What to do with old sewing machines is a question that many longtime sewists eventually encounter.
Maybe over the years you’ve inherited one too many sewing machines, or you’re downsizing and can’t take them all with you.
Whatever your situation, in this article you’ll get ideas on how to:
- Recycle old sewing machines
- Find a new home for an old, pre-loved sewing machine
- Dispose of a non-working sewing machine correctly
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Recycle Old Sewing Machines by Giving Them Away
Personally, I think the very best thing you can do with an old sewing machine is to give it away. That way, someone else, at the very least, has a new tool in their toolbox. And, you get Warm Fuzzies™️.
With hope, though (and maybe this is just me being Pollyanna-ish), they gain a tool AND a passion for sewing, just like you and I.
Consider the following places, people, and organizations, in no particular order, when re-homing a sewing machine:
- Thrift store: Goodwill, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, etc.
- Makerspace: A facility with tools — for example, bandsaws, casting furnaces, and 3-D printers — that any member can use. My local makerspace, the Milwaukee Makerspace, has sewing machines.
- Public and private schools: Maybe there’s a club or class that needs a machine. Related: If there’s a uni/tech school in your ‘hood with a fashion department, they might be interested.
- Theater: Theater productions need costumes, and costumes are made on sewing machines. Don’t forget about school theater and park and recreation theater programs.
- Camp: Is there a day camp or sleepaway camp nearby? Sewing is a fun programming opportunity.
- Scouts: Sewing is a life skill for girls AND boys.
- 4-H: See above, RE: Scouts!
- House of worship: I don’t know about you, but I feel like there’s a lot of fabric at houses of worship. I’m Catholic, and every church I’ve ever visited always has banners, robes, and table runners EVERYWHERE. What I’m saying is that there are lots of opportunities for sewing machine use in a house of worship. Lots of hemming.
- Library: I’ve heard of libraries that have sewing machines available for checkout.
- Creative reuse center: Basically a thrift store for crafting items.
- Shelter: For people experiencing homeless, escaping violence, working on recovery, and more. Sewing is a great way to keep your mind off tough stuff, as least for a little while.
- Refugees: A woman I met at Camp Workroom Social collected sewing machines for refugees from Afghanistan!
- Ronald McDonald House: Ronald McDonald House provides low-or-no-cost accommodations for families of seriously ill children who have long stays at hospitals. Again, sewing is a wonderful diversion in trying times.
- College dorm or Greek house: I could see a sewing machine in a common area being a lot of fun. Or, maybe a machine could be checked out by students.
- Buy Nothing Project/freegan/freecycle/gift economy/stooping: These are people actively on the hunt for free stuff. For example, you could post in a Buy Nothing group that you’re giving away a sewing machine. A neighbor takes it off your hands, and you get to know your neighbor better. It’s part community building, part sustainable living, part garbage picking, part rejection of capitalism. But loosely organized.
- Habitat for Humanity Restore: They sell appliances, too.
- YMCA: The Y doesn’t need FEWER activities.
- Park and recreation department: Some park and rec departments offer sewing classes.
- Easter Seals or other organizations that support people with disabilities: For activity programming.
- Military veterans support organizations: More activity programming.
- Hospital/hospice: Sometimes health-related stays are boring. Sewing is not boring.
- Senior center: Still more activity programming.
- Prison/correctional facility: Incarceration is (probably) often boring. Sewing is not boring. Plus, it’s a legit employable skill one could use after prison.
- The Sewing Machine Project: This nonprofit collects donated sewing machines and places them in the hands of people whose lives can be changed by these creative tools.
- Local sewing guild: Maybe the best place to go for donation suggestions.
Also: Many of these organizations might not *need* a sewing machine for stitching per se, but they could be interested in selling a sewing machine to raise funds. For example, many churches have an annual rummage sale.
Finally, before you recycle your sewing machine by giving it away, please clean it and collect all its accessories (see next section).
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How to Sell an Old Sewing Machine
Let’s say your old sewing machine is in working order. If you don’t want to give it up without getting back a bit of green, here’s how you might go about selling it.
1.) Clean it up.
Remove fabric fuzz and oil/grease appropriately. Don’t pass along a dirty machine.
2.) Gather all the parts.
Feet, tools, bobbins, etc. Reference the manual to make sure everything is accounted for. (If you don’t have all the accessories, be a nice human and say so in the listing).) Speaking of manuals…
3.) Find the manual.
The original manual is best, natch, but you can find many manuals on the internet as PDFs. (I printed off the PDF of my vintage Singer manual and got it spiral bound at a print shop.) I guess you could leave it to the buyer to find the manual, but I think having it as part of the package makes it more attractive to shoppers. I say, go the extra mile and print the PDF manual.
4.) Take photos.
Please, for the love of your higher power, DO NOT post blurry photos of something you’re trying to entice someone to buy. Retake the photo with your phone; it will take two seconds.
Take photos of the machine, its accessories, and the manual. If you can share a vid of the sewing machine with your ad, show it stitching.
5.) Research pricing and shipping.
Check other listings for comparable machines and price accordingly. Don’t guess, and if your machine is overpriced, it will be ignored.
Also, when you’re pricing, think about the cost of shipping. Sewing machines are heavy = expensive to ship. (Or, maybe you’re a pickup only seller; that’s cool, too.)
6.) List your machine and wait.
Online marketplace for used sewing machines include:
- eBay (My first sewing machine was from eBay.) [affiliate link]
- Facebook Marketplace (I bought coverstitch and sewing machines off FB Marketplace.)
- Kijiji (if you’re in Canada)
Now, if you want to sell your sewing machine in a more analog way, you could try handing it off to a consignment store (the store will take a cut of the sale), placing it in a rummage sale, or taking it to a pawn shop.
And, if the sewing machine doesn’t work, but you want to sell it for parts, you can post it to an online marketplace in the same way, but obviously label it as “For Parts Only.” Also, you might be able to sell it to a sewing machine repair show for parts. (There’s more spare parts talk in the final section of this article. Keep going.)
How to Correctly Dispose of a Sewing Machine
I’m coming at this part of the article assuming that we’re talking about a sewing machine that no longer works.
Most modern domestic home sewing machines, when you get down to it, are a collection of plastic, metal, and electronic components (circuit board, wires, etc.).
Now, I am not an expert on sewing machine manufacturing or sewing machine service. I’m a longtime home sewist with a passion for research. So, I’m trying not to speak out of school.
IMHO, the best thing you can do with a sewing machine that no longer works is to sell it or give it away for spare parts. That way, the machine is recycled by going into other machines.
You also could investigate turning over a non-working machine to an e-waste/e-cycling facility or pickup. For example, I did a limited Google search and found that sewing machines in the District of Columbia (U.S.A.) can be dropped off at an electronic waste collection site.
BTW, I checked and Best Buy DOES NOT accept sewing machines in its electronics, appliances, and fitness equipment recycling program. Bummer.
So, to recap:
1.) Spare parts donor
2.) E-waste recycling
Wild Idea: Selling Your Sewing Machine for Scrap
If, for some reason, the spare-parts-donor route does not appeal to you, or e-waste recycling isn’t available in your community, I suggest researching how to disassemble your machine to sell its parts, particularly metal components, for scrap.
There’s been a time or two where I’ve taken apart a lot of my machine with just a screwdriver. (I’m sure I’m not the only sewist here who’s done some sewing machine surgery.)
My strategy, if I were taking the scrap-for-money tact, would be to:
0.) Call a scrap place and ask about my plan to disassemble and scrap sewing machine parts. If they’ll take my scrap, continue!
1.) Take the machine apart as best I could.
2.) Separate metal components from nonmetal components (because it’s pretty easy to tell these materials apart).
3.) Take photos of the non-metal components.
4.) Use a magnet to separate the ferrous metal (magnetic) from the non-ferrous metal.
5.) Take the metal to a scrap metal recycling center and see what they give me. I say start with metal (vs. non-metal elements) because almost all metals are recyclable.
6.) Show the recycling folks photos of the non-metal components and ask if they take that stuff, too, or if they know who does accept it.
7.) Attempt to recycle/scrap non-metal components until there’s nothing left of the machine.
I think this is better than yeeting your sewing machine into the trash, because you may make a little cash and the parts will be recycled.
But, please make turning your non-working sewing machine into a parts donor your first choice of disposal. Then e-waste recycling. Then scrapping individual components.
Then, if everything else fails, get in touch with your local waste management authority to see if there are rules about or fees for disposing of sewing machines.
In researching the disposal section of this article, I came across these cool pieces of media that I thought were too interesting to not share.
You can watch these videos to get a feel for the components that go into a sewing machine:
There is also this answer, from a certified sewing machine service tech, on Quora.com. It might help you better understand materials/components in a machine.
Last-Minute Ideas for What to Do with Old Sewing Machines
I have two final ideas about what to do with old sewing machines.
1.) Keep your old sewing machine.
If you have space for it, think about hanging on to the machine. It’s not hurting anyone. And, if you need a backup machine because your go-to machine is in the shop, you’ll be happy you kept it.
2.) Offer it to family and friends.
This could be the very first thing you do when you want to offload an extra sewing machine. Throw it out there for your people to consider.
Who knows — maybe you have a friend who’s been envious of your me-made FASHUNS and wants to get in on the action. Or, maybe your nephew is getting into cosplay and would like to stitch his own creations.
Over to you: What have you done with old sewing machines? What else can I add to the list? And, have you ever taken apart a sewing machine for parts or scrap? How did it go? Please share in the comments. Thanks for reading.