Sewing Tips

How to Clean your Serger

Do you clean your serger regularly? Are you afraid to find out just how much fluff has accumulated inside? Some of my sewing friends have told me they never clean the thread-lint build-up inside their overlock machine because :

  • they don’t know it even CAN be cleaned at home
  • or that it SHOULD be cleaned….regularly….more if you use fleece or minky….
  • or that it’s pretty simple to take the cover off of a serger and put it back on

One comment I hear a lot is that it’s scary! “That rapidly moving super-sharp knife is bad enough when the machine has it’s cover on, no way am I taking the protective cover off!”

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I totally get it. I have severe ‘fear of electricity”, I’ve had run-ins with sharp blades, I’ve even been to the emergency room overnight after stitching through a finger-nail with an industrial straight-stitch machine. So rest assured that the electricity will be off, and you won’t be attacked by the cutting blade. You can do this!

Of course every serger brand and model is slightly different, but I’ve worked with many, and they’ve all been easy to clean following the same steps. This is not a substitute for regular service maintenance; it’s a between-servicing way to clear out excess lint that may be slowing down your machine’s performance. 

 Also it is NOT suggested to open up any machine while still under warranty, as that could void the agreement. Let your dealer handle any problems with your new machines!

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Before we begin, a confession: I used to “clean” my serger with canned air. I know, I know, it can push the lint even further into the machine, but I ignored this because it was so satisfying to see how much lint was whooshing OUT of the machine! Then at one point my regular sewing machine was mysteriously turning white thread pinkish, and it turns out the machine innards had RUSTED in some places….because canned air has moisture in it. So now I clean out my machines by taking them apart to get at the fluff build-up. Okay, here we go…..

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First, clear off a table space to work on (I use my cutting table which is a much more comfortable height for bending over) , unplug your machine and bring it over, and grab some simple supplies:

  • a few paper towels or Swiffer sheets
  • some Q-tips (cotton-buds in the U.K.)
  • a Phillips-head screwdriver and a regular one

To get to the innards of your machine, you will un-screw and remove each piece of the outer shell, in the opposite order that the machine was assembled. You’re not going to mess with the mechanics (guts, timing, motor)…you’re just opening up the shell case to get fiber build-up out, to keep it running smoothly. (Note: if you try un-screwing a screw and you have to force it, then leave it alone: take it to the professionals for servicing).

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Let’s take a look using my current serger, a Babylock “Evolve” that I’ve had for over 2 decades. Yes it was an investment!! And yes the infamous jet-air threading is worth every penny:

Without touching any screws, this model allows you to swing open the front doors for regular de-linting:

A closer look shows there’s a bit of lint build-up that can easily be removed with a Q-tip….I do this almost every day:

To get to the rest of the innards, you next remove the outer shell, piece by piece. Begin by removing the thread stands that are attached with a couple of sunken screws:

Lift up the thread stand:

…. and place it aside, ideally next to the screws (so you’ll be able to easily put the machine back together later):

With the threads removed, you can flip the machine over to open it up from underneath. There are four “feet”, which can be removed with a screwdriver:

Put the feet aside:

…and remove the bottom plate:

Generally you’ll find some fluff that has fallen down to the inside bottom floor:

Now is a good time to clean off the bottom plate (the floor) itself:

I like to use a Swiffer sheet for cleaning, as it attracts all of the fine particles:

Wipe away the fluff and look for any loose threads that may have entangled themselves into the gears:

Next step: opening up the right hand side….remove the sunken screws:

….and gently pull away the side piece:

Remove all linty fluff and any loose thread bits:

All done! Now put your serger back together in reverse order. Replace the right hand side cover:

Put the bottom plate back on and secure by screwing in the feet:

Lastly put the thread stand back on:

….and screw into place:

All done!

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Want to see the process again? I actually have a back-up Babylock. This is my new-to-me overlock, which I just won in an online auction for under $200…probably because it has a piece missing on the front over the needle-threading area, which is cosmetic and doesn’t affect use. I’m opening this baby up for the first time!

This “Imagine” model opens up for daily de-fluffing only to the right of the cutting blade (the “Evolve” opens to the right AND left):

Q-tips are great for getting out the fluff:

Next step is to un-screw the thread stand:

….and put aside:

Unscrew the feet from the bottom to remove the base:

Get rid of the lint that has settled in the base:

Here’s where the 2 models differ: to remove the left side of the Evolve you need to remove these screws near the base:

….remove the side plate:

….and clear out the fluff:

Then unscrew the right side:

….and remove the plate:

….to clear out this side:

Now to put everything back together, go in reverse. Replace the right side plate:

Replace the left side plate:

Replace the bottom plate:

Done! Look at all the gunk!

What do you think? Simple, or still intimidating?

Happy Sewing! Janet

8 Comments

  • Theresa in Tucson

    Hmm, had not thought to take out screws and remove covers. I’ve just done a brush out and vacuum so now I must have a look at going further. Good tips.

  • [email protected]

    Just be sure to put the screws where they can’t get lost or fall off your table, and you’ll be fine! The first time I cleaned a serger, it was STUFFED with fluff. Not even sure how it was still functioning!

  • JustGail

    I should take the covers off my serger since it’s well past warranty. I’ve been using an old cleaned mascara brushes instead of the brush that come with machines. All those bristles do a great job grabbing the fluffs in a machine. Depending on brand, you can also bend the brush to get behind things. I also picked up a super fluffy paint brush (artist type, not house painting) for larger areas, but haven’t tried that out yet.

    Do you also add a drop of oil to moving parts while the serger is opened up? My serger has only one oil point and after seeing all the moving parts on yours, I wonder if it’s sufficient.

  • [email protected]

    Mascara brushes work great! I should try paint brushes…my daughter is an illustrator but she’s doing mostly digital now so there are plenty of un-used art supplies around.

    Honestly I don’t know how to oil a serger…..I should look into that.

  • Christine Hein

    Thank you so much for this post. I just took the bottom off my Imagine Baby Lock & was shocked to see the lint! She has now had a thorough cleaning. Getting lots done in self isolation.

  • [email protected]

    Shocking right? Sometimes I wonder if the lint is a fire trap (like a toaster with too many crumbs?). And yes, getting lots done in this alone time….thank goodness for hobbies!

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