What You Need to Know About Oiling and Cleaning Your Clock


The Unexpected

I was surprised by what I found. Some experts said there’s no need to clean and oil a clock. Just leave it alone. When it has a problem, go and have it professionally serviced. That was their advice. Others praised preventative maintenance as the way to go. They told me that a clock should be oiled every 3-5 years and cleaned professionally 7-10 years. Yes, the experts disagreed.

Finding The Truth

I kept on digging. I soon discovered that there was no absolute, one-for-all answer and that the differing opinions were based mostly on a repairman’s philosophy of cost effectiveness and the kind of clocks he or she serviced.

BLOG-NAWCC-clock-repairshopSomewhere along the way, I was lucky enough to find Jim’s Mobile Clock Repair. Jim was well qualified to give solid advice. I was impressed with the scope of his knowledge and perspective especially when I found out that he has a background in metallurgical and materials engineering.  After telling him about the different opinions I ran into, I asked Jim for his. First off, he said, “If you ever want to have a lively discussion get five different clock repairmen in a room and ask them ‘should I or shouldn’t I oil my clock and what kind of oil I should use’ and you’ll never come out of that room.” So, I pictured myself there in that room, trying to follow the tech-talk…and had to laugh.

“To answer your question,” he said, “today’s manufacturers of new clocks recommend oiling, either by the clock owner or a professional, every 2 to 3 years. If that schedule is kept up then a professional ultrasonic cleaning can be done every 10-12 years, or about after the 3rd oiling. If the clock is not oiled every 2-3 years, ultrasonic cleaning should be done every 5-7 years. To get the most out of your clock’s movement, follow that advice. But if you wait until your clock stops working before you have it serviced, accumulations of dirt and dust can cause unwanted wear. It could even ruin the movement. Keep in mind now that we’re talking about new clocks, not antiques, and that 2-3 and 5-7 years are general time frames only that don’t apply to all clocks.” He went on to explain seven points to consider in clock maintenance.

BLOG-#3movement-hands-ebaySeven Factors to Consider In Clock Maintenance

1. personal economic viewpoint
2. personal maintenance approach
3. materials a clock is made of
4. age and era of the clock
5. service and environmental history of the clock
6. availability of a replacement movement
7. present and future availability of a qualified repairman to overhaul the clock

Let’s talk about the first 3 points on the list: economics, maintenance approach and materials (we’ll cover points 4 -7 in future posts).

1. The Economics

As I had found out on my own, some repairmen say not to clean and oil your clock until a problem arises. Jim filled in the details “They say this because of the economics. It costs less to let your clock go without service than to have a professional do regular maintenance. But taking care of your clock assures its longevity. A clock’s life expectancy with regular maintenance is usually about 35-40 years. But If you don’t keep up with regular oiling and professional cleaning, you can expect the life span of the movement to be shortened by 10 years. The cost to replace a movement, including installation, is about $500. Professional maintenance would cost about three times as much.” Hmm, something to consider.


Here’s some dollar and cents good news on how to take the “ouch” out of that professional maintenance bill. You can learn how to oil and spot clean some clocks yourself. (Note:  not all clocks can or should be self-serviced due to their complexity–more on this in a future post). Doing your own maintenance will definitely cut down on your bill by eliminating the cost of regular professional care. However, a professional ultra-sonic cleaning would still be needed at some point (details on that in a minute). If you own a grandfather clock, you should know that to do a proper oiling job yourself, the clock would need to have side door panels for accessing deeper parts of the movement.

BLOG#2-Charlie Chaplain-moma.orgModern-TimesHere’s something else you’ll want to know: some manufacturers will void the warranty if anyone but a qualified service person does any of the maintenance work before the warranty period expires. So, read your warranty carefully before you oil and spot clean your clock.



2. Maintenance Approach: Preventative vs. Waiting

BLOG-#2Mini_Silver_Pump_Jack_Clock So is the preventative approach or the wait as long as possible approach to clock maintenance best? Your personal style of maintaining your mechanical goods could have a lot to do with the answer. Some people like to have their mechanical gear in tip top shape, even if it costs more to do it. Others don’t consider maineinance a priority, and/or they like to save the money.

Now that you know the cost factors and  reasoning behind choosing an approach, you’re in a better position to evaluate the pros and the cons and decide what might work best for you.

3. The Materials Of A Clock

Knowing about the materials a clock is made of is key to making the right decisions on how to care for it. “That’s one of the biggest reason why there are so many diverse opinions among both clock owners and repair professionals on how often to clean and oil and what type of oil to use.” Jim said. “Things like the thickness of brass plates, upgraded movements with bronze bushings and type of steel used for components are just some of the variables that determine the maintenance approach for a particular timepiece.” And the age/era of a clock has a lot to do with that. In future posts we’ll talk about this in detail.

The Type Of Oil To Use

BLO-Oiler-cu26Before we said good-bye, Jim and I chatted  about a few more things including what kind of oil to use. “It’s subjective,” he said, “some repairmen prefer one brand over another. Yes, some work better than others, but any high quality brand name clock oil will work fine. They all basically do the same thing. They cling to the metal and lubricate it. ”  (For details on what oils not to use see “How to Spot Clean and Oil Your Clock”.

By the end of the conversation I was satisfied that I had found the answers I was looking for. So there you have it. The reasons why the experts disagree. The varying approaches. It’s something to think about.

Did you enjoy this article? Find it helpful, or have any comments? Please let us know.

Ask The Expert:  Do you have a specific maintenance or repair question about a clock you own? Post it on our Facebook page and we’ll have Jim Fischer provide the answer.



1. Man in Repair Shop – www.nawcc.org

2. Hands and Gears of a Wall Clock

3. Ingolf Haas/Artist  & Designer – www.black-forest-clock.de

4. “Modern Times” Movie Clip – Charlie Chaplin (1936)

5.  Oil Pump Desk Clock

6. Needle Nose Oiler – www.clockworks.com



Leave a Reply