Sewing Machines

Cleaning an old Singer sewing machine

February 12, 2012

As long as I can remember I have wanted an old Singer sewing machine. The dream came true a few months ago. Oh joy! I got it along with many other vintage treasures (read more about that here) It is black with a hand crank and I love it.

I was a little unsure of how old the sewing machine was, but Singer has made a very handy list where you can check the serial number and find out what year the machine was made. You can find the list here. My sewing machine is from 1922. How cool is that?

The sewing machine was in good condition, except that it needed a thorough clean. I started on the lid.

Cover your workplace with newspaper or cardboard to prevent it from getting dirty. I used a damp cloth and wiped off all the dust on the lid.There was a note attached to the lid and it had left some ugly glue residues. In order to remove the glue, mix one part water and one part nail polish remover. Dip a cotton tip in the mixture and start rubbing it on the glue. When the glue is gone use a damp cloth and wash away the nail polish remover mixture. It is important to remember that some nail polish removers are stronger than others. First try the mixture on a small area (for example inside the lid) so you do not etch away the paint on the lid.

Use a damp cloth and wiped off all the dust. A cotton tip and tweezers is your best friend. Use them to get to the al the small tricky places to remove all bits of thread and dust. Is important that you leave the red felt alone (you see it right under tweezers on the the picture) The felt helps to lubricate things.

Unscrew the lid and clean the inside. Use quality sewing machine oil and oil moving parts where metal touches metal. Clean off excess oil from the machine by using a cloth. This is not an electric machine, but it is important to remember that if you clean an electric machine, never lubricate any of the sewing machine’s electrical parts.

Clean both above and below.

You’re going to get dirty.

There was a lot of rust on the handle. I used rust remover and a linen cloth.

Remember to clean all the extra parts.

  1. What a nice Singer 99! I have a motorised version of this one, with the knee bar. If you are interested in people who use people powered sewing machines, is a really good website.

  2. I’m surprised that they were still making hand cranks in 1922. Count me among the millions of devoted Singer fans. I sew every day on my Grandmother’s 1947, use my 1957 traveling machine for retreats, and stop every so often to ogle at my great-grandmother’s 1911 treadle. Congratulations on your purchase! It’ll never let you down. And you’ll get really good at sewing one handed! 🙂

    1. Still making hand cranks in 1922?
      My Gift Horse (so-called because this really wasn’t what I was looking for, but it didn’t cost me anything and does a nice job!) is probably the most modern-styled hand crank machine I’ll ever meet; never mind 1922, the Alfa company were still making their machines as an optional hand powered model in what must have been the 1960s…

      (I was entertained to discover the standard plaque in the base assuring me that it is rated for safe use at 240V – evidently the hand machines were a tiny minority at this point.)

  3. Nice job! I recently got a motorized Singer 15 with Sphinx decals. I haven’t cleaned it yet–not even sure if it works! I’m always looking for restoration tips, so it’s great to see this.

  4. Thank you very much for the post! Cannot wait to start cleaning my 201K threadle!

    @Bev, you can look up serials on Singer’s website:

    I prefer to use ISMACS’ list here:

    According to the ISMACS list your machine is a 99K made in 1915 at Clydebank, Scotland (The K stands for Kilbowie, the factory name.)

  5. Next time on the wood or glass use natural peanut butter. Oil removes sticky. Works every time. Also on pen marks on a hard surface NOT fabric try an expo marker! Just rub it over ink or sharpie. It will remove it!

  6. My great aunt bought a Singer treadle machine a long, long time ago and my Aunt still has it. I am unsure how old it actually is and it is still in use today. I got lucky today thanks to Craigslist and bought a 1911 Singer Treadle “Sphinx” for $25. That was a dream come true, especially given that it is in excellent condition save for being dirty. I am so happy!!! Definitely congrats on your beautiful hand crank find!

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