Easy fixes for common household problems
Not every home repair has to consume your whole weekend. We asked our staff editors and Field Editors for ideas for quick fixes to ease the home repair burden. Most of these fixes can be done with inexpensive products and basic tools; many can be completed with stuff you already have around.
Cheater's chair fix
I know this isn't the proper way to repair furniture, but I had this ugly, rickety kitchen chair that was almost worthless. There was no way I was going to spend hours disassembling and regluing it. So I just drilled pilot holes and drove trim head screws through the bottom of the rungs and into the legs.
I didn't expect this crude fix to last long, but 15 years later, that chair is still in my kitchen, still rock solid and still ugly. If you want to cheat at a chair repair, be sure to use screws that are long enough to run through the rungs and well into the legs.
Lube a sticking vinyl window or door
When vinyl windows and doors don't operate smoothly, it's usually because gunk has built up in the channels. But sometimes even clean windows and doors can bind. Try spraying dry lubricant on the contact points and wiping it off with a rag. Don't use oil lubricants; they can attract dirt, and some can damage the vinyl. Pella recommends Teflon Dry Lubricant. Our daughter was getting quotes to replace her 10-year-old patio door when this “one-minute fix” saved her a lot of money.
Fix a shutoff valve
There's nothing worse than starting a sink or toilet repair only to find that the shutoff valve won't shut off. Some shutoff valves are easy to replace. For those that aren't, I turn off the main water valve, remove the packing nut, and then unscrew the stem and take it to the hardware store to find a replacement washer. I clean any grit out of the washer valve body and pop on the new washer. Then the valve works like new.
Foam a loose showerhead
Years ago, I bought the cheapest house I could find, a real dump. One of its many problems was a wobbly shower arm. With so many other house troubles, I wasn’t willing to tear into the wall and refasten the plumbing. Instead, I shielded the wall with plastic and injected a few shots of expanding foam. The foam encased the pipes in the wall and eliminated the wobble.
Hide a hole with a smoke detector
I'm a professional handyman, and some of my customers don't have a lot of money for home repairs. Recently, an elderly lady had me remove a hanging planter, which left a large hole in her ceiling. She was shocked when I told her how much it would cost to repair the hole and repaint the ceiling.
Luckily I had just come from a job installing smoke detectors, which gave me the idea of covering the hole with the spare detector I had in my van. She was thrilled, especially since she didn't already have a smoke detector in that area.
Keep cabinet doors closed
There's a cabinet door in my kitchen that wouldn't stay shut. It's on the cabinet where we keep the junk food (it probably broke from overuse), and it didn’t take long for our new puppy to discover this easily accessible new source of food.
My 10-minute fix was to install a magnetic door catch. I bought a magnetic catch because it's easier to line up the catch with the strike than with a roller-style one. No more midnight snacks for Roxy. Now I need to figure out how to stop her from eating our books and my shoes.
Silence a squeaky floor
To fix a squeaky floor under carpet, locate the floor joists with a stud finder, then drive in a trim head screw through the carpet, pad and subfloor, and right into the floor joist.
Be sure the top inch of the screw doesn't have threads or the subfloor won't suck down tight to the joist. I like trim screws because screws with larger heads pull down and pucker the carpet. If that happens, back out the screw and drive it back down. Keep adding screws until the squeak stops.
Bleach away a water stain
As a professional drywall finisher for 25 years, I get tons of calls from customers wanting me to fix a water stain on their ceiling. Before I go see it, I tell them to spray it with bleach and water solution (10 percent bleach), and wait a day or two. If it’s an old stain, I recommend Tilex Mold & Mildew Remover. You’d be surprised how often I get a call back saying, “Problem solved.” It works on both flat and textured ceilings.
Wear safety goggles, and make sure you protect the walls and floors with plastic. I hate giving away work, but guess who they call back for their bigger projects.,/p>
Fix a wallpaper seam
If you have a wallpaper seam that's coming apart, reactivate the paste around the gap with a rag soaked in warm water. Hold the rag over the area for a minute or two, and then carefully open the gap a little larger so you'll have more room for the sealer. Squeeze seam sealer (Elmer's Glue works in a pinch) into the gap, and press the paper to the wall with a roller. Clean off the excess sealer with a sponge.
Restore free flow to a faucet
When our kitchen or bathroom faucet loses pressure because of a dirty aerator screen, I hear about it from my better half. Luckily, cleaning a screen is an easy job. Start by closing the drain plug (so you don't drop parts down the drain). Then remove the aerator using a rag or masking tape so you don't mar the finish with your pliers.
To remove the sand and other deposits, soak the aerator in vinegar, then scrub it with a toothbrush. This usually solves the problem and puts a smile on my wife's face. If you have to disassemble the aerator to clean it, lay out the parts in the order you removed them so you can reassemble them correctly.
Unclog a toilet with dish soap
When my teenage son told me the toilet was clogged and his plunging attempts were futile, I told him: “Thanks for the info—let me know when you get it unclogged.”
He poured in about 1/2 cup of liquid dish soap and let it sit for a while. He reported that it worked like magic. Apparently, liquid soap reduces friction and allows the contents of the bowl to slide on through. Perhaps he should have written this tip!
Flush without hang-ups
Every time I get a new house or toilet, I take 10 minutes and cover the flapper chain with a plastic straw. I remove the chain from the arm attachment, and slide the straw over it, covering about two-thirds of the chain. I then reattach the chain to the arm. It’s that simple, and you’ll never have a running toilet caused by a kinked chain again.
Stripped screws? No problem
A stripped screw can turn a 10-minute fix into a two-hour nightmare. One of the best investments I've made is the screw extraction kit I bought last summer. It came with three different size bits and cost me about $20. I've already used it several times. One side of the extractor bit reams a hole into the screw, and the other side has reverse threads that dig into the screw as you turn it out.
Reinforce a drawer front
My most recent quick fix was to a drawer front that one of my kids pulled off. I cut a couple of lengths of quarter-round the same height as the drawer sides. I held them in place while I drilled a couple of holes through the sides and front of the drawer box. I dabbed some polyurethane glue (wood glue doesn’t stick well to finished surfaces) on the pieces of quarter-round before screwing them into place. Once the drawer front was screwed back on, all that was left was to wait for my kids to break something else...I didn’t wait long.
Cover up a ceiling stain
I've had good success hiding ceiling water stains with a spray-on product called Upshot by KILZ. It's blended to match an aged ceiling and even has a vertical spray tip, which makes installation a breeze. Lay a drop cloth on the floor and tape plastic on the walls before you spray. A can costs less than ten bucks at home centers.
Back to Top
Straighten a bent blind
On my way out of my insurance guy's office, he threw me this gizmo with his company's name on it. I asked him what it was and he told me, “You'll figure it out.” Eventually I did (with a little help from my wife). It's a mini-blind slat straightener.
I wasted no time and took the bends out of five slats. All you do is slide it over the damaged slat and squeeze. There was still a small crease on a couple of them, but they did look a lot better. The product, called the MiniBlindRx, works on 1-in. metal slats and is available for about $10 at amazon.com. Check out the video at miniblindrx.com.