How to Polish a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine in 5 Steps

Published December 9, 2020
Vintage sewing machine

Don't settle for a dull finish on your antique treasure; learning how to polish an antique Singer sewing machine is easy with these simple steps. With a few basic supplies and some careful cleaning, your machine will look as beautiful as it did the year it was made.

1. Test the Finish on Your Antique Singer

The products you use to clean your antique Singer sewing machine will depend on the finish used on the that particular model. All Singer sewing machines have a clear coat that protects the fragile decals. The problem is that this clear coat can be made of different materials, and it's difficult to know what type of clear coat you have without testing it. If you use the wrong product, you can dissolve the clear coat and damage the machine. Very early Singers, such as fiddlebase machines, have a clear coat of shellac, which is prone to damage. Here's how to test your machine:

  1. Find an inconspicuous spot on the bottom of the machine.
  2. Dip a cotton swab in a very small amount of rubbing alcohol.
  3. Gently dab the rubbing alcohol on the inconspicuous spot you selected. If the finish dissolves immediately, it is shellac. If it slowly becomes a little tacky, it's likely varnish or lacquer.

2. Check the Condition of the Finish

In addition to knowing what material is used in the finish of your antique sewing machine, take a good look at the condition of the finish. This is especially important over the decals. Are there scratches in the finish or areas where the clear coat seems to be cracked or missing? If so, avoid cleaning and polishing these spots because you risk damaging the delicate decals on your Singer. Instead, consider having the clear coat repaired by a professional. If the finish is intact, proceed with cleaning and polishing.

3. Gently Clean the Machine With Soap and Water

Before polishing, you should dust your sewing machine and clean it with a very gentle soap and water. Avoid soaps containing alcohol, particularly if you have a shellac finish or if you're not sure what finish your machine has. Many common gentle soaps, such as Dawn and Murphy's Oil Soap, contain small amounts of alcohol that could harm the finish. Read the label to be sure the soap you choose contains no alcohol. A good option is Puracy Natural Dish Soap. Here's the process for cleaning your antique Singer sewing machine:

  1. Mix a small amount of the soap with warm water.
  2. Dip a clean cotton cloth in the soapy water and wring it out well. Begin to wash the machine in an inconspicuous area, using very gentle movements. If the soap seems to be disturbing the finish, stop immediately.
  3. Dip another cloth in clean water and wring it out. Gently rinse away the soap with this cloth.
  4. Dry the spot you just washed with another clean cloth.
  5. Move on to another spot, washing the machine one section at a time. Always be gentle and watch for signs of damage.

4. Polish Your Vintage Singer Sewing Machine With Machine Oil

Once your machine is clean, place a small amount of regular sewing machine oil on a clean, dry cloth. With gentle circular motions, polish the machine. You can use a paintbrush to help you get the oil into harder-to-reach areas. If you have some sticky spots from tape or stickers, you can leave the sewing machine oil in place for several hours to help dissolve the residue. Check it frequently to make sure it isn't damaging the finish. You can also use sewing machine oil to polish the bare metal portions of the machine.

5. Apply a Wax Finish

Waxing your vintage Singer sewing machine will help it stay beautiful looking. You can use any carnauba wax products, but one great option is Zymöl Carbon Wax. You can purchase it from The Featherweight Shop. Simply apply a small amount of the wax and then buff off the wax with circular motions, being sure to polish in both directions.

Other Considerations for Polishing an Antique Singer

The basic process of cleaning a polishing a sewing machine is the same for any machine, but there are a few things to consider if you're working with some specific styles. Keep these special considerations in mind:

  • Treadle sewing machines - Clean the cast iron base of treadle sewing machines with gentle soap and water, using a soft brush if necessary to get into the grooves. Rinse it thoroughly with water, and always make sure you dry it completely to avoid rust.
  • Wood cabinets - Use the same process you would to clean any antique furniture. If you use oil soap, be careful not to get it on the machine.
  • Chrome parts - Some vintage Singer sewing machines have chrome parts. To restore the shine on these, gently rub them with an automobile chrome polish, such as Solvol Autosol.

Knowing How to Polish a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine Is Important

Just like other sewing machine brands, Singer made a variety of models and types of machines over the years. Because the materials used in construction varied, your cleaning method needs to be conservative. Keep your touch gentle and your products mild, and you'll be able to preserve the beauty and value of your Singer sewing machine for years to come.

How to Polish a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine in 5 Steps