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Sewing for Beginners

How To Clean & Look After Fabric Scissors: I Asked 3 Pros

Cleaning and looking after your fabric scissors will make them cut smoothly and repel rust. Here are 4 steps to make your scissors last longer:

  1. Wipe your scissors after each use to remove waste fibers.
  2. Wash them to remove glue and dirt (stainless steel scissors only).
  3. Oil your scissors so they cut smoothly & don’t rust.
  4. Store them wrapped in a dry place to stop airborne moisture causing rust.

I have more detailed instructions on how to do each step below.

The advice in this post is directly from 3 companies that make fabric scissors and/or sharpen them. I interviewed Ernest WrightLDH Scissors, and Pro Sharp.

  • Ernest Wright is a manufacturer of scissors. They’ve been in business since 1902!
  • LDH Scissors have been manufacturing scissors since 1990.
  • And Pro Sharp have been sharpening scissors since 1997. They’re a member of the Guild of Master Craftsmen.
how to clean and care for fabric scissors (4 steps)
Image credit: (top) Pexels, (bottom left) LDH Scissors, (bottom right) Merchant & Mills.

Note: I’m using the term ‘fabric scissors’ in this post because it’s what people search for, but technically they’re ‘fabric shears’. Shears have longer blades than normal scissors.

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1) Wipe your scissors regularly to remove waste fibers

Waste fibers that stay on your scissors can make the scissors feel rough. Wipe off the waste with a dry cloth.

Paul from Ernest Wright recommends that you “always wipe scissor[s] down after use to remove fibers from the inside blades.”

The Ernest Wright website has more detailed instructions on how to do this:

“To properly wipe any scissors and shears clean and dry:

  • Use clean, soft, dry absorbent material (we use microfibre cloths for example).
  • With the scissors wide open, try wiping ALL the insides you can get into, especially close to the insides of the screw area. Pay as much attention as possible to the insides of the backs, and the insides of the blades, on both sides of the pair.
  • Then work the scissors a few times, and perform the same wipe again.” (source)

Ursula from LDH Scissors says wiping down scissors with a dry cloth “will ensure that no bits get trapped in the button, which would make the scissors feel rough.” (Note: the ‘button’ is the screw).

How often should you wipe scissors? Ideally after every use.


2) Remove glue and dirt from scissors

If your fabric scissors are made from stainless steel, here’s a way to clean them if they get really dirty.

Tom from Pro Sharp says “If your scissors are very dirty from glue etc don’t be afraid to clean them with a solvent to remove it.

As they are mostly cutlery steel, you can wash them in a bowl of washing-up liquid… Open and close them under a tap to clean in the pivot are[a]… This flushes old cotton waste etc out and makes for a smoother action. Then dry and oil lightly.”

I wouldn’t do this to fabric scissors made from carbon steel. Water and atmospheric moisture cause this type of metal to rust. (source)


3) Oil your scissors so they cut smoothly & don’t rust

If your scissors stop moving smoothly, it’s time to oil them. All 3 of the pros I spoke to recommended oiling your scissors.

How often should you oil scissors? LDH Scissors says “If you use your scissors heavily, oil them weekly or bi-weekly; test your scissors’ smoothness to see if they need to be oiled!” (source)

“We typically see that fiber artists (weaving, macrame, rug hooking, felting, etc) need to oil their scissors more frequently than garment sewers because of the amount of fibers that can accumulate on the scissors.” (source)

Tutorial: how to oil scissors

This video and the instructions are from LDH Scissors.

Supplies needed:

  • Scrap piece of fabric (they used quilting cotton in the video).
  • Small bowl.
  • About a teaspoon of oil. They suggest sewing machine oil. If you don’t have this, use neutral cooking oil like avocado or vegetable oil.
  • Your scissors.
  • (Optional) a cutting mat.

Note: Paul from Ernest Wright says that “vegetable oil can be used too but is not ideal.”

1) Saturate your fabric in oil

(Optional) place a cutting mat on your work surface. Cutting mats are easy to wipe clean afterwards.

Place oil in a bowl.

Place your scrap fabric piece inside and make sure it’s completely saturated with oil.

2) Open your scissors

Note: hold your scissors using the handles, not the blades.

3) Rub the oily cloth on the screw

The circular screw holds the blades together.

Look for the inner part of the blade that’s above the screw and below the handles. Wipe this area with your oily cloth. Repeat this for both sides of the scissor.

Then wipe the screw itself on both sides.

Oiling this area will make your scissors open and close more smoothly and stop moisture from rusting it.

Don’t worry about putting too much oil on because you’ll wipe if off later.

4) Wipe both sides of each blade with the oily cloth

hands rubbing oil onto black fabric scissors
Image courtesy of LDH Scissors

5) Open and close the scissors a few times to work the oil in

6) Let the oil sit on the scissors for a while

LDH Scissors recommend leaving your scissors with oil for a day or 2. But if you only have a few hours that’s OK too. The longer you leave the oil on, the smoother your scissors will be.

7) Use dry scrap cloth to wipe the oil off

You don’t want to leave oil on the scissors because it will stain the fabric you cut.

And that’s it. You’ve finished oiling your scissors! They should now start cutting more smoothly.

Tip: don’t throw the oily cloth away. Seal it in a bag, container, or foil to keep it moist for next time.

Quick alternative to oiling

If your scissors have seized up and aren’t moving, but you don’t have time to oil them, here’s a suggestion from Paul at Ernest Wright.

“Spray some WD 40 on the screw and on the rides as this should loosen it up.” Note: the “rides” is the inner part of the blade between the screw and handles. You have to open your scissors wide to see it. (source).

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4) Store your scissors in a dry place & wrapped to keep rust away

Paul from Ernest Wright says “it is of utmost importance to keep carbon steel scissors dry and stored in a dry place that isn’t humid.”

The Ernest Wright website expands: “It is preferable to store [scissors] wrapped (or encased) in dry cloth, dry leather, or a dry cardboard box, to protect them from airborne moisture.” (source)

Tom from ProSharp agrees. “Try not to have them open in a draw and best of all make or buy a case or pouch for them.”

Here are some ideas for closed scissor storage from Merchant & Mills:

4 images of brown scissor storage pouches
Featured: Merchant & Mills leather scissor pouch and tailors tool roll.

LDH Scissors says “one key point to note about carbon steel is that, unless treated with an anti-rust coating (like our Midnight Edition Fabric Shears are!), it is prone to rusting.

What this means is that you need to ensure that the blades of your scissors are kept dry, not only from water, but from humidity in the air, similar to a cast-iron pan!

If you aren’t going to be using your scissors for a couple of weeks or longer, we recommend storing them in their box, with the blades coated in oil – such as sewing machine oil – to keep your scissors smooth and healthy!” (source)

This is less of an issue with stainless steel scissors. This type of metal is highly rust-resistant (but not 100% rust-proof). (source)


More info about scissors:

**One Free Sewing Pattern. Every Thursday. Join the Email List 🙂**

Pro Sharp offers a mail-in scissor sharpening service. They’re based in the UK. They sharpen all types and makes of scissors. This includes brands like Japanese Kai, and William Whiteley, the oldest scissor manufacturer in the world (started in 1760).

before and after photo of cleaned fabric scissors
You can see examples of Pro Sharps work, like this one, on their Facebook page.

You can buy high-quality, handmade fabric shears from Ernest Wright and LDH Scissors. They both offer scissor sharpening and repair services for their own brand of scissors.

If you’re looking for a new pair of scissors, LDH Scissors has a quiz to help you decide what type you need.


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This post was originally published on 6 May 2021. It has since been updated.

Sources

Email correspondence with Tom at Pro Sharp on 12 March 2021.

Email correspondence with Paul at Ernest Wright on 8 March 2021.

Email correspondence with Ursula at LDH Scissors on 25 February 2021.

LDH Scissors (2020). ‘High Carbon Steel versus Stainless Steel’. [online] Available at: https://ldhscissors.com/blogs/news/high-carbon-steel-versus-stainless-steel [accessed: 6 May 2021]

LDH Scissors (2020). ‘Our Top Tips for Keeping Your Scissors in Tip-Top Shape!’ [online] Available at: https://ldhscissors.com/blogs/news/our-top-tips-for-keeping-your-scissors-in-tip-top-shape [accessed: 6 May 2021]

LDH Scissors (2020). ‘How to oil your scissors.’ [online] Available at: https://ldhscissors.com/blogs/news/how-to-oil-your-scissors [accessed: 6 May 2021]

Ernest Wright. ‘MAINTENANCE & REPAIR’. [online] Available at: https://www.ernestwright.co.uk/about-us/maintenance/ [accessed: 6 May 2021]

Precision Sharpening Inc. ‘LEARN MORE ABOUT SCISSORS’. [online] Available at: http://www.precisionsharpening.net/about_scissors [accessed: 6 May 2021]