sewing machine oil substitute

If you have a sewing machine that needs to be oiled but you don’t have any sewing machine oil on hand, don’t fret too much. There are a few options for sewing machine oil substitutes that you can use in a pinch.

This being said, a high-quality sewing machine oil like Lily White mineral oil is always the best choice for servicing your machine. Any substitutions should be made in emergency situations only.

Let’s take a look at what traditional sewing machine oil is made from and what you can and cannot use to oil your sewing machine.

What is sewing machine oil?

Basic sewing machine oil is called “mineral” oil, but that is somewhat misleading. It is a highly refined paraffin oil that is made by processing crude oils.

Other lubricants made from petroleum have the best chance of matching sewing machine oil’s composition.

Acceptable sewing machine oil substitutes

The following products are some of the few substances that are relatively safe to use with your machine. They will not give you the same results as an actual sewing machine oil, but they also won’t do any damage. 

1. Tri-Flow Oil

Tri-Flow oil is a petroleum-based lubricant that is similar in composition to mineral oil sewing machine oil. It is traditionally used to oil bicycle chains, so if you have a bike or sporting goods store near you, they may carry it.

It is important to note that other bike chain oils will not work with your sewing machine. If you cannot find Tri-Flow oil specifically, you should give it a pass and try one of the other oils on the list.

2. Mineral Oil

Not to be confused with mineral oil sewing machine oil (though they are similar), mineral oil is a food-grade  petroleum product that is used to treat digestive issues. You can find it in most pharmacies, health stores, and supermarkets near the laxatives section (yes, you read that right.)

3. Clock Oil

Clock oil is not the most ideal option, but it can be used on your sewing machine occasionally with little consequence. It is another refined petroleum product that, while not a direct match to sewing machine oil, can bridge the gap in an absolute emergency until a better option is available.

4. Clipper Blade Oil

Clipper blade oil is a mineral oil that is roughly the same viscosity as sewing machine oil, though some brands are a bit thinner.

Hair clipper blades run at even higher speeds than most sewing machines, so they can handle the amount of friction generated by even the strongest machines.

Even so, while it is considered perfectly acceptable to use sewing machine oil on your clipper blades, most sewers are still hesitant to turn the tables and put clipper oil on their sewing machines.

What not to use on your sewing machine

The lubricants listed above can all be used on your sewing machine because of one shared characteristic: they do not leave behind a residue. This is an essential feature for any substance you use with your sewing machine.

The following products are all things that should never be used with your sewing machine because they break the cardinal no-residue rule. They will sit on your machine and gum up the mechanisms.

These substances can disrupt the proper functioning of your sewing machine’s delicate parts or even eat through them. This can lead to costly or time-consuming  repairs to get your machine working properly again.

Never use these oils on your sewing machine:

  • 3-in-1 multipurpose lubricant
  • WD-40
  • Baby oil
  • Lamp oil (paraffin)
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetable oils
  • Cooking spray
  • Butter, lard, or other animal fats
  • Kerosene, gasoline, and other fuels

Basically, just because something is slippery or oily does not mean that it is all good to use as an all-purpose lubricant. And honestly, do you really want sour olive oil residue on your next sewing project? Let’s keep it on your salad where it belongs.

Final thoughts

Moral of the story? There are a handful of products that can theoretically work to oil your sewing machine, but at the end of the day, genuine sewing machine oil wins every time. It is cheap, reliable, and readily available online and at most craft stores.

Sewing machines, sergers, and embroidery machines are too expensive to take any chances with expensive repairs. So go with the safe option and pick up a bottle of Lily White Sewing Machine Oil.

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