The best tools to have when restoring sewing machines

The best tools to have when restoring sewing machines

After having tinkered with and restored over a dozen sewing machines this year, many folks have asked how to get started fixing up their own vintage sewing machine. Recently I wrote an in depth overview about where to find reliable vintage industrial sewing machines?. It gives inspiration for repurposing vintage sewing machines, which I have started to use as a heavy duty sewing machine for leather. It is one way I support keeping our sustainably and ethically made handbag production in the USA


Here are my favorite tools for dealing with sewing machine problems and solutions (many of which I’ve linked to Amazon for easy purchasing):


  • Headlamp or magnifying visor I prefer a headlamp and reading glasses, as it seems like the visor gets in the way when really getting down and dirty into the sewing machine troubleshooting.
  • Two pair of jewelry tweezers: 6” serrated bent tip tweezers to act as a steady hand, and another pair of super fine tip tweezers to extract greasy lint from tiny crevices. Both to get to know your sewing machine.
  • Sewing machine oil with a zoom-spout dispenser plus a gallon (yes!) of sewing machine oil to refill the container. One might not think about oil, when talking about vintage sewing machine parts, but oil is essential for everything to run smoothly.
  • How do you clean and restore an old sewing machine? Use Cheap dental cleaning tools to scrape out rust and gunk from crevices: these are perfect to clean between feed dog teeth.

  • A few old toothbrushes (or bottle brushes in various sizes if you *really* want to get in those crevices). How do you clean and restore an old sewing machine?
  • No matter what are the common sewing machine troubles, their causes and remedies, a set of screwdrivers with varying tips always comes handy! I especially recommend gunsmithing (yes, really) sets because the tips are ground in a concave way to really fit the greasy, rusted slots of screw heads better than the average screwdriver set.
  • Magnetic tray to put screws and parts in as you take the machine apart. I tend to like to have 4-5 on hand per machine so I can easily keep the parts for each component together and not get them mixed up (ps. Always take LOTS of photos as you take the machine apart - could easily be one of my top recommendations for any upcycled DIY project).
  • Old plastic takeout containers to clean & soak parts.
  • A tool box (I use a vintage sewing kit) lined with felt (it's wise to line the box with felt or an absorbent material because of the amount of sewing machine oil.)
  • If you ask what is the most common problem for a sewing machine? Then rust is high up there and Evaporust is a non toxic miracle chemical that takes rust off anything. Just don’t leave chrome in there too long or it will darken to a charcoal grey that will take FOREVER to polish off from old sewing machine details.
  • Odorless Mineral Spirits (the still have a bit of a smell, but not nearly as bad). Purists say kerosene, but I find that is much harder to come by.
  • Non-pumice Gojo hand cream to condition and polish black metal machines when you’re all done. This does a great job to remove nicotine yellowing from paint as well, without harming decals. It is something that can give an old sewing machine a newer look.
  • Cotton tips and Interdental cleaning picks (link is for Amazon, but I find these at Goodwill and thrift stores quite often. 

DO not:

  • Using WD 40 to lubricate this isn’t actually a lubricant it will gunk up
  • 409 or cleaning agents (this will remove the beautiful gold decals and turn them silver)
  • Using compressed air (pull lint out, don’t push gunk in further)

Share your old sewing machine ideas and ways to fix vintage sewing machines. Also troubles you’ve had and tool recommendations you’ve used in the comments below.

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