7 Simple Home Repairs You Can Do Right Now

Gladys T. Black
Photo credit: JGI/Tom Grill – Getty Images

From Popular Mechanics

If you’re looking to flex your DIY muscles, you’ve come to the right place. Here are detailed how-to instructions for tackling seven simple home repairs, ranging from unclogging sinks and silencing squeaky doors to cleaning moldy surfaces and soaking up oily stains.

And all you need are a few simple hand tools, a free afternoon, and the willingness to get things done. Okay, let’s get started!

Clogged Bathroom Sink

Photo credit: Jasmin Merdan - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jasmin Merdan – Getty Images

The secret to unclogging a bathroom sink is to use a two-prong attack, starting with an ordinary sink plunger, which, despite its simplicity, is amazingly effective at dislodging clogs. However, to ensure that the plunger’s power is delivered directly to the clog, you must first cover the overflow hole on the side of the sink. Otherwise, when you begin plunging, the plunger will just suck air in and out of the overflow hole, delivering no pressure to the clog.

Caution: Always wear eye goggles when using a plunger. And never plunge a sink in which you’ve poured a chemical cleaner down the drain. Caustic chemicals could splash out and burn your skin.

Cover the sink’s overflow hole with your thumb (you probably want to wear gloves) or stuff a damp rag into it. Then, turn on the faucet to fill the drainpipe and bottom of the sink with water. (Replacing the air in the pipe with water increases the plunger’s effectiveness.) Press the rubber cup of the plunger down tightly over the drain hole.

Pump the plunger’s handle up and down a few times, but don’t break the seal with the drain. After three or four pressure pumps, quickly yank the plunger off the sink drain. Add more water to the drainpipe, if necessary, and repeat. It may take a few tries, but the clog will usually break up and flow down the drain within just a few minutes.

If plunging doesn’t dislodge the clog, you’ll have to employ the second prong of the attack: remove the trap from beneath the sink. The trap is the U- or P-shaped pipe that’s located directly beneath the sink’s vertical drainpipe. The trap serves a very important purpose: It holds, or “traps” a small amount of water that blocks noxious sewer gasses from entering the house.

Before removing the trap, place a small bucket underneath to catch any water. Next, loosen the two compression fittings that hold the trap to the drainpipe. If the trap is made of plastic, you can usually twist off the fittings by hand. If that’s not possible, or if it’s a metal trap, loosen the compression fittings with pliers or a pipe wrench. Just be careful you don’t crush the fittings or deform the trap.

Once you’ve loosened the fittings, lower the trap and pour any remaining water into the bucket. Now push a thick rag through the trap to wipe out any sludge or debris. Be sure the trap is completely clean before replacing it.

Squeaky Door Hinge

Photo credit: Elva Etienne - Getty Images
Photo credit: Elva Etienne – Getty Images

When a door starts to squeak, your first thought might be to squirt oil onto the hinges. And that usually does quiet the squeaking, but only temporarily. The squeaking usually returns within a day or two. The long-term solution to silencing squeaky hinges requires a slightly more in-depth approach.

Begin by using a hammer and nail set to tap out just one of the hinge pins. Next, take a cloth and wipe the hinge pin clean of all grease, oil, dust and dirt. If necessary, dampen that cloth with mineral spirits to remove any caked-on gunk. Then buff the pin clean with 120-grit sandpaper. Be sure to remove all rust and dried paint. Once the pin is clean, check it for metal burrs or bumps. If you find any, file them smooth and flat.

Now apply a thin bead of multi-purpose oil along the length of the pin’s shaft. Don’t use too much oil or it’ll drip onto the floor. Tap the pin back into the hinge. Repeat the previous steps to clean and lubricate the remaining hinge pins. Once done, open and close the door several times to distribute the oil.

Noticeable Nail Pops

Photo credit: triocean - Getty Images
Photo credit: triocean – Getty Images

If the interior of your home is finished with drywall—as most are—then you’ve probably got a few popped nails blemishing the walls and ceilings. It’s tempting to just hammer down the unsightly protrusions, but that won’t prevent them from popping back out. Here’s a permanent cure for popped drywall nails:

Use a utility knife to carve away the blistered joint compound to expose the head of the popped nail, then yank out the nail with pliers. Next, locate the center of the wall stud or ceiling joist. Use a cordless drill/driver to drive two 1 5/8-in. coarse-thread drywall screws into the center of the stud or joist. Position one screw about 1 in. above the old nail hole, and one screw 1 in. below the hole. Drive the screws below the surface, but try not to tear through the drywall’s paper face.

Next, use a 4-in.-wide drywall knife to apply a thin coat of joint compound over the repaired area. Allow the compound to dry overnight, then sand it smooth with 120-grit sandpaper. Apply a second coat of compound, only this time, use a 8-in. knife and spread the compound several inches beyond the first coat. Once dry, sand the area, then prime and paint.

Note that drywall is often fastened with drywall screws because they hold much better than nails. However, screws can pop through the surface, too. Fix screw pops using the same procedure described above for popped nails.

Ugly Bathroom Mold

Photo credit: onebluelight - Getty Images
Photo credit: onebluelight – Getty Images

The warm, moist conditions in a bathroom create the ideal breeding ground for mold and mildew, which appear as blackish-green stains on walls, ceilings, and grout joints between tiles. Here’s how to clean away the stains, and keep them at bay:

Get a plastic plant mister and pour in one cup of warm tap water, followed by one cup of powdered oxygen bleach. Shake well until the powdered bleach is dissolved into the water. Now spray the diluted bleach solution onto the stains, wait 20 minutes, then spray again. After 20 more minutes, scrub the surface clean with a soft-bristle brush, and rinse with clean water. To clean narrow grout joints and other hard-to-reach spots, try using a grout brush.

By the way, we recommend using oxygen bleach because it’s less toxic than liquid chlorine bleach, it won’t stain your clothes, and more importantly, oxygen bleach doesn’t evaporate as quickly as chlorine bleach, so it’s better at killing stubborn mold spores.

Rotted Exterior Wood

Photo credit: bruceman - Getty Images
Photo credit: bruceman – Getty Images

The exterior frames of wooden windows and doors are susceptible to rot caused by rain, snow, and other sources of excessive moisture. Wood frames are also easily damaged by woodpeckers and wood-boring bugs. Fortunately, most wood rot can be fixed in a matter of minutes.

Start by using a sharp chisel to cut and carve away the rotted wood. It’s imperative to remove all the rot to expose solid, sound wood. If you leave behind any decayed wood, the rot will continue to spread. Next, buy two-part epoxy wood filler and mix it according to the manufacturer’s directions. Spread the filler over the damaged section with a flexible-blade putty knife. If the repair is more than an inch deep, fill it halfway, wait for the filler to harden, then apply a second coat, overfilling the area slightly.

Allow the filler to cure at least an hour, before sanding it smooth by hand with 80-grit sandpaper or with a random-orbit sander. Wipe away the sanding dust with a damp cloth, then apply a coat of exterior-grade primer, followed by two coats of acrylic-latex house paint.

Stripped Hinge Screw

Photo credit: Zen Rial - Getty Images
Photo credit: Zen Rial – Getty Images

When door-hinge screws become stripped and can no longer be tightened, they can cause the door to sag and bind in the doorframe. Here’s a quick trick for repairing stripped screw holes:

First, remove the stripped hinge screw. Then, smear carpenter’s glue onto a wooden golf tee, and tap the tee into the stripped hole with a hammer. Next, take a sharp utility knife and score a line around the perimeter of the protruding head of the tee. Snap off the tee head by rapping it with a hammer. Now, drill a small-diameter pilot hole down the center of the tee shaft, and drive in the screw.

If you don’t have a golf tee, pack the stripped screw hole with glue-smeared wooden toothpicks. Tap the toothpicks into the hole, snap them off flush with the hinge, then drive in the screw.

Oil Stain on Concrete

Photo credit: LoveTheWind - Getty Images
Photo credit: LoveTheWind – Getty Images

No matter how careful you are, it’s virtually impossible to prevent spilled oil from staining your concrete garage floor or driveway. And while there are plenty of cleansers and degreasers on the market, we’ve found a much simpler, cheaper way to eliminate, or at least minimize oil stains, and all you need is some kitty litter.

Sprinkle a generous amount of kitty litter over the oil stain. Then, and this is the important part, use a brick or 4×4 block to pound and grind the litter into a fine powder. Kitty litter powder absorbs oil much more readily than kitty litter crystals.

Allow the crushed kitty litter to remain in place overnight, then sweep it up. Repeat, if necessary. And it’s worth noting that the longer the oil sits on the concrete, the harder it is to remove. So, try soaking up the oil spill as soon as you notice it.

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