getting started,  machine knitting,  wicked

Knitting Machine Maintenance (cleaning your machine)

This article is mainly applicable to Knitmaster/Silver Reed machines; however, you may find it useful for other Japanese machines.

Regular cleaning is important to keep your machine in good condition and to make knitting easier. How often you clean depends upon how often you use the machine and how clean the workspace is. Cleaning gives you the opportunity to tidy up your workspace and tools, and to check that everything for damage etc.

Cleaning Schedule

Cleaning can be divided into three levels:-

  1. Quick Clean: usually weekly or after every garment
  2. Regular Clean: usually monthly or after every 3 or 4 garments
  3. Full Clean: usually every year or every other year

Click on the titles to go to the right section in this post.

I have also created a quick guide that can be seen online here or can be downloaded as a pdf file here.

Machine Maintenance DVD

DVD on knitting machine mainteneance
good DVD on knitting machine maintenance bought on eBay.

I found a DVD called Knitting Machine Maintenance by Peter Free on eBay for £3.  Have a search, it is very informative.

This video by Peter Free is also available on Youtube.

It covers Knitmaster, Brother and Toyota knitting machines. I have created a list of other useful videos at the end of this post.

First Clean

knitmaster550 knitting machine
cleaning up a Knitmaster 550 knitting machine

When you first get your machine, you will need to do a thorough clean and check as described in the Full Clean at the end of this post. You also need to check that you have all the tools and that nothing is broken. It is common for punchcard machines to have stuck drums on the carriage if not used for some time. Sponge bars will need to be renewed if not done in the last 6 months (unless new long-life sponge bar).

Stuck Carriage Drums

drums in carriage
drums in carriage can get stuck

Often when you get a secondhand punchcard machine, the carriage drums will not move.  You will wreck your needles and carriage if you force it across your machine. If your carriage is stuck on the machine, I would use a hair dryer on a barely warm setting. Please be careful as too much heat can damage the machine. Point this at the drums at the back of the carriage. If your carriage is not on your main bed then I have found that the best way to loosen them is to turn over the carriage and add a drop of oil to the drums.  Then leave overnight on a rag to collect any oil.  If they are still stuck then I would then use the warm hair-dryer not hot,to gently heat up the drums in order to loosen the dried-up grease/oil on the drum shafts. I have found the oil after 24 hours works without need for hairdryer. Make sure your carriage runs easily before using your machine.


If you use a ribber then you would need to clean the ribber bed and carriage in a similar way to the main bed.

Mohair Yarns

If you use mohair type yarns, then you may need to do the annual maintenance (minus the needle clean) … after every garment!   I tend to avoid mohair or hairy yarns for easier maintenance.

Quick Clean (After Every Garment)

cleaning brushes
brushes for cleaning your knitting machine

You will need either the small cleaning brush that came with the machine and/or a ½ inch natural bristle paintbrush. 

vacuum nozzle
vacuum nozzle tool for cleaning fluff

You will also need a vacuum cleaner with narrow nozzle attachment.

clean carriage
brush the fluff out of carriage

First, remove the main carriage and brush out any dirt/fluff in the back and front channels and across the metal parts that touch the carriage.  Leave to one side.

brush needle bed
brush needle bed

On the main bed push all the needles to holding position using the flat side of your small cleaning brush (or ruler or similar item).  Then using the brush side, gently brush over the needles, back to front, pushing any fluff to the front gates.  

Now gently vacuum the fluff away.  Also vacuum any dust on the underneath of the carriage.

The yarn mast wires will lose their spring over time, so release any yarn from them, if you are not going to use the machine for a few weeks or more.

Cover Your Machine

Cover your machine when not in use.  A polythene sheet may trap moisture and rush your machine.  A cotton sheet can fill your machine with dust/lint.  I prefer to use a microfibre or polyester sheet to protect my machine.

Regular Clean (after every 4 – 5 garments)

cleaning a knitting machine
some items for cleaning a knitting machine

You will need small cleaning brush/paintbrush, long stem cleaning brush (available at BSK or your favourite knitting machine supplier), lint free cloths (micro fibre cloths are ideal), knitting machine oil (BSK etc), You may also need a pair of pliers and tweezers.

Take this opportunity to clear your knitting table/area of all tools and yarns ready for a sort out.  I put my tools in an old shoe box so not to lose anything.  I put a few things in the tool box on the machine.  I then only take out what I need for the next garment.  It is surprising how many things end up on your knitting table.  

Clean Carriage

Take off the carriage, turn over and with brush, brush out and fluff from back rail, all the cams and the front rail. 

clean out old oil
clean out old oil with lint free cloth

Now take your lint free cloth and wipe out all the old oil from the back and front rails.  Also gently wipe off in between the cams or moving parts that have old oil. Put to one side.

We do not need to oil the carriage for the Knitmaster (nor the Toyota) as the bed oil will get into the carriage.  However, you do need to add a drop of oil the back of the Brother carriage at the two back corners on top of the grey plate.

Check Sponge Bar

remove sponge bar
pull out the sponge bar

Remove the needle retaining bar, also called the sponge bar, from the channel.  You may need a long handled flat large flat head screwdriver or the square end of a wooden chopstick top push the bar out of the machine far enough to pull with your fingers or square-ended pliers. 

long life sponge bar
long life covered sponge bar in good condition

The sponge should have height and spring to hold down the needles.  Trim off any frayed edges. Don’t cut into the sponge.  If the sponge is flat, then it will need replacing, or you can buy a whole new sponge bar.  Replace or new sponge bar as described in previous post but do not put back in your machine yet.  A sponge wears from use, from sunlight and from oil.  It will probably only last about 6 months unless it is a long-life Smartco sponge bar.

Clean Sponge Bar Channel

insert long stem brush
insert and twist long stem cleaning brush

Now put the end of the long stem brush into the sponge bar channel, underneath the needles.  Slowly twist and push the brush through the channel to get out the fluff from the bed.  You should twist towards the front of the machine ie anti-clockwise from the right and clockwise from the left of the machine.  It should come out the other end.  Mine never does as it bends into the machine.  Therefore, I twist from both ends of the machine as far as it will go.   Repeat as many times as needed until the channel is clean… Look through to make sure it is clear.

It is getting harder to find these long stem brushes so if you do not have one then use vacuum to suck up as much as you can through the gaps.

Then replace the sponge bar.  Remember to hold down the needles (I use a 12-inch ruler) and with the sponge side facing down, slowly push through the bed over the needles, moving the ruler along the needles with one hand as you push the bar with the other.

Clean Main Bed

Brush the main bed as described in previous section.  Across all the needle bed to the needles.  Brush behind the back rail and the front rail.  Then brush fluff from needles (using back to front strokes) across the number strip and through the gates.   Vacuum away the fluff. Also vacuum back rail where oily fluff may accumulate.

remove fluff from discs
remove fluff from discs

Check the yarn masts and remove any fluff between the tension disks.

Now wipe off all the old oil from the main carriage.  The back rail, main bed and the front rail.  Also do a quick wipe of the needle butts.

Get some proper knitting machine oil from your favourite knitting machine supplier (I got mine from BSK).  Put one or two drops on a clean lint-free cloth and wipe over the back rail. Add more oil and wipe over the front rail.  Add another drop on a clean corner and wipe over the needle butts.

Using another clean cloth, spray (away from the machine) a little Groom cleaner onto your cloth.  Wipe over the plastic parts of your machine to make them look clean. Pick up your carriage and wipe over the plastic top.  Replace on the machine and check that everything is moving.

Sort out your tools/yarns and declutter, put away, reorganise etc. so that your workstation is ready for action.

Full Clean

If you are a regular knitter you may need to do this every year. As well as a regular clean, you should also clean all the needles, and do a thorough clean of the tension mast and sinker plate.

surgical spirit
surgical spirit for cleaning needles

You will need in addition to the regular clean, a glass mason/kilner jar with a tight fitting lid. This should be taller than your machine needles and wide enough to hold 50 or more needles.  You will also need surgical spirit (you may find this is cheaper at your local veterinary surgery) and 2 or 4 clean micro fibre cloths.  Also need a smallish flat head screwdriver and a see-through plastic bag.  Spare e-clips for your tuck brushes.

Remove Needles

First remove the carriage and then the sponge bar.  Half fill your glass jar with surgical spirit and then add a couple of drops of machine oil.  Fit the lid and give it a shake to mix the oil and spirit. Lay out 4 micro-fibre cloths on a table, ready to dry hold the needles.  Remove the lid from the jar and put on the table.

Using the flat edge of the 1 x 1 needle pusher, push the right outside 50 needles forward to holding position.  Using the needle pusher to hold the first few in place, then gently brush down the needles toward you to close the latches. Then take out 2 or 3 needles at a time by pushing down on the hooks to lift the backs.  Pull up them up from the back.

needles in surgical spirit in a jar
cleaning knitting machine needles

Put the 50 needles into your jar, hook side down.  Screw on the lid and then shake like you were making a cocktail.  Keep shaking for few minutes.  Then take out the needles and lay them down on one of the cloths.  Spread them out.

dry off the needles
dry off the needles

Now take out the inside right 50 needles and put them in the jar and shake, then dry on the cloth.  Repeat for the left inside 50 and the left outside 50 needles.  You should now have all 200 needles drying out on the cloths.  The spirit should evaporate.  Whilst they are drying, you can now check your machine and do a full regular clean.

Meanwhile, remove the vinyl plastic number strip and clean in soapy water and put back if at all damaged then replace with a new one. 

If you have an electronic machine then run your mylar sheet reader cloth through your reader.

Clean carriage and main bed as for regular maintenance but also clean the sinker plate

Sinker plate

clean sinker plate
clean sinker plate

Remove the sinker plate from the carriage. Remove the brushes from their spindles, one at a time, checking for straggly edges.  Replace if worn. If you need to replace any cogs/brushes that are held with e-clips, remove them inside a large see-through plastic bag to stop them from flying off.  These can be difficult to remove. You need to insert the screwdriver in one of the two slots on the e-clip and push.  I also use a bit of tissue or cloth.  Push and twist.  It needs strength and finally it will fly off somewhere. If you do lose one then spares can be bought from Silverviscount for 20 -30 pence each.

Clean away any fluff that has built up around the spindles that they rotate on and then replace. Refit plate back on the carriage.

Yarn Mast

clean out tension mast
clean out tension mast

Take off the top bit of the mast and hold with the plastic cap upwards. Unscrew cap and you should see any fluff.  Take tweezers and pull out any fluff.

If you have been using mohair, you need to check everywhere for fibres/fluff.  I found it inside the row counter.  Tweezers are necessary to pull lit out.

Check your needles and then put back into the machine.  Put outside needles to the inside and the left to the right.  Thus the outside right 50 needles will become the inside 50 needles etc.  This will help to even out any wear and tear.

Careful put back the carriage on the main bed and check that everything is moving freely.

Clean you ribber carriage and bed.  You may also want to ceck the distance between the ribber and main bed.  I have not done this yet but have an old video that explains this.  Your manual may also explain how to adjust your ribber bed.  

Find someone who can do a service if you find any of this daunting.   Check out some of these videos if you want to do it yourself.

Useful Videos

Dianna Sullivan: TCL for Your Knitting Machine

Roberta Rose Kelley: Cleaning and Lubricating a Knitting Machine and Carriage

theanswerladyknits: Dismantling a Singer/Studio 150 Knitting Machine for Deep Cleaning

theanswerladyknits: Dismantling and deep cleaning a brother carriage

watching a few videos should give you the courage and knowledge to clean your machine yourself. Good Luck


  • Anonymous

    Hi I live in Queensland Australia and l was very interested in the way you set out the cleaning method for the knitting machine. I am not sure if the surgical spirits are available here . Also the long wire brush. Could you please advise me on what the alternative would be . Thank you Rachel Glase

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