Category: How To’s & Quick Tips


Bob Vila Radio: Fire Extinguisher Inspection

There are a number of important components to home fire safety— including smoke alarms, emergency plans, and fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers should be checked twice a year to make sure everything is in working order. Here's how to check your fire extinguisher— before you need it.

You know you should test your smoke alarm twice a year, but what about your fire extinguisher? If yours is at the back of the closet where you stashed it 10 years ago, chances are it won’t be much help in a fire. Here’s how to check your fire extinguisher to make sure it’s ready if you ever need it.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON FIRE EXTINGUISHER INSPECTION or read the text below:

Fire Extinguisher Inspection

Photo: NBCLosAngeles.com

The first thing to check is the pressure gauge, which will tell you if your fire extinguisher is overcharged, undercharged, or just right.  If it’s not properly charged, contact your local firehouse first to see if they can help. If they can’t, they can at least point you in the right direction.

Check the fire extinguisher for dents, rust, or other signs of damage — if you see any, it’s time to dispose of it, because a crack in a pressurized fire extinguisher can cause it to explode. Make sure the tamper seal and the pin are in place. If your extinguisher has an inspection tag, check to see when it was last professionally inspected, if ever. It’s a very good idea to stick to the recommended schedule for professional maintenance. If you have any doubts, contact a local fire safety company for guidance. Finally, don’t put your extinguisher back in that closet — for it to be useful, you need to be able to get to it quickly.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

 


How To: Clean Copper

Do you have copper that's looking tarnished and dingy? Freshen it up using items that you probably already have in your pantry. Here's how.

How to Clean Copper

Photo: shutterstock.com

Copper can be a finicky material; it tarnishes easily even when subject to normal wear. Fortunately, using only common household items that most people keep on hand, it doesn’t take much to clean copper and renew its earthy and robust shine. Choose your approach from the following options based on the supplies you already have in your pantry.

How to Clean Copper - Texture

Photo: shutterstock.com

SALT AND VINEGAR
It’s a winning combination, not only as a flavoring for potato chips, but also as a cleaning solution for copper. Simply sprinkle salt over the object you want to clean, then thoroughly scrub it with a vinegar-soaked cloth. (Expect the cloth to get dirty as you work; if it gets really dirty, swap in a new one.) Once you have rubbed away all the tarnish, rinse the object under the faucet to remove the salt residue. At this point, the copper should be looking a lot better than it did.

Do dents and depressions in the copper still harbor hard-to-reach dirt and grime? If so, apply salt directly to those areas, then head to the bathroom and retrieve an old toothbrush. After dipping its bristles in the vinegar, use the toothbrush to scrub the dirty or oxidized parts of the copper that eluded your cleaning efforts the first time around.

If the steps above leave you frustrated, there’s still one more thing you can try. In a large pot, mix one cup of vinegar, one tablespoon of salt, and four or five cups of water. Place the entire copper object into the pot, then bring the water to a boil. Leave it boiling until you begin to see the tarnish falling away from the copper. Once you’ve taken the copper out of the pot, it may be necessary to do some more scrubbing, but now it should be significantly easier to get results.

LEMONS OR LIMES
If there’s no vinegar in your cupboard this week, you can rely instead on any number of common household acids—prime examples are lemon or lime juice. (But know that in a pinch, anything acidic, even tomato ketchup, can be used.) Cut the citrus fruit in half, sprinkle salt on its exposed flesh, then rub the lemon or lime against the tarnished copper. Finish by wiping the copper object thoroughly with a dry cloth, polishing away all the accumulations marring the surface, which the combination of acidity and salt should have effectively loosened up for you.


5 Things to Do with… Test Tubes

Test tubs aren't just for the lab! Check out these surprising and practical projects that will have you scattering test tubes all around the house.

Test tubes are commonplace and entirely unremarkable in locations like science labs and chemistry classrooms. But in the home, where you normally wouldn’t expect to come across them, test tubes are an arresting sight. As simple as they are practical—and available in a range of sizes, with or without stoppers—test tubes appear in a variety of storage and decor projects, both in and around the home. Scroll down now to see five favorite test tube crafts from around the Web.

 

1. ARRANGE FLOWERS

Test Tube Crafts - Vase

Photo: ourblogoflove.com

Whereas a single bloom is a pleasing sight, a grouping of flowers serves up a lavish, delightful feast for the eyes. Start with a metal or wooden rack, either wall-mounted or portable. Set a row of test tubes into the rack, fill them to the halfway point with fresh water, then place one or two stems into each vessel.

 

2. KEEP SUPPLIES

Test Tube Crafts - Storage

Photo: madvertizing.wordpress.com

Home office supplies are so often jumbled in a desk drawer, remaining maddeningly elusive on those occasions when you really need a thumbtack or paper clip. Rarely is a desktop organizer as design-savvy as the above set of mini test tubes. Occupying limited real estate, the compact trio keeps all the essentials within easy reach.

 

3. STORE SPICES

Test Tube Crafts - Spice Rack

Photo: instructables.com

If you frequently cook at home, then you already know how quickly and completely a spice collection can take over the cabinet it’s stored in. Sound familiar? Let test tubes come to the rescue! They are perfectly sized, airtight containers for any dried spice, and the colors and textures of the contents make a lovely display.

 

4. TRY A TERRARIUM

Test Tube Crafts - Terrarium

Photo: fragiletaller.etsy.com

There are a million and one ways to do a terrarium. Here’s one more. Fill the bottom quarter of a test tube with pebbles and a small amount of activated charcoal. Next, add about a half-inch of dirt followed by a thumbprint-size piece of moss. Cap the test tube and display it on a stand or attach a magnet and stick it to the refrigerator door.

 

5. HANG A CHANDELIER

Test Tube Crafts - Chandelier

Photo: makezine.com

Simultaneously retro and futuristic, and elegant without being overly formal, a test tube chandelier like this one makes for an unforgettable conversation starter, especially when the integrated tubes are filled to varying levels with dyed water in a spectrum of bright, buoyant hues.


How To: Clean Marble

Marble surfaces are elegant and classic, but they require special care to retain their luster. Follow our tips to keep your marble countertops and floors clean, shiny, and stain-free.

How to Clean Marble

Photo: shutterstock.com

Unquestionably, marble ranks among the most luxurious and beautiful countertop and flooring materials. Equally beyond question is the fact that marble requires special care and maintenance. Whenever you set out to clean marble, you’ve got to be very careful: Many products and techniques that are traditionally used with other surfaces can cause permanent damage to marble. Avoid common pitfalls by following these guidelines to clean marble effectively and safely.

How to Clean Marble - Countertops

Photo: imptile.com

Everyday Cleaning
Marble can be easily stained by many of the liquids that frequently appear in the kitchen—for example, wine, coffee, and orange juice. Watch out for spills and clean them up as quickly as possible. Even water, if left to pool for a period of time, can discolor marble, so it’s best to keep stone surfaces dry.

Avoid general-purpose cleaners unless the product specifically states that it’s marble-safe. Most of the time, a solution of dish soap and warm water is all that’s needed to keep marble looking new. Dip a soft cloth into the diluted soap, wring out the cloth so that it’s damp but not dripping wet, then wipe the marble clean.

You can also clean marble floors with a solution of dish soap and warm water—and you don’t need to get down on your hands and knees. It’s totally fine to use a mop; just be careful not to slosh too much water all over the place. When you’re finished, the floor should be a little damp, but if any pools have collected, you haven’t wrung out the mop well enough. Wipe up any standing water quickly with a dry cloth or towel.

Be aware that while many homeowners rightly revere the cleaning virtues of vinegar, this handy pantry staple should never be applied to marble; its high level of acidity can actually corrode the stone.

Stain Removal
Given the material’s sensitivity, removing stains from marble can be a little tricky, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge. The key is to absorb the stain. Try this: Mix baking soda with a small amount of water to form a thick paste. Apply it directly to the stain, then cover it with plastic wrap. Leave the paste in place for at least 24 hours, then check to see whether the solution has worked. If the stain is less noticeable but is still hanging on, repeat the process with a fresh application of paste.

No luck yet? So long as the marble is light-colored, you can experiment with hydrogen peroxide. But don’t go near this method if your marble is darker—the bleach could discolor it.

The very best way to care for marble is to prevent stains in the first place. Clean up any spills quickly, never put hot pans on the surface, and always be careful using sharp objects near marble because it can be easily scratched. Treat marble well and it will stay looking great for a lifetime.


5 Things to Do with… Coffee Grounds

Once you've had your daily cup (or three or four), save those coffee grounds for one of these smart uses.

If you drink coffee, chances are that you drink it every day. Sure, sometimes you get it on the go, but if you’re anything like me, there are plenty of occasions when you brew the stuff at home. Now, think back over the years to all the coffee grounds you’ve chucked into the garbage. If that strikes you as a waste, then you may be interested to know there are many different practical uses for coffee grounds both in and around the home—and a few might even surprise you!

 

1. FERTILIZE YOUR GARDEN

Uses for Coffee Grounds - Fertilizer

Photo: unh.edu

Coffee grounds contain calcium, potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, all of which are highly beneficial to plant growth. Aware of these qualities, experienced gardeners have long known that one of the best uses for coffee grounds is adding it as a fertilizer near acid-loving varieties like azaleas and rosebushes.

 

2. FIX UP FURNITURE

Uses for Coffee Grounds - Furniture

Photo: onegoodthingbyjillee.com

Some uses for coffee grounds may seem odd, but believe it or not this trick really works: Yes, coffee grounds can effectively conceal a scratch in dark wood furniture. With a cotton swab, rub the grounds into the scratch (or scratches), let them sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then clean them off with a dry cloth.

 

3. DETER SNAILS

Uses for Coffee Grounds - Snails

Photo: wikimedia.org

You learn something new every day: Snails hate caffeine. In fact, if the dosage is a high enough, caffeine can be lethal to gastropods. So, if snails have been sabotaging your flower beds and vegetable patches, try sprinkling coffee grounds at the base of affected plants. Many people say that tea leaves work, too.

 

4. DEODORIZE YOUR FRIDGE

Photo: wehatecleaning.co.uk

Is your refrigerator or freezer getting a little funky? Let a bowl of coffee grounds sit for several hours or overnight. The granules not only absorb foul odors, but also impart their own refreshing scent. If you love the effects of coffee but not its smell, try mixing in a few drops of vanilla or cinnamon extract.

 

5. ENRICH COMPOST

Uses for Coffee Grounds - Compost

Photo: groundtoground.com

Coffee grounds make an excellent addition to the backyard compost heap, because they contain nitrogen, which compost can’t do without. Also, coffee grounds attract the earthworms that further aid decomposition. Just remember to balance the nitrogenous grounds with carbon-rich materials such as leaves.


5 Things to Do with… Cassette Tapes

Wondering what to do with your collection of old cassette tapes? Perhaps one of these clever recycling projects will inspire you to put them to inventive good use.

Chances are good that in some remote corner of your home there lies a box full of dusty cassette tapes. Be honest: When’s the last time you listened to one? Now that digital music is the format of choice for the majority of music-lovers today, cassette tapes’ only real value is sentiment. With these cassette tape recycling projects, you can keep your collection for years to come, using it to create novel objects that have practical benefits not likely to be rendered obsolete anytime soon.

 

1. CONSTRUCT A CHAIR

Cassette Tape Recycling - Chair

Photo: ooomydesign.bigcartel.com

Back in 1987, you may have been dancing to the sounds of cassette tapes, but today you’re probably more interested in sitting down on your analog assets. Start with a wood chair frame. Using cable ties, lash tapes into panels—one to cover the seat, one to cover the back—then finish by fastening those panels to the frame.

 

2. MAKE A LAMPSHADE

Cassette Tape Recycling - Lamp Shade

Photo: ciiwa.com

Crafted almost entirely of the same types of cassette tapes that are currently hogging space in your too-small closet, this is no ordinary lampshade. To make your own, wire together a selection of tapes that have transparent plastic casings. Line the inside of the assembly with a layer of plastic sheeting, then fit the shade over a light bulb.

 

3. CREATE A CARRYING CASE

Cassette Tape Recycling - Carrying Case

Photo: reclaimedwreckage.blogspot.com

Locate an empty box—cardboard, plastic, or wood—that features a hinged lid. Next, use a strong adhesive to cover the box on all sides with cassette tapes. Finally, glue a handle to the side that opens and closes. An equally easy alternative is to bind together a couple of dozen cassette tapes to create an open-topped crate.

 

4. ASSEMBLE A WALLET

Cassette Tape Recycling - Wallet

Photo: redesignrevolution.com

Transform a cassette tape into a one-of-a-kind, perfectly pocket-size wallet. Here’s how: Pry apart a tape casing so that it splits into halves. Next, glue a cut-to-size length of zippered fabric onto both halves. As a last step, seal the nonzippered side of the wallet enclosure with a narrow band of glued-on fabric.

 

5. CRAFT A PENCIL HOLDER

Cassette Tape Recycling - Pencil Holder

Photo: redzebradesigns.com.au

To make a desktop pencil holder—or a small, open-topped box that’s useful for scores of miscellaneous purposes—you just need four cassette tapes and one compact disc. That’s it. The rest is a simple matter of applying enough glue to make all the components “jam” together.


How To: Decoupage

Using this time-honored technique of adorning objects with paper, you can transform furnishings and home accents into beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces. Follow our simple step-by-step instructions to get spectacular results. It's not too difficult, so try it out today!

How to Decoupage

Photo: hudsonvalleyhandymom.com

The fancy French word decoupage refers to the simple act of gluing paper or fabric cutouts onto an object. The results can be magical; once varnished, the glued-on design looks as if it were inlaid. For hundreds of years, people have been experimenting with decoupage, and in expert hands it’s truly an art form. But armed with only a few inexpensive, easy-to-find materials—and a willingness to be patient—even a beginner can create a masterpiece.

MATERIALS
- Decoupage medium (such as Mod Podge)
- Paintbrush
- Sharp scissors (or matte knife)
- Maps, magazines, wallpaper, wrapping paper, tissue paper—any kind of paper!

STEP 1
The first step of any decoupage project is to prepare the object you plan to transform. Repair any surface imperfections—whether scratches, gouges, or bona fide holes—and if applicable to the material with which you are working, sand the object to a smooth finish. Then clean it thoroughly and let it dry completely.

How to Decoupage - Side Table

Photo: gearjunkie.com

STEP 2
Assemble the paper or fabric you are going to apply in your decoupage. Choose anything so long as it’s flat and flexible: maps of places you love, theater tickets with sentimental value, or even sections of a beloved old dress. You don’t need to use scissors or a matte knife—ripping is fine—but to achieve a seamless look, cutting is recommended. So too is dry-fitting the cutouts to determine where they work best on the object’s surface.

STEP 3
With a paintbrush, apply a thin layer of decoupage medium (for example, Mod Podge) to the object you are covering. Next, lay the initial piece of paper onto the object, smoothing it gently with your fingers to remove any wrinkles or air bubbles. Once you’re finished, apply another thin layer of decoupage medium on top of the paper, then allow both layers to dry completely, undisturbed.

STEP 4
To preserve the job, particularly if you expect the object to get wet, it’s wise to seal it using either varnish or polyurethane. Before you do so, gently buff the decoupaged surface with steel wool, then clean it with a damp cloth. Once it has dried, proceed to apply the sealer. If you want your design to look as if it were painted on, repeat the process of buffing, cleaning, and sealing as many times as needed to achieve the desired appearance.

Almost any furniture or home accent can be updated through decoupage. A glass vase decoupaged with tissue paper suddenly shimmers ethereally, while clay pots covered in Sunday’s funny papers become wonderfully playful. Fair warning: Master this technique and you may love it so much that you’ll want to decoupage EVERYTHING!


5 Things to Do with… Junk Mail

Don't get overwhelmed by the stacks of junk mail on your dining room table, get inspired! Try one of these 5 ingenious projects that will put your junk mail to creative use.

Everyone hates email spam, and rightfully so. It does have one redeeming factor, though: It’s relatively easy to manage. By comparison, bona fide front-door-jamming junk mail seems intractable, not to mention wasteful. The situation becomes manageable, however, if you choose to see junk mail not as an annoyance, but as an opportunity. There’s no shortage of junk mail projects that can bring beauty, utility, and fun into your home. Scroll down now to see five creative junk mail uses!

 

1. CRAFT AN ENVELOPE

Junk Mail Uses - Envelope

Photo: greenprophet.com

With folding, snipping, and pasting, you can easily repurpose junk mail into a one-of-a-kind custom envelope that’s guaranteed to impress and delight whoever is on the receiving end. In addition to saving paper, this project further personalizes the birthday wishes or holiday greetings you are sending.

 

2. GO FOR A GARLAND

Junk Mail Uses - Garland

Photo: katrinarodabaugh.blogspot.com

Some rooms call for a festive feel year-round. One way to cultivate a sense of celebration—on a shoestring budget—is tailoring your unwanted mail into a garland. To make yours, cut identical shapes from different-colored letters and envelopes. Fix those cutouts to a string, then drape it loosely along the wall.

 

3. PRODUCE A NOTEPAD

Junk Mail Uses - Notebook

Photo: craftingagreenworld.com

In stationery stores and bookshops, I’m always drawn to the section where charming blank notebooks are displayed—and every time, I’m amazed at their price tags. If only I’d discovered sooner that it’s possible to make your own pads of paper out of junk mail you would otherwise throw away. I could’ve saved a fortune!

 

4. MAKE A MURAL

Junk Mail Uses - Wall Art

Photo: behance.net

Last time you looked at the stack of junk mail piled high on your kitchen table, chances are you didn’t think, “How gorgeous!” But the fact is that shredded junk mail lends itself perfectly to Jackson Pollock-like murals that couldn’t be easier to create. Besides canvas, all you need is a tube of glue and a pair of hands!

 

5. BUILD A BASKET

Junk Mail Uses - Basket

Photo: findyourhappydesign.etsy.com

Rather than depositing all your junk mail into the trash, set some aside to make a small basket that you can use to store miscellaneous bits and baubles, such as paper clips and rubber bands. First, roll the junk mail paper into tight strands. Glue them into the shape you desire, then secure it with lengths of string.


How To: Remove Wax from Carpet

Candles are elegant, romantic, and—occasionally—messy. The next time you have to deal with drippy candles, try these strategies for cleaning the wax off the carpet.

How to Remove Wax from Carpet

Photo: shutterstock.com

Candles enhance the atmosphere of any space. The gentle glow from their lit wicks fosters a feeling of calm and relaxation—so long as the wax does not stray out of bounds. Don’t stress, however, if you discover that wax has dripped down to a carpeted floor. It’s easy to remove wax from carpet using everyday household items.

1. SCRAPE
One simple way to remove wax from carpet is to let it harden, then scrape it away with a butter knife. Once you’ve finished, remember to vacuum the carpet in order to remove any small bits of wax that have sunk into the pile. If scraping and vacuuming dosn’t do the trick, move on to a more aggressive cleaning  approach.

How to Remove Candle Wax - Isolated

Photo: shutterstock.com

2. HEAT
Place a paper towel, plain brown paper bag, or white fabric dishcloth over the wax stain. (Avoid using anything patterned or brightly colored, because the color could be transferred to the carpet, leaving you with a more serious stain on your hands.) Next, reach for your clothing iron, put it on a low setting, then gently press it down on the paper or cloth, moving the machine in small circles over the area. As the wax heats up and begins to melt, it will get soaked up by the paper or cloth you’ve laid down. Repeat the process as necessary, replacing the paper or cloth if it becomes saturated with wax, until no more remains on the carpet.

3. CARPET CLEANER
Even after you’ve removed much of the wax, the carpet may retain a slight discoloration. If that’s the case, spray on carpet cleaner and rub it in; follow the manufacturer’s directions closely, as products differ. Finish the job by washing out any residue from the cleaning agent, then dry the area by covering it with a weighted-down towel. Let it sit overnight, cross your fingers, and return to check the carpet in the morning.

The wax should be gone, but after this bout of cleaning, the carpet fibers may look a bit disheveled. Never fear: Giving the floor covering a quick once-over with the vacuum cleaner ought to restore its original appearance.


Bob Vila Radio: Whole House To-Do List

If you look around the house and see nothing but projects that need to get done, it could be time to make a whole house to-do list. Use these guidelines to create a list of home improvement projects, big and small, and get your house in shape for the spring.

When you look around your house, are you overwhelmed at the number of things that need to be repaired, replaced, or reorganized? If so, it’s time to make a whole-house to-do list—a laundry list of nagging household projects, both big and small.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WHOLE HOUSE TO-DO LISTS or read the text below:

Whole House To Do List

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First, grab a pad of paper, a pencil, and a spouse or friend with a critical eye. Go from room to room, writing down anything that requires attention. Ignore everyday tasks like cleaning; focus instead on repairs and improvements like the drippy faucet and the dinged enamel on the stove; broken light fixtures; rooms in need of additional outlets; walls that need painting; windows that need caulking; the hall closet that needs purging. Consider the big picture. If you think you’ll be moving within the next few years, your list should include cosmetic fixes like interior painting. If you’d like to stay in the house as you age, include the installation of amenities like grab bars, shower seats, and lever door handles.

Now organize the list by complexity, from weekend DIY projects through large-scale renovations. Assign time estimates and priorities to the smaller tasks, and devise a long-term plan for tackling the bigger projects. Keep your list handy so the next time you have a spare hour or two, you’ll know exactly what you can do with it!

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.