicuous spot first.


  • Saturday, July 10. 2010 Diane wrote:
    Jenny,I love the Triflow products and had trouble finding them.Finally I paid too much and got them on Ebay.So glad you carry these now!

    Do you recommend greasing the gear on the handwheel?

    Thanks for your great site! Diane
    1. Saturday, July 10. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      I do think it is a good idea to have some grease on the worm gear that engages with the hand wheel on the gear drive machines.
  • Thursday, July 22. 2010 Shirley wrote:
    I just bought a 404 singer and it worked fine but I thought after it had set for a while... I would clean it out. Well, I cleaned it all up alright and thought I was doing so good OILING all the gears and such. I thought some crazy person has used old black grease on these gears. So i carefully cleaned all the grease off and gave it a good dosing with sewing machine oil. I later found in an old booklet that said never use OIL on the gears ...use a LUBRICANT! I never ever thought there was a difference and I have sewn for 40 years! Now what do I do to get the oil out and lube it right? I haven't sewn on it since I did all this cleaning. :/
    1. Thursday, July 22. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      Just wipe the oil off the gears with a rag as best you can, and apply someTri-flow grease.
  • Friday, November 19. 2010 Donna wrote:
    Hi Jenny - I have my mother's 401A machine. I have oiled and greased all of the necessary spots and gears. The machine only runs at one speed which is quite slow and seems to be very sluggish. I am wondering if the foot pedal is the problem or the motor. There doesn't seem to be any place on the foot pedal to make any adjustments to increase speed. I would also like to refurbish this machine. I will need instructions on putting everything back together. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!
    1. Monday, November 22. 2010 Sew-Classic wrote:
      I just can't tell from over here why your machine is running slow.  if you are looking for a guide on how to make adjustments to the Singer button controller, try the Vintage Singer Group on Yahoo.  They have a document to that affect in their files section.  It's all free, but you have to sign up.

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