Tuesday, October 16, 2012

1926 Singer 99 - Part 3 - Cleaning

I know at the end of Part 2, I said that I'd cover re-assembly and timing in Part 3. But one of my readers asked how I clean my machines, so I thought I'd cover that in this post. (Woo-hoo, I have readers!) I will preface this post by saying that what I do and what works for me is only my opinion. It is not the authoritative rule on the subject. If my tips or strategies work for you, then I am pleased that one more machine is salvaged from the garbage heap. With that said, take my advice at YOUR OWN RISK. I cannot be responsible for damaged machines unless I personally work on them; and I only work on my personal machines.

Now, on to the messy fun....

With the Singer 99 fully disassembled (except for the main shaft in the arm), it was time to clean the machine. This part can actually be tricky if you don't have a lot of patience. Many people, myself included, want to douse a dirty old machine with whatever household detergents or industrial cleaners to remove the old oil, gunk and grime as quickly and effortlessly as possible. As nice as that may sound, we have to remember that the paint finish on these vintage/antique machines is quite old. In this particular case, 86 years old. An 86 year old paint finish was not designed to withstand the harshness of modern chemicals. And on the off-chance that the paint does handle the harsh chemicals, chances are that those beautiful decals that adorn the machine will be forever damaged.
Harsh modern cleaners can destroy the gold decals on vintage machines.
These decals are in tact, and I want to keep them that way.
Time, Use, and household chemicals caused the gold decals
on this Singer 27's sewing bed to silver and fade to silhouettes.
Also, spots along the arm and pillar have silvered. The previous
owner used 409 spray. That would be a big NO-NO!
An industrial cleaner would have taken that dirt and grim off in a heartbeat. Along with it, the factory clearcoat would most likely be pulled away as well (technically, varnish or shellac - but I'll use clearcoat only as a generic term). Once that protective coating is removed, nothing stands in between the elements and those decals. Even the mildest modern cleaner can turn beautiful gold decals into silver ghosts of their former glory, as can be seen on the bed of the Singer 27. Years of use wore away the protective coating; household cleaners like Formula 409 and Windex ate away at the beautiful gold decals.

When cleaning a sewing machine head, the first thing I do is I take a damp piece of scrap flannel cloth and wipe down the entire head. Damp, not soaking wet. I wipe, turn and fold the cloth, wipe again, and rinse in clean water. I do this to remove as much loose dirt as possible, and so as not to grind the grit into the machine head's finish. I continue rinsing the rag in the sink, not in a rinse bucket. This helps keep buildup on the rag to a minimum and I'm not reintroducing dirt back onto the machine.

Once the initial damp cloth cleaning is finished, I thoroughly wipe down the machine head with another scrap piece of flannel cloth. I try to make certain there is absolutely no water or dampness left; remember, water + iron = rust. We don't want that in our our machine! The next step is the hard core cleaning. This part takes time, patience, cotton balls, and lots and lots of all three!

My cleaner of choice is the Pumice-free GOJO hand cleaner. I was able to pick this up at my local ACE Hardware store (which is also where I found the TriFlow oil that I'll mention later). It was recommended on the Vintage Singers Yahoo Group and it has worked well for me on all of my machines. So far, so good, with no issues. I do, however, still test an inconspicuous spot on the backside of the machine, just in case. Why? Because paint processes change over time, and just because my GOJO worked on previous machines, doesn't necessarily mean it will work on the next machine; I'd rather be overly-cautious than to ruin a beautiful machine.
Pumice Free GOJO cream hand cleaner.
Cleaning with the GOJO (remember, Pumice FREE) works well. I work in small areas at a time, in small circular motions, and I constantly change to fresh, new cotton balls. And I do use the GOJO anywhere and everywhere on the machine, after trying it on my "test spot". It is not uncommon for me to go through an entire package of cotton balls. Good thing they are cheap at the Dollar Store!
That's a lot of dirt that the GOJO removes. I'm not convinced
that it doesn't remove some of the 'clearcoat' as well. But,
it doesn't appear to damage the paint, and it has proven
safe for the decals on all of my machines.
Once I am satisfied that the machine head is as clean as I can get it with the GOJO, I wipe it down again with another dry cloth, removing any residual cleaner. Then, I coat a cotton ball with sewing machine oil, and I thoroughly saturate the entire machine - paint, moving parts that still may be attached, everything. I let the machine sit like this for a day, and then I coat the entire machine again and let it sit for another day.

While the machine head is soaking in its 'oil bath', I begin soaking, scrubbing and cleaning all of the parts I have removed in a degreasing solution. I start by gently scrubbing the loose dirt and debris free with a small brass brush. Sometimes, this alone is enough for a particular part; most of the time, though, it requires a soaking in a commercial degreaser. For the soaking, I use this:

I found this at my local home improvement store (Lowe's - aka, the Big Blue Church). I tried spraying it on, and wiping it off; that didn't prove to be as effective as soaking the parts in the degreasing 'bath'. Soaking times will vary depending on how caked-on the dirt is. I generally let most parts soak for about an hour, and then scrub them with on old toothbrush. I do recommend using nitrile or other protective gloves while using any chemical cleaners. My hands are not sensitive to this cleaner, but I use gloves anyway. The glove help keep my hands clean, and personal cleanup is a lot easier.

Once the parts are scrubbed, I re-soak them for about then minutes, and then I follow with a rinse of hot water, to flush any residual cleaner from the part. I dry them thoroughly, both with a cloth and a hair dryer to displace any moisture. With this particular cleaner, I sometimes notice a brown/tan discoloration on some of the parts. I think it is mostly oxidation and it usually wipes off with a clean rag. After the parts are completely dry, I coat each of them in sewing machine oil with a cotton ball or cotton swab. Wipe down the oil, re-apply and let the parts sit for a day.

I check each part for potential rust. If I see any rust at all, I scrub the part with a steel or brass brush and reapply sewing machine oil again. Once I am satisfied that all the parts are clean and properly oiled to inhibit rust, I get them ready for reassembly.

When it comes to removing rust from chrome or nickel plated parts, I use Evaporust. I picked this product up from my local Harbor Freight and it works wonders and neutralizing rust. It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions, however; if parts are soaked too long long in the Evaporust, they will turn a dull gray finish and it is near impossible to polish them up from that.

Now that the plated pieces are clean and dry, it's time to polish them up and make them shine. The best product I've found for this is Mothers Mag & Aluminum Polish. I used this on the chrome work of my Oldsmobile 442 back in my younger days. And a little bit goes a long way.
Here's what the faceplate looked liked before I started and after I finished. It had a quick 15 minute bath in the degreaser, followed by a rinse and dry. Then it had a bath in the Evaporust to neutralize the the few spots of potential rust. Rinse and dry again. Then, using the Mothers and good old-fashioned elbow grease, the faceplate shines like new again!
This before and after truly is a 'Night & Day' effect!

With all of the pieces cleaned, oiled and polished, reassembly is next and I'll cover that in Part 4.


Michelle said...


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