Repairs and Maintenance :Cheaper, Better, Faster- Tips and Tricks to Save You Time and Money Every Day
Air conditioner—clean filter
To clean an air conditioner or humidifier filter, take the foam filter out of the
grill and soak it in a solution of equal parts white vinegar and warm water. If you
clean the filter regularly, an hour of soaking will be plenty. Just squeeze the filter
dry when it’s clean, and then place it back in the air conditioner.
Air conditioner or radiator—disguise
To hide an under-the-window radiator or air conditioner when not in use, hinge
together three 30-inch-high window shutters to form a folding screen.
The nasty black chip on any white home appliance, porcelain sink, ceramic tile,
or even your white car can be quickly repaired with a liquid correction fluid like
White-Out or Liquid Paper, available at office supply stores. Carefully paint the
chip, and it will dry in just a few minutes.
Appliances—keep small repair parts together
When repairing appliances, line up small parts on masking tape to keep them in
order and to prevent their mysterious disappearance.
To preserve the finish of your washer, dryer, and other appliances, wax them
with car wax twice a year.
If your home or vacation spot has widely spaced posts on an outdoor balcony,
get a roll of plastic webbing for repairing lawn chairs and weave it between the
posts to protect anyone or anything from falling through.
Bucket measurements—no more guessing
Mark pint, quart, and gallon measurements on a bucket with red fingernail polish
to make sure you never have to guess on the measurements.
Carpet and rugs—renew for bathroom
Don’t throw out bathroom rugs that have lost their rubber backing due to
multiple launderings. Slip a piece of rubber shelf liner under the mat. That will
keep it from slipping and extend its useful life.
Carpet and rugs—repair bleach spots
Color in the bleached-out spot in your carpeting (which often occurs near a
bathroom where bleaching products have splashed or dripped) with a nontoxic
marking pen in a shade as close as you can find to that of the rug. This is exactly
what a carpet professional would do if you called for repair.
For the smoothest finish, run an ice cube over fresh caulking to shape it and get
rid of lumps.
Ceramic tile—change color
If your kitchen or bathroom is suffering from outdated avocado green or some
other 1970s colored ceramic tile, and you don’t choose to replace it at this time,
do this: Purchase a product like Fleckstone (manufactured by Plasti-kote),
available at home improvement centers. It is a multihue, textured spray paint
sold together with a clear acrylic topcoat that, when applied as directed,
produces “new” tile that can be cleaned with a damp sponge. Even if it takes five
kits to do the job, you’ll spend around $50, and that sure beats remodeling.
Never switch on two or more circuit breakers simultaneously. Turn them on one
at a time, and pause slightly after each to prevent a power surge.
Closet rod—fix sagging
To fix a sagging wooden closet rod, buy a length of ½-inch galvanized pipe and
a length of ¾-inch thin wall PVC piping, both the same length as your rod. You
can get these at your local home improvement center. Slip the pipe inside the
PVC and slide the PVC into the existing rod brackets. (You can remove the
printing on the PVC with rubbing alcohol.)
Closet rod—improve glide
If hangers don’t glide along the clothes rod, rub it with waxed paper or a candle.
Doors—aluminum like new
Make aluminum doors (or window casings) look new by rubbing a ball of
aluminum foil back and forth across the pitting.
To cushion the bang of a door that has a habit of slamming shut, glue ⅛-inchthick
pieces of foam rubber along the stop.
Doors—improve sliding screen door action
Sliding screen door lost its smooth gliding action? Rub an old candle along the
bottom metal track of the door’s frame. It will work like new again without a
drippy, oily mess.
Drains—completely stopped up
If a drain is completely stopped up, don’t try to clear it with chemical drain
cleaners. They may bubble back up into the sink or tub and cause permanent
damage to the finish of the fixture. If there’s only a moderate clog, pour boiling
water with a few teaspoons of ammonia down the drain, wait a few minutes, then
Pour ½ cup washing soda (not baking soda) directly down the drain, then slowly
and carefully add 2 quarts boiling water. This weekly preventive maintenance
will ensure that clogs will never be a problem.
To clear a sluggish drain, pour 1 cup baking soda into the drain followed by 1
cup white vinegar. Allow to sit overnight. In the morning, flush with a kettle of
boiling water. Plunge the drain a few times with a plunger. This is an excellent
maintenance tactic to keep drains running well.
To remedy a sticky drawer, rub the sides with a candle.
Furniture—scratches on wood
Make your own inexpensive cover-up for furniture scratches: Mix instant coffee
and water into a thick paste and apply it to hide nicks and scratches on dark
If a furniture leg is uneven, try buttons of different sizes under the leg until you
find one that makes it even. Use hot glue around the button edge and position in
Grout—clean and whiten
Use white shoe polish—the kind with an applicator top—to clean, whiten, and
brighten stained tile grout. Simply apply the polish, wipe the tiles with a damp
cloth, allow to dry, and buff.
Grout—paint over the gray
If the white grout on your tile has become gray and grimy, that’s a fairly good
sign the grout was not sealed, in which case there is no way to make it
completely white again. But you can paint it white, using an oil-base paint. Ask
at your local paint or home improvement store about which type to use. Do this
only if the tiles are glazed (sealed); any paint that gets on them can be wiped off
with a dry cloth. If paint gets on unglazed tiles, it will be absorbed, leaving the
tiles looking even more unsightly.
Hair dryer revival
If your once-trusty hair dryer sounds like it’s gasping for its last breath or turns
itself off midsession, check the intake vent before you toss it out. When those air
holes are clogged with hair or dust, the unit overheats, and its built-in safety
mechanism turns off the motor. To clear the air holes, run a vacuum over the
Hot glue—items stuck together
Items stuck together with a hot-glue gun can often be pried apart if heated with a
hair dryer. You may also heat a thin-bladed knife from a hobby or art supply
store, then carefully work it between the two items.
Many utility companies give rebates for this type of home improvement because
it conserves so much energy. As a bonus, you’ll save a lot of money on heating
and cooling costs.
Keyholes—no more fumbling in the dark
Brush keyholes with luminous paint, and you won’t fumble for the lock in the
Ladders—protect your aluminum siding
Place a pair of athletic socks on the top ends of an extension ladder to protect
aluminum siding from the ladder’s sharp edges.
If you notice water leaking through the ceiling, immediately hammer a 16d nail
through the Sheetrock to allow the water to drain before it damages the plaster or
drywall. Later, after the leak is repaired, all you’ll need to cover the emergency
repair is a dab of Spackle and touch up paint.
A faucet leaking 60 drops a minute wastes 113 gallons of water a month. That’s
1,356 gallons a year down the drain. Better to fix the leak right away.
If your roof leaks, control that leak by tacking a string into the roof sheathing
where the water comes through. Place a bucket under it. The water will run
down the string into the bucket rather than down your ceiling.
To find the water leaks in your home, try this test: Turn off all running water in
the house. Find your water meter and take a look. Is it still moving? Chances are
you have a water leak, and chances are even better it’s your toilet. Put a few
drops of food coloring into the toilet’s tank. If without flushing, the color shows
up in the bowl, it’s leaking all right. Get a toilet repair kit at the home repair
center. This is a very simple do-it-yourself repair.
Lighting—extracting broken bulbs
If an electric bulb breaks off in the socket, follow this simple procedure: Turn off
the power to the fixture by either unplugging the fixture or turning off power at
the main service panel. Cut a potato in half, and push one of the halves into the
broken bulb piece. Turn the potato, and the broken piece will come right out.
Messy job—when answering door or phone
When you’re painting or doing other messy jobs around the house, keep a couple
of plastic sandwich bags nearby. If you have to answer the door or the phone,
just slip your hand into a bag to avoid spreading the mess.
Nailing—hold nail with a comb
The best way to hammer a very small nail into the wall is to place the nail
between the teeth of a tiny comb, hold the comb to the wall, and hammer away.
Prevent nails from rusting by placing them in airtight jars with a little WD-40 or
Nails and screws—use heat
To keep the wall or plaster from splitting or cracking when hammering in a nail,
drop the nail into a pot of hot water for 15 seconds, remove, then carefully
hammer it in. To remove a stubborn screw, pass a lighted match over the end of
the screwdriver; the hot tip will then twist out the screw.
Find a nut to fit each socket of your set. Glue the nuts in a row in a tool tray.
Now store each socket on its own nut, and it will stay secure and in place.
Nuts, bolts, and screws—loosen
If you don’t have penetrating oil and need to loosen a nut, screw, or bolt, use
vinegar, lemon juice, or hot pepper sauce instead. All of these products contain
acid that attacks minerals and rust.
Painting—around door hardware and window edges
Before painting a door, coat the knobs, locks, and hinges with petroleum jelly.
Afterward, use a cloth to wipe off the jelly and any paint that may have been
spilled. Use this method on window edges as well.
Painting—avoid drips on your hands
Push a paintbrush handle through a slit in a sponge. It’ll stop the drips from
running onto your hand.
Painting—barrier for splashes on face
Cover your hands and face with a very thin film of petroleum jelly before you
start painting. Paint splashes will simply wash off.
Borrow your kid’s skateboard when painting baseboards. Sit on it and roll along
as you work.
Painting—catching can drips
Glue a paper plate to the bottom of a paint can to catch drips. Before you open
the can, apply several dots of glue from a hot-glue gun to a plate. Position the
can on the dots and let sit for 5 minutes. Or place a small amount of paint on the
paper plate. It’s much more convenient than using newspaper because when you
pick up the can, the plate goes along.
Painting—citronella to repel insects
A few drops of citronella oil added to a bucket of paint will keep mosquitoes and
other flying insects away from a fresh paint job.
Painting—don’t waste paint if delayed
When tackling a painting job you may not be able to complete in 1 day, don’t
waste the paint in the rollers and brushes by cleaning them. Simply wrap the
brushes or rollers tightly in plastic wrap and store them in the freezer. Remove
them from the freezer a little while before you start painting again, and you can
pick up right where you left off.
An old, metal kitchen spatula is perfect for scraping up softened paint remover
and paint. Regular paint scrapers have sharp corners that make it all too easy to
scratch or gouge the wood.
Painting—how much paint is left?
Mark the level of paint on the outside of the can so you can tell how much paint
is left without reopening the can.
Painting—keep brushes soft
Keep paintbrushes soft by giving them a final rinse in water containing a bit of
liquid fabric softener.
Painting—no doors painted shut
Fold a couple of sheets of newspaper over the top of the door. You won’t be able
to paint the door shut—no matter how hard you try.
Painting—nonslip outdoor steps
When painting outside steps, add a bit of fine sand to the paint to create a
Painting—picture hook markers
Replace picture hooks with thumbtacks before you paint a wall. Paint over the
tack, then remove it once the wall is dry. Now you can rehang pictures in exactly
the same spot, using the same hole for the hook.
Painting—scraping paint from windows
To quickly scrape the dried paint from windows, use a single-edged razor blade
that you dip into a solution of liquid soap and water. The blade will glide along
and the job will take little time and effort.
Painting—soften hard brushes
Soften hard paintbrushes in hot vinegar for a few minutes. Then wash them in
soap and warm water and set out to dry.
If you need to paint the stairs while living in your house, do this: Paint every
other step. Let those dry thoroughly, mark them with a piece of masking tape,
and then paint the rest. Taking the steps two at a time during this renovation
should give the family some great exercise.
Store partially full cans of paint upside down. The paint will form an airtight
seal, extending its useful life.
Painting—strain lumpy or debris-filled paint
If paint appears lumpy or contains debris, stretch a pair of pantyhose over the top
of a clean bucket and strain the paint by pouring it through the hose into the
Painting—window frame trick
Before you begin painting window frames, cut strips of newspaper, dip them in
water, and press them onto the glass close to the frame. When the paint dries,
moisten the newspaper with a damp sponge and peel it right off. Presto! No
messy windowpanes to scrape clean after the painting is done, and no sticky tape
First open the faucet to release pressure from thawing water. Then apply heat
with a hair dryer, heat gun, or heat lamp, starting at the faucet side of the frozen
If a particular pipe in your home freezes regularly, allow the corresponding
faucet to drip ever so slightly when subfreezing weather is predicted.
Before you take something apart to fix it, take a picture so you can see how it fits
back together. To help you remember how to reassemble it, place each part in the
correct sequence onto the sticky side of a piece of duct tape.
When you finish refurbishing a room in your home, write down this important
information on a piece of paper and tape it to the back of the switch plate: the
brand and color of the paint, how much it took to paint the room, how many rolls
of wallpaper were required, and the circuit breaker number that serves this room.
You’ll be happy to find the information the next time.
If you have a loose or missing roof shingle, slip a piece of sheet metal or
builder’s felt (tar paper) over the damaged area and under the shingle above it.
Hold it in place with dabs of roofing cement.
Rubber mallet—make your own
Cut an X in an old tennis ball and put it on the head of a hammer to make a
Sanding—in tiny or hard-to-reach spaces
Use an emery board to sand small or hard-to-reach areas like shutter slats or
To make sandpaper or emery paper last longer, back it with masking tape. The
tape helps keep the paper from tearing or creasing while you are working and
doubles or triples its longevity.
Saw blade storage
Store circular saw blades in old record album jackets.
Sharpen scissors by cutting several times into 220 grit sandpaper. Turn the
scissors over and repeat to sharpen the bottom blade.
To make a great screwdriver caddy, tightly coil a roll of corrugated cardboard
and stuff it into a 2-pound coffee can. Poke all your screwdrivers between the
Screws—anchor in plaster wall
Here’s how to anchor a screw in a plaster wall: First make the hole by driving a
nail into the plaster. Plug the hole with fine steel wool. The screw will go in
Screws—holes in wood
If a screw hole in wood furniture becomes too large to hold the screw, try this:
Remove the screw and pack the hole with toothpicks and wood glue. Wait for the
glue to dry, then trim the toothpicks even with the surface. Re-drill the hole, and
replace the screw.
Spray cans—keep nozzles clear
Hold a spray can of anything upside down to clear the nozzle between uses.
While the can is completely inverted, spray a few times to clear the passage.
Lubricate the pin on a squeaky hinge with petroleum jelly instead of oil. You
won’t need to worry about drips on the floor.
Squeaks—stair steps and floors
Both squeaky stairs and floorboards can often be silenced temporarily with
talcum powder. Work the powder into the cracks and wipe away the excess.
Repeat as necessary.
Store leftover water-base stain in a thoroughly cleaned ketchup bottle with a fliptop
lid. You’ll be able to dispense exactly the amount you want with no mess. Be
sure to label the bottle with the exact contents.
Staining and refinishing—clean sanded surfaces
Dampen a rag with rubbing alcohol to clean sanded surfaces prior to applying
stain or finish.
Stud location in walls
Studs are the vertical wooden supports behind your walls. They’re handy for
hanging pictures and such because a nail or screw is more likely to stay in place
when it’s been driven into a stud as opposed to just the drywall. To locate the
studs in a wall, find a light switch or electrical outlet in the room and take the
plate off. If you peek in there, you might be able to see a nail or screw from one
side of the box going into a stud. Switches and outlets are almost always initially
installed against a stud for stability. The stud is 2 inches wide, so visualize and
mark the center of that stud. Sixteen-inches from that mark in either direction
should be the center of its neighbor. And so on around the room. Note: Some
new homes have studs 24 inches on center.
Before forking out the big bucks to purchase a toilet or sink, check with a local
plumbing contractor. Many times they have used items that are in perfect
condition because they were removed from new homes when the homeowner
wanted to upgrade or change the color.
Tool protection for small tools
Staple a pocket protector to your workbench so you can keep track of those
really small tools that have a way of disappearing.
Vacuum hose clog
To dislodge a vacuum hose clog, first turn the vacuum off and unplug it. Unwind
a metal hanger and, leaving a slight hook on the end, slide the hanger into the
hose, hook the blockage, and pull it out.
Vinyl floor tile removal
To remove a vinyl floor tile, aim a hair dryer set on medium at the tile’s corners
and center. Heat will cause the adhesive on the underside of the tile to become
moist and sticky. Slowly work a putty knife between the floor and the tile to pry
Remove bubbles and blisters in wallpaper by cutting an X into the wallpaper
with a very sharp razor blade and regluing the paper.
Remove a grease spot from wallpaper by rubbing baby powder into it. This
serves as an absorbent.
Wallpaper—moisten and smooth prepasted paper
If you’re working with prepasted paper, use a plant mister to moisten it. A
handheld squeegee is a great tool for smoothing prepasted wallpaper quickly and
Wallpaper—papering around outlets
When wallpapering over outlets, first insert childproof electrical outlet plugs.
When you cut through the paper, you won’t get a shock.
Two days before you plan to wallpaper, reroll the roll of paper the opposite way.
The paper will be flat, and the job will go faster.
To remove wallpaper, start by cutting several crisscrosses in each panel of paper
with a utility knife so the wallpaper remover or steam can seep into the cuts and
help loosen the paper.
Wallpaper—squirt gun as tool
Keep a child’s squirt gun handy when wallpapering. It’s perfect for dampening
corners that have dried out or didn’t get quite wet enough the first time around.
If vinyl wallpaper is too tightly curled, you can relax it with a hair dryer set on
warm. Hold the dryer 6 to 8 inches away, and wave it back and forth over the
Walls—hanging pictures on wallpaper
To hang pictures on wallpaper: Cut a notch in the paper, bend it back gently, then
drive the nail into the wall. If you remove the nail later, you can simply glue the
paper flap over the hole, and there won’t be an ugly blemish on the paper.
Walls—removing clear tape
Remove clear tape from walls by warming it slightly with a hair dryer.
Washing machine maintenance
Take care of your washing machine, and you’ll add years to its useful life: To
unclog hoses and flush out all the minerals and all the gummy buildup, fill the
machine with hot water (no clothes), pour in 1 gallon of distilled white vinegar,
and allow to run through an entire cycle.
Water heater maintenance
Perform water heater maintenance twice a year, and you’ll get many more years
of service from it. Turn off the power to the water heater at the circuit breaker
and drain the sediment from the bottom of the tank. In areas with hard water,
draining is best done every month.
White glue—soften in bottle
To soften white glue in a plastic bottle, place the bottle in boiling water for a few
seconds until the glue softens. If it’s in a glass bottle, run hot tap water over the
bottle for a minute or two, then place the bottle in simmering water. Or simply
add a bit of white vinegar to the amount of glue you’re going to use and stir with
If a window cracks in your house, protect yourself and the sash frame until you
can replace the glass by taping the crack with packing tape or adhesive-backed
weather stripping. But don’t count on this temporary fix to hold for very long.
Windows—match storm windows and screens
To match storm windows and screens to the correct windows, draw a diagram of
the house and number each window frame. Use a permanent marker to write the
same number on the corner of the appropriate storm window or screen. Attach
the diagram to the garage or basement wall, and you’ll never have to guess
which window or screen goes where.
Windows—paint worn mini-blinds
Instead of replacing worn metal mini-blinds, paint them. Wash them with soap
and water in the bathtub, rinse thoroughly, and dry completely. Carefully spraypaint
them. Selecting the same or similar shade will make the job easier.
Don’t use a screwdriver to try to pry open a window that has been painted shut.
Instead, move a pizza cutter back and forth in the stubborn groove.
To repair a small tear in a window screen, cut a square patch a little larger than
the damaged area. You can buy screening at the hardware store. Unravel and
remove a few strands of wire from all four sides. Bend the wire ends over till
you can slip them through the screen. Then bend them farther to hold the patch
Windows—spring-clean windowsills with paint
Instead of trying to scrub windowsills clean each spring, just paint them. It’s
faster, and the results are much better.
To identify the type of clear finish on wood so you can refinish it, touch the
finish with a cotton ball dampened with nail polish remover. If the cotton ball
sticks or the finish softens, it’s varnish, lacquer, or shellac. If there’s no effect,
it’s polyurethane. The best tool for removing old finish from carvings and other
hard-to-reach areas is a natural bristle paintbrush with the edges trimmed to a
Softwoods like pine, poplar, and fir may absorb stain unevenly. To test for
firmness, press your thumbnail into the wood. If it leaves an indentation, it’s a
softwood. Seal all softwoods before staining by coating with a wood conditioner.