Sewing machine oil substitute: what can and can’t you use?

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A big part of owning a sewing machine is maintaining said sewing machine. A well cared for machine can last for years and years, and just looking at some well preserved vintage sewing machines should prove this to you. You need to oil your machine regularly, but what are some sewing machine oil substitutes?

Maintaining a sewing machine is a multi-step process but one of the most important steps is keeping the moving parts well oiled so there is no unwanted friction. Any friction will cause the gears to slowly wear out and eventually bring your machine to a grinding halt.

What kind of oil to use on a sewing machine

Ideally, the best oil to use in your sewing machine is actual sewing machine oil. I mean, there’s really no reason you should not be using it. It’s cheap, and readily available.

The only time I would even consider a sewing machine oil substitute is if I have a sewing emergency and I need to somehow lubricate my sewing machine to get it going. Otherwise, wait for a couple of days till your Amazon Prime order with sewing machine oil gets in, or try to go find it at a local craft store.

Sewing machine oil vs 3 in 1

3 in 1 oil was originally designed as an oil for bicycle chains, after which its use expanded to include general household uses as well.

However, it’s the absolute last thing you want to use in your sewing machine. The solvents that 3 in 1 oil contain will eventually evaporate over time, leaving a sticky, gummy residue that will leave your machine worse off than it was before you oiled it.

The two main kinds of actual sewing machine oils are mineral oils made from petrochemicals and synthetic oils. Petrochemical-based sewing machine oils are white, odourless, and almost watery. This is the kind of stuff you want to use!

Clock oil vs sewing machine oil

3 in 1 oil is a big no-no so what about clock oil? For metal parts in your sewing machine that touch other metal parts, you can get away with using clock oil in an emergency.

The best clock oils are synthetics which are ideal for metal on metal.

Liberty Oil, The Best 100% Synthetic Oil for Lubricating Your Grandfather Clocks
  • 100% Synthetic oil that will reduce friction between any moving surface.
  • Use this to replace petroleum based or spray lubricants.
  • Safe to use on plastics and painted surfaces.
  • Comes with a 60 day no questions asked return policy. If you are not 100% happy with your purchase I will refund your money.
  • Comes with a medical grade 1 1/2 inch long stainless steel needle tip applicator for precision oiling with no mess.

WD-40 on your sewing machine?

Can you use WD-40? PLEASE, PLEASE DO NOT use WD-40. The WD in WD-40 stands for water displacement, and it doesn’t really lubricate at all. In fact, in can cause whatever graphite is on the gears to lose its lubricating properties and you’ll be far worse off than you were before you started.

Best substitute for sewing machine oil

The ideal substitute for sewing machine oil is tri-flow oil. This oil is made from petroleum products and contains suspended micro-particles of Teflon(the stuff used in non-stick cookware), which make it a very slippery and lubricating oil.

It can keep gears moving really well, even if they’re under high heat and pressure, and you can use it on metal, wood, plastic, or rubber without any issues.

Actually, tri-flow oil is a great general purpose lubricant to have around the house anyway. It’s a little more expensive than regular sewing machine oil, but if you want something that does multiple jobs, this is what to use.

Plus the bottle comes with a nice, thin applicator tip to get the oil wherever it needs to go.

Tri-Flow, 2 OZ Squeeze Bottle, Lubricant
  • Removes Dirt And Corrosion
  • Penetrates Fastly
  • Minimizes Buildup Of Dirt, Dust And Abrasive Particles
  • Brand Name: Tri-Flow

Final thoughts

Before you go about oiling anything in your machine it is best to check the manual. Some manufacturers recommend against using any oil or grease on plastic parts – if your manual says not to oil the plastic, DO NOT OIL it. Plastic can sometimes have an adverse reaction with some chemicals and degrade.

Often, your manufacturer just will not specify what and how to oil in your sewing machine. In this case, it’s probably because they don’t want you to do it yourself but bring it in to a service center. If you’re not mechanically inclined(or no one in your home is either), you should take it to a service center.

If you’re the DIY person and don’t mind getting some elbow grease, you’ll probably be able to find tutorials for taking apart and oiling your model of sewing machine on YouTube.

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