Archive for the ‘cleaning’ category

Quick Tip #36 – Tune Your Refrigerator for High Performance (Or Color It Green?)

October 20th, 2014

The refrigerator is among the most neglected of household appliances, because usually it runs forever with little repair. However, it often consumes the most electricity among your home’s appliances. You can improve the performance and extend the life of your refrigerator with simple maintenance.

The condenser coil of a refrigerator transfers heat to the air of your room. You should clean the coil with a vacuum or soft brush once or twice a year. The coil is located behind or underneath the refrigerator; it’s a serpentine apparatus with small fins. The fins’ narrow spacing catches lint and debris. A small tube connected to your vacuum will quickly collect this dirt.

Viewing and accessing the coils is often as simple as snapping the plastic cover off the lower front of the refrigerator. Often there is also a small fan that moves air across the coils. The fan should also be carefully cleaned or vacuumed after you unplug the unit.

Cleaning the coil and fan will aid in heat transfer and shorten the refrigeration compressor’s run time. This will save electricity and lengthen the life of your refrigerator.

M058C - Refrigerator - Clean Coil_300dpi

Quick Tip #26 – Pop-Up Stopper Sticks

August 11th, 2014

P097 - Sink Stopper AdjustmentsMost bathroom sinks have a “pop-up” sink stopper that opens and closes when you operate a small knob or lever built into the faucet. Push it down and the stopper pops up to drain the sink; lift it up and the stopper closes.

Most of these mechanisms need adjustments from time to time, and many are never set just right in the first place. Take a look at the illustration. The rod at the rear of the sink will allow adjustment where the metal strap with holes attaches to the stopper rod. The rod can be placed in holes at different heights to raise or lower the mechanism. The perforated rod also allows a sliding adjustment where it is attached to the solid rod that goes up through the sink.

If the sink is plugged, place a bucket below the sink, then loosen the nut and pull back the rod for the pop-up stopper at the tail piece of the sink drain. (A little water may leak out.) This will disconnect the pop-up stopper, and you can remove it to clear out debris that always collects here.

Quick Tip #19 – My Siding Is Dirty

June 23rd, 2014

M040 Wash Siding – Work UpAll types of siding eventually accumulate dirt and grime, maybe even some mildew. It might make you think you need to paint the siding. But that’s not so. Often, it’s easy to wash dirt from the surface if the underlying finish is in good shape.

Some professionals use a pressure washer on siding, but that is really overkill. It can damage caulk and force water into the siding.

Try washing your siding with a mild detergent and water. You can wet the surface and then spray with the detergent/water mix in a garden sprayer. Use a soft brush – the kind you use for washing a car – and put the brush on a long pole to make the job easier. Work from the bottom up, and keep wetting the area below the part you’re scrubbing to prevent dirty wash water from streaking dry siding. Rinse with clear water.

If your siding has gray, black or green spots, try washing with JOMAX – a great product for removing mildew. Just follow label directions. You spray the product on the surface, wait and then rinse it off. For tougher dirt, you may need to scrub a little.

You will be surprised at how a little elbow grease and detergent can make your siding look like new.

Removing Home Odors with Fresh Wave

October 29th, 2013


My daughter purchased a two-story home that was built in 1968. There is an odor in the house that still remains, even after the walls have been painted, and the carpets professionally cleaned. The four bedrooms have hardwood flooring. It is not a sewer smell; it smells stale. Any ideas, Tom? Thank you!



For this type of odor, you should also wash all hard surfaces and replace/launder all window coverings. Cleaning, or even replacing the carpet may be necessary. Cleaning the heating ductwork should also be considered.

Why-Fresh-WaveOne great product to try is Fresh Wave. You can find it at hardware stores, and on Amazon. They have a set of odor-eliminator products that are based on natural ingredients. Fresh Wave has a very subtle, pleasant smell that eliminates odors, not masks them. Try the spray for the carpet, and put the gel out in the areas that smell. You will be surprised how well Fresh Wave works!

Tree Roots in the Drain Line

May 6th, 2013


Our basement floor drain backs up. We had a plumber clean out the drain, and they found tree roots. What can we do?



The typical problem with a sewer drain line from a house to the street sewer is tree roots. The symptom will be water backing up into the lowest drain in your home. The tree roots are looking for moisture and can enter any little gap in the sewer drain line. Once the roots find the moisture and the gap in the line, they grow inside the pipe.

Your only realistic solution is to periodically have the line cleaned with a sewer machine by a professional. You could also consider cutting down the offending tree in the area. A final option is to have the sewer line checked with a camera, potentially replace it, or line it with a custom sewer re-lining system. The actual repair will depend on the condition and age of the line.


Candle Soot: Shadowing and Ghosting

April 13th, 2013


Two years ago, we installed a new roof with ridge vents. Recently, we have noticed shadows on our ceilings in places where the roof trusses run. The house has cathedral ceilings as well as flat ceilings, and these “shadows” show up in all rooms. Also, along an exterior wall in our kitchen, we can see (from end to end) the outline of the roof truss, as well as vertical markings of studs. The markings in the ceiling and the walls look like someone lightly penciled in shadows of the trusses and studs. Can this be a result of the ridge vent that was cut in the roof?



What you are describing is textbook “shadowing” or “ghosting ” from candle soot. Does someone in your family burn those nice aromatic candles in glass jugs? Those are great soot producers.

M049 - Candle - Soot Generator


Candle soot is about as heavy as air. It moves throughout your home, aided by the forced air furnace. Outside walls and attic ceilings have plenty of insulation, but there is much less insulation on the framing edges. As a result, framing edges and fasteners are slightly cooler than the surrounding drywall.

When the air moves across the cooler surfaces, it slows slightly and deposits soot. The dark soot stains outline the framing with a shadowy or ghostly appearance.

So, stop burning candles! Or at least burn only very high-quality candles, and keep the wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch or less. Don’t burn candles in jugs – their combustion is starved of oxygen, so it produces lots of soot. You can find more information at in the Free Articles section; look for the article, Soot, Ghosts and Ugly Stains.

M050 - Candle - Trim Wick


Discoloration on Wood Windows

March 6th, 2013


We have a black discoloration occurring on the wood windows in our house; I was wondering if you knew what it was, and how to get rid of it. The windows are double-hung, and the house was built in 1995. I assumed it was mold and moisture-related, because I noticed it in the bathroom. But, I have since found it in small patches on other windows, both upstairs and downstairs. I have tried many cleaning solutions, including TSP and a bleach/water mix, but none seem to work. Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.



If the stains are a dark discoloration that cannot be removed from the surface, you have water damage in the wood of the window. If the TSP removes the stain, it may be dirt or mold. Once the surface finish is damaged by water, the water will discolor the wood. So, if the finish is gone and you have a dark stain, you have water damaged wood.The fix is to refinish the wood by sanding, bleaching, and more sanding. Then, stain and varnish to back to the original finish. Not an easy job.


Natural Fireplace Maintenance

February 8th, 2013


We have a natural fireplace, not gas. Can you tell us the maintenance we should be doing on our fireplace? What is the maintenance on a gas fireplace? Should we be having our chimney cleaned out by a professional? Is this necessary?



F005 - Masonry FireplaceFor a typical wood burning fireplace, you should have the chimney cleaned and inspected every several years. The cleaning depends on how often you burn wood. If you burn most weeks, clean the chimney every year. If you burn a few times per year, clean the chimney every few years.

With a gas fireplace the maintenance is limited because the products of combustion are relatively clean. The fireplace logs should not be producing excessive soot and they should be checked along with the chimney flue every couple of years.

With either fireplace, you should also make sure the damper is closing tightly when you are not in use. You should make sure the damper opens fully and latches open when you build the fire. Outside there should be no bird or animal nests in or around the chimney.

For a masonry chimney, the cap should be solid and overhang the structure of the chimney. The structure should be solid without salt stains or surface spalling. For a framed-in metal chimney, it should have a cap that directs water away from the flue with limited rust. The box should be in good condition just like the siding of your home.

With either type of chimney, I think it is important to have a rain cap on the flue. They keep water and animals out of the chimney flue. When in doubt about chimney or fireplace issues, have a professional check it out.

Water-based Polyurethane Over Oil-based?

June 21st, 2011


Is it OK to use a water-based polyurethane such as Minwax Polycrylic over an interior door surface that had previously been finished with oil-based? Minwax says it’s OK, but the lady at the home improvement store said no. Could you please break the tie?



In most cases, it is OK to use a water-based polyurethane over an oil-based finish in good condition. You should remove grease, dirt and wax by scrubbing the surface with a wood prep/cleaner/de-glosser, or mineral spirits and synthetic steel wool. Then “roughen” the surface finish lightly with medium or fine-grit sandpaper in the direction of the grain. You want to remove the gloss from the finish. Remove all the dust with a vacuum or tack rag.

Apply the new water-based finish per label directions. The application is typically done with a lint-free cloth and several coats are recommended. The advantage of the water-based finish is ease of use, quick drying, no odor, and easy cleanup.

Zar-ULTRA-MAX-Wood-StainOne word of caution – read the label carefully and follow the specific instructions. Some of these water-based finishes are not for use over lacquer or shellac. Spray lacquer is commonly used on new furniture and in new construction. A great finish to try is ZAR brand ULTRA Max – a waterborne oil modified polyurethane.

Light Blue Stains in the Toilet

June 16th, 2010


We have a 7-year-old toilet that has begun showing a light blue color. When I try to scrub the blue stain with a toilet brush it doesn’t come off. We’ve never used those blue tank canisters; we just use liquid bowl cleaner. Do you know why the toilet bowl is stained light blue? I checked the water (in the bowl and the tank) and it is not blue.

I also noticed a lot of black mold inside the toilet tank when I took the lid off. Is it a good idea to use bleach to clean the mold off the inside of the tank and underneath the lid? There is a rubber-type 5-inch ball in the tank. Can I use bleach to clean that rubber since it too has mold on it?


The light blue stain is a strange one. Do you have a private well? If the water is slightly corrosive, I suppose you could get a blue stain from copper or brass in touch with the water. Perhaps it is from a cleaning chemical? I would try to clean the bowl with an acid-based cleaner. Look for the acid cleaner in a plumbing supply or hardware store.

You certainly can clean the toilet tank with any chemicals you wish. Most toilet tanks will have deposits. If you do use bleach, don’t let it sit on the rubber parts because it can damage the rubber. You can remove mold with just detergent and water.