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Household Mysteries Solved

HGTV Magazine shares explanations, and some surprising fixes, for the weirdest problems around the house.

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Milky Stain on Wood Floor or Furniture
THE CAUSE: Moisture has penetrated the top layer of the wood’s finish, creating a ghostly looking blotch.
THE FIX: Lay a white cotton cloth (like a T-shirt or napkin) over the stain, then run a warm iron over it to draw out the moisture. Test the method in an inconspicuous spot first, says Don Vandervort, founder of hometips.com, to be sure you won’t damage the finish.

Musty Attic
THE CAUSE: “You probably have a leak or a ventilation issue,” says Lou Manfredini, host of the Mr. Fix-It call-in show on Chicago’s WGN Radio. 
THE FIX: It could be as simple as keeping the attic vents clear of furniture and other objects, and diffusing the smell with an odor-absorbing gel (Manfredini likes Natural Magic; naturalmagic.com). But the more thorough option is to have a pro check for leaks and other issues. “Sometimes insulation is incorrectly installed over soffit vents,” says Scott McGillivray, host of Income Property. You need one mushroom-style turbine roof vent for every 100 square feet of attic, and at least one fan.

Yellow Ice Cubes
THE CAUSE: Minerals in your water, such as magnesium and calcium, give them that tint.
THE FIX: “If you have a refrigerator with an ice maker, you probably need to change the water filter’s cartridge, often at the top right of the fridge compartment,” says hometips.com’s Vandervort. But if you’re making the ice in trays with water from the faucet, you should have your water tested and possibly treated. To find a certified lab in your area, go to epa.gov/safewater/labs.

Gurgling Kitchen Drain
THE CAUSE: Water can’t flow easily through the pipes. It’s bubbling loudly because the sewer line is clogged or improperly vented.
THE FIX: “Try a liquid drain cleaner,” says hometips.com’s Vandervort. No luck? Clear any debris, often in the sewer line’s first few feet, with a drain snake. If gurgling persists, “have a plumber check for a blocked or improperly installed vent,” says Income Property’s McGillivray. He can add an air-admittance valve or vent to the drainpipe to improve the flow.

Rotten Egg Smell in a Bathroom
THE CAUSE: “This usually happens in little-used bathrooms,” says hometips.com’s Vandervort. “Since you’re not flushing the toilet often, the drainage trap dries out and sewer gases rise through it.”
THE FIX: Flush the toilet and run water in the sink, tub, and shower to refill the traps. Next, suggests WGN Radio’s Manfredini, pour a tablespoon of vegetable oil down each drain. It’ll form a thin layer over the water you added, protecting it from air exposure and preventing evaporation—and sealing out the gases. Flush the toilet and run the water in each fixture a few times a week to keep the smell from returning.

Spontaneously Flushing Toilet
THE CAUSE: Water is leaking from the tank into the bowl. When the level in the tank gets too low, it triggers a flush.
THE FIX: The culprit is likely the flapper, the rubber cover at the bottom of the tank, says Tom Feiza, author of the How to Operate Your Home series. If it’s damaged, replace it ($3, at hardware stores). If not, wipe under and around it with a paper towel, since dirt can prevent a tight seal.

Whistling Gas Fireplace
THE CAUSE: Burner ports clogged with dirt or rust can prevent gas from flowing freely.
THE FIX: You may want to consult a fireplace technician since this involves turning the gas off and on. Once it’s off, he’ll remove the logs and embers from inside the fireplace, then scrub the surface of the burner assembly with a wire brush. If the burner ports are clogged, he’ll use a fine wire to dislodge any remaining debris. To prevent problems, have your gas fireplaces cleaned once a year.

Creaking Floorboards
THE CAUSE: Fluctuations in humidity make wood shrink, pulling it away from the subfloor. Pressure from walking forces the boards to rub against one another and against the loosened nails, causing creaks.
THE FIX: Sprinkle talcum powder over the spot(s) and, using a small piece of wood, pound lightly, forcing talc into the cracks. If you use a hammer, cushion the floor with a towel folded a few times to prevent divots. “Powder lubricates the joints, eliminating the creaking,” says WGN Radio’s Manfredini.

Green Stain in a Bathtub
THE CAUSE: Corrosive water is likely causing your copper piping to deteriorate, leaving copper and brass particles in the water. When it drips, it forms a blue-green stain under the faucet head and/or by the drain.
THE FIX: Douse a cloth with a stain remover such as Lime-A-Way; let it soak into the stain for at least eight hours. If the stain is on the tub wall, duct-tape the cloth in place. To address the corrosive water problem, have a water test done (see “yellow ice cubes”), and consider having a pro install a softening system, which costs anywhere from $400 to $1,200, depending on the size of the system.

Thumping Water Heater
THE CAUSE: Sediment builds up in the tank, making the water heat unevenly. Steam bubbles rise to a cooler part of the tank, then pop and make a thumping sound.
THE FIX: “You’ll probably need a plumber to drain and flush the tank,” says hometips.com’s Vandervort. After turning off the power and/or gas to the tank, he’ll run a hose from the tank’s faucet to a drain or outside to empty and refill it. A water softening system, which removes minerals that cause sediment, can prevent future thumping.

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