How To Clean a Godzilla or Crinkle Finish Vintage Sewing Machines

Hello everyone today we are going to be addressing how to clean the gunk and old oil residue from our wrinkle finished vintage sewing machines. We have acquired several different machines from different manufacturer’s that have this super tough finish covering the outside surface of the machines. Although the wrinkle finish does a great job of protecting the machine from surface damage the trade-off to it is it does like to attract and disperse oil across the surface making it a great microscopic dirt and grime catcher. I am going to explain how I clean this surface when we get a new to us machine. I will explain some of the things I have experienced while learning what to watch out for. I won’t tell you that my way is the only way to clean these machines; I only offer you my personal experiences.

cleaning a crinkle finish

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As I stated in the opening paragraph, we have several different machines that all have the rough textured finish. We have three different styles of the Singer brand, Godzilla finish. Also referred to as wrinkle or crinkle and probably a half a dozen other names I can’t think of right now. We have two 66’s One is black with silver painted or paint stamped trim. And one is a gray and white speckled mix with no trim or markings.

My 306 w is beige or brown Godzilla on the machine with painted logo and the bed is smooth enamel with no trim.

Our 959 Kenmore is a dark chocolate brown and our 552 Kenny is a very dark aqua blue/green color. See that one on Instagram and help us decide what color it really is.

We also have 2 National Streamliners, both of them are a chocolate brown and the finish is still a matte wrinkle finish but it isn’t as rough of a texture as the rest of the group mentioned above.

Most of these machines were grunge catchers for years. Dirt and oil had filled the texture so completely that they looked, for all practical purposes to be a normal dirty enamel machine. It was only after I started cleaning that I realized it was supposed to be textured. When it happened to me the first time, it was on my 959 Kenmore and I didn’t have a clue what to do about cleaning it up.

I don’t have a specific go to product when I am cleaning a new to me machine. Mostly because there are three basic types of glossy finishes and two very distinct wrinkle style finishes. The glossy finishes are shellac, enamel paint, and the gel-coat like japanned finish. Shellac is best cleaned with an oil based cleaner, enamel paint can be cleaned with a mild water based detergent as long as great care is taken with the decals. As for the japanned gel-coat type finish just about any detergent, oil or even alcohol can be used. I always test my cleaning agent on a small inconspicuous spot to be sure it won’t harm the existing finish. When it comes to cleaning the wrinkle finish the two consistent downfalls that I have learned to be aware of is #1, the trim and logo’s and #2, oxidation.

I use the word oxidation to describe the surface of the textured finish. It appears that the surface ages much like some paints. And like those paints when it is cleaned with some detergents it removes an almost microscopic layer from the surface. I have only experienced this with the brown/beige versions. I do not have a chemistry background nor did I do research to validate my suspicions and my experience. But I strongly suspect the chemical compositions of the brown wrinkle finish used by different manufacturers, to be closely related. I have experienced the same situation with all of the brown wrinkle finishes regardless of manufacturer. I have never had enough of the surface come off to harm the appearance of the machine. Theoretically, it would appear possible to clean and polish through the finish to the bare metal underneath. I assume that if I have cleaned it to the point I can see the color of the finish on my cleaning rags or cotton balls then I have cleaned a little more than necessary.

The #1 concern I have when cleaning the wrinkle finishes is the manner in which the logo of a machine or the trim is applied. On some of the older machines, the logo will be a placard type plate attached with screws or rivets. These plates need to be cleaned cautiously and carefully regardless of the finish or manufacturer because it is very easy to remove the labeling with any detergent or cleaner and water. If the logo and trim is in any form of a decal I use extreme meticulous caution and I do not clean the decal at all I will clean up to the edges and any surface within the trim possible with a tiny brush and a table mounted magnifying glass so I can see the edges. I do not clean the decals, period. We have a Singer 66 centennial model, black Godzilla finish that appears to have the logo painted on the surface. It looks almost as if it was spray painted from the factory or perhaps it was stamped with a rubber stamp covered with paint regardless it did not appear to be stable enough to be scrubbed therefore it was wiped off with oil and the rest of the surface cleaned following our normal routine.

Now that we have addressed the concerns with the decals/trim and the logos we can move along to the basis of the post and get into the routine technique that I have evolved into using. Whenever I am cleaning a wrinkle finish machine I have two preferred methods that seem to work equally well although the second method I will discuss seems to be easier and faster to me.

The first method for cleaning the finish starts with plenty of cotton balls, a soft bristle brush (toothbrush or soft manicure brush), a small bowl, and my preferred water based detergent cleaner. I like to use Simple Green or a similar cleaner called Mean Green. I have used other cleaners such as 409 and other kitchen cleaners with good results but I felt some of them left a residue behind, they were harsh smelling and harder on my hands after longer exposure to the cleaner. It’s my decision not to wear gloves but I will not recommend ignoring the manufacturer’s warnings or suggestions when using their products. I like to be able to control the application of the cleaner sometimes more than what is possible using a spray bottle, so I will pour a small amount into a small bowl or into jar lid and dip my brush into it instead of spraying the machine and the surrounding area. I use small circular strokes with the brush and do small areas at a time keeping the area wet by dipping into the bowl when needed. When I see either that the area I am brushing is clean or that the cleaner around the area is dirty I stop brushing and wipe that area dry with a cotton ball. If the area is clean I start a new spot to brush, if not I start scrubbing the same area until it is clean. Once the entire machine has been brushed clean and the dirty cleaner wiped off I will take a clean cotton ball dipped in fresh cleaner and wipe the entire machine off one last time before calling it clean.

The second method virtually mirrors the first method except for using a liquid cleaner and a bowl. I use a waterless hand cleaner with NO pumice or scrubbers added. I use Fast Orange, it’s very much like a gel/cream and has the consistency of GO-JO without the harsh smell. Fast Orange is a citrus based cleaner so it smells good. It goes on like tooth paste and the more you work it with a brush the less gel there is and more liquid. I do it the same as a liquid cleaner. Small circles with the brush, wipe off with a clean cotton ball, inspect and start over until the entire machine is done. Sometimes I will wipe the entire machine with a cotton ball soaked in liquid cleaner as the last step. It really depends upon each machine and the type of grime removed. If it is clean but feels gummy or sticky after it dries Then it gets the clean cotton ball and liquid cleaner once over.

The last bit of info I want to share concerns the Black and the Gray/White speckled Godzilla finish, I have only dealt with (1) gray/white and only 6 of the black finishes. I don’t remember ever having an oxidizing problem with any of them. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen it only means I haven’t had to deal with it yet.

I hope some of you find this useful even if it makes you say, Nope not doing it that way, it was still useful and justifies my efforts. If you need more help getting your sewing machine up and running be sure to check out our whole series of posts on resurrecting a sewing machine. For more great vintage sewing machine information be sure to sign up for our newsletter below.

Until next time, Enjoy your machines your way and may the only bird nests you fight with be in the attic of the garage.

cleaning a godzilla finish sewing machine

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