15 Quick Fixes for Common Home Problems
Have stinky sinks, scratched hardwood floors or temperamental toilets got you at your wits’ end? Get ready to tackle 15 deceptively simple common home improvement problems.
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Say Goodbye to Garbage Disposal Stink
If you’ve cleaned your sink and it still smells like something died in there, your garbage disposal is the most likely culprit. While your disposal is off, dump a cup or two of ice into it. Then turn on the water and run the disposal. This should dislodge gunk that has stuck to the blades. After the ice has disintegrated, turn the disposal back off and turn off the water. Then dump half a cup of baking soda into the disposal and follow with a cup of vinegar. You should absolutely get the “science project effect,” but that pop and fizz will help clear out any remaining particulates in the disposal. Finally, after the science project has been washed down the drain by some nice hot water, grind a cut-up citrus fruit down the disposal (if you want to eat the fruit, even just the rind will do). The citrus acidity will chew away anything that dared remain, but the real upside is how nice a smell-turnaround your disposal will have made!
Give Your Toilet Flush More Gush
When your toilet and gravity don’t seem to get along, it can be stressful for everyone in the household. Before you despair — or call a plumber — see if you can give your flush more gush. Look behind your toilet (probably on the wall or the floor) for your water valve. Once you’ve located it, turn the valve counterclockwise as far as you can — just keep going until it won’t let you turn it anymore. Once you can’t turn it anymore, it’s fully open, and that should help your toilet tank get its optimum water fill, which should power up your flush.
Keep the Heat on Exposed Indoor Pipes During Cold Weather
Laundry rooms, basements and other utilitarian areas may have exposed pipe areas. And while that’s not a big deal most of the year, when the thermometer drops, these pipes can be prone to freezing up. A simple solution: install heating cables and insulate them. Simply run the cables up the pipes, using electrical tape to attach every few inches. After the cables are attached, cover them with insulating foam, and plug in the cord.
Banish Musty Front-Load Washer Smells
The first step to non-stinky washers is prevention — moving clothes out before they get musty may be easier said than done, but will go a long way toward a fresher washer. Leave the door open to let the washer itself air out after loads, as well. But there are other measures you can take. First, clean the door’s rubber seal with a half-and-half solution of water and vinegar about once a month. Also, run a cleansing cycle in the wash, where you run it on the hottest cycle with the tub empty except for a cup of baking soda in the drum, and using distilled white vinegar in the detergent dispenser. Finally, clean your drain pump filter every few weeks, per your washer’s instructions.
Remove Rust From Stainless Steel Sink
Leave a cookie sheet or cast-iron pan in a stainless steel sink for even a couple of days and you’ll soon discover your cleaning tasks will go well beyond dirty dishes. While they don’t have the dangers of chipping that porcelain sinks bring with them, the damp environment up against other metals means rust can be a real issue. Fortunately, it’s not as scary as it looks. All it really takes to conquer this eyesore is some vinegar, baking soda and elbow grease. Mix the vinegar and baking soda until you get a paste-like consistency. Spread the mix onto the rust spots and let it sit for 5-10 minutes, then scrub it off with water and a scrub pad. Repeat as necessary, leaving the paste on for longer if it didn’t get the job done the first time.
Fix Flush Arm on Toilet
When the toilet isn’t working, it’s an urgent household matter. And there’s no reason to wait for a repair worker on something like a broken flush arm: you can do it yourself! Remove the tank lid and unhood the lift chain. You'll need a crescent wrench to remove the nut inside the tank that holds the old handle in place. Once you’ve removed the old handle, take it with you to the home improvement store to make sure you get a new one that will work with your toilet. Then attach the new flush arm according to the directions in the package … but you should be a pro by now, since you already took out the previous one, and it’s just the reverse process! Just make sure you do some test flushes so you know the chain isn’t too loose (keeping the tank from fully draining) or too tight (causing leaks). Once you get it properly adjusted, put your tank lid back on, and you are ready to flush in style!
Hide Hardwood Floor Scrapes and Gouges
While that gouge in your flooring looks horrible, odds are that it can be fixed without a complete overhaul of your hardwood floors. Basic scratches can be concealed with stain markers that match the color of the wood floors. This is more of a camouflage than a true fix, but it makes them much less visible. For deeper scratches and gouges, try paste wax. Rub some of a matching color into the scratch, then polish off the excess after it has dried. Acrylic wood filler can be used for gouges greater than 1/4 deep, but you have to wait four hours between applications. Just remember these are for spot-fixes — if your hardwood floors have all-over scratches and damage, your best bet is probably a full refinishing.
Remove a Stripped Screw
So you’re moving along on your home improvement project, removing screws with your drill, and then you hear that tell-tale whirrrrrzzzzz! sound that means you’ve hit that DIYers’ eternal pain: a stripped screw. If the screw isn’t flush with whatever you’re removing it from, there’s always the option of pliers, which is probably the most direct. But if it’s screwed in tight, find some heavy-duty rubber bands. And not just one — you’ll probably need a few rubber bands to get out a really well-stripped screw. But laying a rubber band over the stripped screw’s head should give your drill or screwdriver enough traction to eventually remove that stubborn screw and move on with your project.
Fix a Leaky Faucet
Leaky faucet? Do a quick Internet search of your faucet's make and model to determine whether it's a chronic problem or a possible one-time fix. Amazon.com reviews and online forums can reveal clues about whether O-ring or cartridge replacements are worth the time. Spare parts (if not antique or specialty) will almost always be significantly less expensive than a brand new faucet.
Repair a Vinyl Tile
It requires a good number of tools, but repairing a vinyl tile is really not complicated. First, loosen the adhesive on the damaged tile with a heat gun or warm iron, then take a putty knife and gently work the tile up off the floor. It usually works best when you start at the corners and work your way to the center; the tile is less likely to tear that way. Make sure your room is well-ventilated, then use mineral spirits to soften the adhesive on the floor from the old tile so you can more easily scrape it away with the putty knife. After the surface is fairly evened out, apply the new adhesive. Lay the new tile on the adhesive and secure it by rolling over it with a rolling pin. After the tile is in place, wipe away any excess adhesive with a mineral spirit rag. Let the tile dry and get really well and fully stuck for a few hours (or as per adhesive instructions), and you're done!
Fight Fingerprints on Stainless Steel
Stainless steel refrigerators are sleek-looking and stylish, but they’re also a magnet for fingerprints. To remove fingerprints, start with a soft cloth — microfiber cloths work very well for this — and wipe down the appliance to remove any food or other particulates that might have snuck onto the surface. Next, spray a window cleaner on the surface. These work well removing fingerprints and streaks from stainless steel appliances. If you’re really committed to fingerprint-free fridges, however, you can take it one step further: wax on, my friend. That’s right: a gentle car wax over a perfect stainless finish can keep your refrigerator fingerprint-free and shiny for longer than just a regular cleaning.
Silence Squeaky Doors
When anything metal in a house starts squeaking, most people probably reach for their WD-40. And while it’s a great option, you might not always have it around when the baby is crying and you need that door to stop its noise now. Did you know there are many household items you can use to lubricate squealing door hinges? Next time you’re in a squeaky-door bind, try reaching for petroleum jelly, cooking oil, a paraffin candle, a bar of soap or even a stick of butter! To use these effectively, you’ll need to pull the actual hinge pin out of the door, coat it in the lubricant, then replace, but they should smooth the motion enough to give you some peaceful door use for a while!
Unstick Your Fireplace Damper
If your fireplace seems to be too much smoke and not enough fire, check your damper before you fret. The damper is the steel or cast-iron door at the top of the firebox, and it is critical to keeping your fireplace working effectively. Clean your damper with a firm wire brush. Be sure to wear safety goggles and some type of face mask to keep all the old particulates out of your eyes and lungs. Also, this will be a dirty job, so don’t head into it wearing your Sunday best. Remove the soot and rust buildup with a lot of scrubbing, then finish off with a bit of WD-40 or similar lubricant on the hinges.
Remove Lime Deposits from Sinks
Forget putting the lime in the coconut — to get these intractable white stains out of your sinks, go with the vinegar to beat lime. Soak paper towels in vinegar and apply them to the areas with the lime-deposit hard-water stains. One caveat: this may discolor brass or colored fixtures, so proceed with caution when you are cleaning around those styles of drains.
Ding, Dong! Your Doorbell’s Dead … But You Can Fix It
Tired of missing package deliveries or your friends having to knock when they arrive? Fixing your doorbell is probably easier than you expect. Remove the screws that hold your current doorbell in place and remove the pushbutton. Disconnect the wires from the button, then touch those wires together. If you hear the doorbell, you’ve got an easy fix! Just buy an inexpensive replacement and install it per instructions, and ring-a-ding-ding, your doorbell works again!