How to Clean a Treadle Sewing Machine

How to Clean a Treadle Sewing Machine

By this point, you probably have a machine sitting in your Garage, Sewing Room, or in your house. If you don’t, the following information can still be useful for when you do decide to get one.

When you start to clean your machine, the easiest way to do so, is to take it out of the cabinet. Generally you can slide it out of the cabinet (the machine is balanced on metal pins) or there will be screws holding it in place, which are very easy to take out.

Familiarize yourself of which parts go where. There are several things you need to have on hand before you can start cleaning.

First. Sewing Machine oil. This can be purchased at JoAnns, E bay or other places. You don’t want to use the sewing machine oil in the really old bottle that came with the machine. It’s a lot better to buy new, it will work better. Brands don’t really matter much, just make sure it’s sewing machine oil. Other kinds of oil will really gum up your machine.

Second. Rags. You need to get some, what I would call “soft” and others that are more like terry-cloth. Make sure though that these can be thrown out, as they can get very dirty. It really depends on how filthy your machine is, and how much work you want to put into it. You need the soft rags for wiping the machine down and it is very important that you are careful of the decals. The decals on a machine make it nicer, and were there in the first place. It is very easy though to “silver” or destroy the decals.

Third. Pipe Cleaners. I am not talking about the fun colorful things that are used for craft projects, I’m talking about the cotton, white pipe cleaners that are exactly what the name refers to. You can get them at your local drug store, or E-bay. Pipe shops also have them. They are good for getting into tight areas. Pins work well, but Pipe cleaners work the best in my opinion.

I have heard reports of people using things other then Sewing Machine Oil, for their machines. I have never risked it. However, if you have a machine that is frozen, then you may need to take more drastic action.

The problem with using something else other then Sewing Machine Oil for your machine, is that it can have additional ingredients that can gum up your machine. WD-40 for example can gum up your machine. Pressured air can push the lint and other garbage further into your machine.

The WD-40, may make it move now, but it’s not designed for lubricating a machine. It’s more for getting things that are stuck unstuck, and I have found that if the machine will not turn properly it generally can be lint, or lack of oil. Eventually WD-40 makes things worse and you end up having to free the machine up again. While I have heard of people who have had success with it, I don’t think it’s a long term solution.

A lot of machines, if oiled well and the oil has penetrated, will start moving freely. I have also heard good things about Kroil and Wintergreen oil if your machine is really stuck. If you have oiled all the moving parts, and you have cleaned out all the lint and it’s still stuck, try Kerosene. By soaking the parts, it can loosen it up. I would approach using Kerosene as a last resort, and with caution.

With most of these machines there isn’t a lot wrong with them, you just need to be patient. Below is a diagram of the parts that are essential to oil. This diagram is from a Singer, but it also applies to most other models. Most machines are very similar in design and concept. They may look slightly different, but they are the same mechanically

Here is a picture of the same part of the machine, on a Davis Vertical Feed.

The same rules on oiling, apply. A good rule of thumb is to turn it slowly, and then oil the moving parts. These machines don’t mind a little extra oil.


By this point you should understand how to oil your machine. While it won’t hurt to over-oil, it can wreck your fabric, so be careful that you don’t oil it to the point that it drips. I recommend oiling once a week, but that ultimately depend on how much you use your machine.

If you do end up oiling too much, I would recommend wiping off excess oil, and then operating the machine without fabric or thread rapidly for several minutes, and then wipe it off again. Really depends on how much you over-oiled it, but it’s not a big issue and if you run it hard for a few minutes it should be fine.

Now, the outside of the machine. Decals on the machines can be very fragile, such as in the case of Wheeler & Wilson machines. You should be careful that when you clean them you do not destroy them, or “silver” them.

I rub sewing machine oil over the outsides of my machines, and I have never had any issues. Be careful of the cloth you use. You want to use a soft cloth, so the cloth doesn’t rub the decals off and destroy them. What also works is TR-3 Resin Glaze, which is used for cars but also works quite well in this application. It’s a paste, and it has been known on occasion to take decals off, so if you decide to use this, use it first test it on a less noticeable part of your machine.

On needle tension or bobbin cases, it is important to clean the lint from the tension discs. I have heard a dime works quite well to clean tension discs. Your manual should, depending on the model, have a diagram of how to take it apart. For your bobbin case, taking the tension spring off and cleaning the lint can be a good thing. It is fairly easy to put back as well. Just make sure there isn’t a big groove in your shuttle, because that can affect the way the machine will sew.

Here is a diagram of a treadle. It also needs oil, and to be cleaned.

Oil these parts on the treadle on a regular basis. Be careful not to over oil though, to avoid getting oil on the carpet.

The last item in this section that I’m going to mention, is replacing or adjusting a treadle belt.

Generally if the machine has sat for a while, the belt will either be missing (the most common option), loose, or rotted. Treadle belts are very easy to find, and buy and generally cost $5-$10 depending on the quality of the belt. E bay, or your local sewing store is the best place to get them.

It can be tricky to install the belt, but once you have done it a few times there will be no issues. Make sure the machine is in its cabinet, and properly secured. There should be holes to the right of the machine where the hand-wheel is, for the belt.

Put the belt in the hole facing the back of the cabinet. I find it easier to put the end that does not have the staple in the back hole. Then, tilting the machine up, put the belt through the adjoining hole below that leads to the actual treadle part.

Generally the treadle (metal part) will have a belt loop to thread the belt through. Do that, and then put the end of the belt in the wheel, and push the belt in the wheel until it comes through on the other side of the wheel, where there should be another belt loop, or where the wheel ends.

Then take the other end of the belt, with the staple, and put it in the other hole, lifting the machine up again, and putting it through the second hole. Generally this hole is easier to get through and you may not even need to lift the machine up. I prefer to install the second end before I deal with the first end.

Your belt should be a little longer than needed. Pull it tight, and cut it off about a ¼ inch longer from your measurement of where the staple should go. Then, either with a nail and a hammer, or another sharp pointy tool punch a small hole through the belt. Put the staple through, and use a pliers to close it. I would recommend you practice punching a hole at the end of the belt before, so you don’t end up ruining your belt.

Your belt will need to be adjusted occasionally, as it will stretch. Just repeat the process with the nail and hammer, or other tool. Belts do not need to be replaced very often and last for a very long time. I’ve used an original belt, that is around 80 years old and have had no issues.