Author Archives: Bob Vila

About Bob Vila

Bob Vila

You probably know me from TV, where for nearly 30 years I hosted a variety of shows—This Old House, Bob Vila’s Home Again, Bob Vila, and Restore America with Bob Vila. (You can now watch my full TV episodes online!) But I’ve spent my career helping people upgrade their homes and improve their lives. Before my life in broadcasting, I launched my own residential remodeling and design business. Earlier still, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer, building houses and communities in Panama. I learned first-hand about home building from my father, who hand-built our family home. I’ve written 12 books about remodeling your home, buying your dream home, and visiting historic homes across America. It’s fair to say that buildings, especially homes, are my life’s work. Over the years I've also supported many causes dealing with housing and architectural preservation. I've been actively involved with Habitat for Humanity and helped them blitz build a house in Yonkers, NY, which we put on TV. I worked for years with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, supporting the work of many organizations throughout the country. In the last several years I've been helping out with the restoration of Ernest Hemingway’s home and collections at Finca Vigía near Havana, Cuba. This place was his home from 1939 until his death and he left it to the Cuban people to be run as a museum. This project has allowed me to visit my parents' homeland several times. Now it's this website that I am passionate about and the chance to share my projects, discoveries, tips, advice, and experiences with all of you. I’ve always believed that a little sweat equity goes a long way toward making a house a home, and that's exactly what my website helps homeowners do. You can connect with me on my own site and on Twitter. I look forward to the conversation and to getting to know you.


Solved! What Causes Bubbling Paint—and What to Do About It

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Bob Vila | Updated Apr 7, 2021 3:10 PM

5 Causes for Bubbling Paint—and How to Fix It

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I re-painted my kitchen walls a month ago with great results, but woke up today to see the paint bubbling. What could have caused this effect long after my paint job and how do I eliminate it?

A: The type of paint blemish you describe, also known as blistering, is a result of the paint losing its adhesion to the base coat of paint or substrate (the underlying surface) such as drywall, plaster, and wood. Where the paint pulls away, air- or water-filled bubbles form—some deflating or popping on their own during the drying process, others hardening in place.

The sudden onset of paint bubbling in your kitchen isn’t altogether surprising since oil-based or latex (water-based) paint coats can be forced free at any time, from hours to months after application. Sure, you could paint over it to smooth the surface out, but that’s not a long-term solution—the troublesome paint blisters would likely re-emerge soon enough, rendering the second paint job a waste of time. Instead, the best means to remove the bubbles is to first identify what caused them and address the problem to prevent it from ruining your next coat. The following factors are the most common culprits for bubbling paint and, therefore, smart places to start.

RELATED: 12 Easy Fixes for a Botched Paint Job

What Causes Paint to Crack, Peel, and Bubble—and How to Fix it)

Many frustrating paint problems can be prevented by understanding the causes, some minor prep work, and the right tools.

prevent paint bubbles by cleaning walls first

Photo: istockphoto.com

The Painting Surface was Dirty

Ever wonder why the first step of painting a room often involves cleaning the wall? Dust, dirt, and grime inevitably collect on interior walls and ceilings over time, and fresh paint has difficulty adhering to surfaces clogged with these loose particles. As the new paint dries and, to some extent, shrinks, it will lift up from soiled areas of the surface and forms unsightly bubbles around specks of grime. These are examples of those confined to the topcoat, i.e. the bubbles won’t extend down to the substrate.

Solution: You can course-correct using the scraping-and-patching technique outlined in the last section of this article. Then, to prevent paint from blistering in the future, thoroughly clean the surface with a sponge dampened with soapy water followed by a dry rag. Let the surface air-dry completely before applying primer and paint to the patched areas.

You Skipped the Primer

Porous substrates like bare drywall or plaster absorb more of both the pigments and resins (binders) found in the paint than substrates that have been sealed with primer. As a result, your base coat of paint will have a thinner binder film than necessary for the next paint coat to stick to. Where new paint doesn’t stick to the base coat, it tends to lift off and result in a bubbling top coat.

Solution: If you notice paint bubbles after a primer-free paint application, remove the bubbles using the scraping-and-patching technique outlined below, clean the surface of joint compound dust and other debris, then apply a stain-blocking primer to the surface before re-painting it. Either oil-based or latex primer will do; pick yours to match the type of paint you plan to roll on afterward. (If you’re still deciding on the new topcoat, keep in mind that oil-based primer is more resistant to moisture, making it a better choice in high-moisture spaces like bathrooms or kitchens.)

The primer will seal pores in the substrate, ultimately affording a thicker base coat with adequate binders that subsequent paint coats can stick to without bubbling. Just remember that the primer itself needs to dry fully before paint application, or else the solvent component of paint that is meant to evaporate during dry time will instead become trapped beneath the top paint coat and lead to blistering.

bubbling paint in wet bathroom

Photo: istockphoto.com

The Painting Surface or Surroundings were Moist

Excess moisture on your painted walls—whether from water droplets, high humidity, leaks, or plumbing problems—can cause water-filled bubbles in the paint, originating anywhere from the substrate level to between the top two coats. These types of bubbles are common to bathrooms and kitchens, where liquids or condensation in the form of cooking fumes are present on surfaces, or in spaces like basements without adequate ventilation to moderate humidity levels.

Solution: Your first order of business (before even scraping away the bubbles) is to inspect and address the source of the moisture, whether that’s a roof leak, basement flooding, bathroom humidity, loose plumbing connections beneath a sink, or leaky caulking. Once you’ve remedied the problem, scrape, patch, clean, and dry the walls. Before you prime and paint, minimize the possibility of moisture impacting your finished paint job by checking that the room’s humidity levels are moderate—ideally anywhere from 40 to 80 percent, as measured by a hygrometer (available on Amazon or at home improvement stores for between $10 and $20). Then, keep the fresh paint coat away from moisture until it dries fully; for example, avoid turning on the shower in a freshly painted bathroom until the coat has cured.

RELATED: How to Avoid House Painting Problems

The Painting Surface or Surroundings were Too Hot

Extreme heat—common in kitchens, living rooms, and other spaces containing heat-generating appliances or lots of direct sunlight—soon after a fresh paint job can cause the topcoat to dry unevenly at a faster-than-average rate, leading to bubbles just underneath the surface.

Solution: To repair heat-induced paint bubbling, remove the bubbles with a scraper (outlined below), clean and prime the surface, then ensure the indoor temperature falls between 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit before painting (check the manufacturer’s instructions on your paint packaging for the specific temperature recommendation). During paint application and drying, rely on indoor lighting as a light source and aim to shut blinds and close doors that typically invite direct sunlight, since it can increase indoor temperature and the potential risk of paint blistering.

bubbling paint prevention with roller cover

Photo: istockphoto.com

You Painted with the Wrong Roller Cover

A roller cover’s type or and nap length vary to provide ideal paint coverage on a number of materials; choose one that’s ill-suited for the texture of your surface (e.g. using a short nap roller cover on an extremely rough surface) and you’ll have uneven paint coverage and paint bubbles down the road. When painting a smooth or semi-smooth surface like untextured drywall or plaster that you might find in the kitchen, you’ll want to enlist either a foam or a short nap roller cover (3/16- to ¼-inch nap for smooth or ⅜- to ½-inch for semi-smooth); this applicator will create minimal gaps with each stroke to aid in optimal paint adhesion. A medium nap roller cover (¾- to 1-inch) is recommended for moderately rough surfaces like stucco, and a long nap roller cover (1-¼- to 1-½-inch) should be saved for extremely rough surfaces like textured drywall.

Solution: To repair bubbling caused by the use of an improper roller cover, eliminate the paint bubbles using the scraping-and-patching method outlined below. Then clean, dry, prime, and paint the surface—this time with the correct tools for the job.

5 Causes for Bubbling Paint—and How to Fix It

Photo: istockphoto.com

Repair Tips and Tricks for Paint Bubbles

Once you’ve identified and adjusted for the cause of the bubbling paint, you’re ready to remove the blemishes altogether. Lay several drop cloths on the floor below the painting surface to collect falling debris. Then, donning a dust mask and goggles, enlist a putty knife to file away the bumps using a gentle vertical or horizontal scraping motion. When you’re finished, rinse the putty knife with water, dry it with a rag, then use it again to fill any holes or cracks in the substrate with a thin, even layer of quick-setting joint compound. Let the compound dry overnight, then lightly sand the dried compound until smooth with a fine-grit sandpaper.

On top of cleaning, drying, priming, and starting the paint job in the appropriate conditions, your method of painting can help your finished product. Abide by the following painting tips for a bubble-free result:

  • Stir paint slowly. Enlist a wooden stirrer or a paint-mixing power drill attachment to stir paint as slowly and for as short a duration as possible. Rapid stirring for a prolonged period can introduce air bubbles into the paint that might persist in the dried paint coat.
  • Apply paint gradually if using a roller. If you see bubbles forming in the paint coat, slow down your stroke speed.
  • Avoid applying oil-based paint directly over latex paint. The oil and water bases won’t bind, and the resulting lack of adhesion between the coats can cause blistering in the oil-based coat.

Solved! How Long Does Caulk Take to Dry

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Andréana Lefton and Bob Vila | Updated Mar 31, 2021 7:32 PM

How Long Does Caulk Take to Dry Around a Tub? Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: My bathtub sealant needs a refresh, and I’ve decided to re-caulk the tub myself. How long does caulk take to dry before it’s ready for use?

A: There’s nothing like fresh caulk—a waterproof filler and sealant, used in home construction and repairs—to give your bathroom a bright, clean look and feel. Over time, moisture can erode even the best sealant, allowing mold and mildew to form. Despite bleach and scrubbing, dinginess can persist, so replacing the caulk is a smart move. But if the caulk isn’t allowed to fully cure, it can more easily wash away, ruining your hard work and leaving joined surfaces susceptible to water damage. Keep reading to learn how long caulk takes to dry and cure, so your project is a success.

Factors That Affect Drying Times

Understand that there’s a vital distinction between “dry time” and “cure time” when it comes to caulking. Most products will become dry to the touch after several minutes, but won’t fully cure until days after application. Be sure to also factor in the following when determining how long it takes caulk to dry:

How Long Does Caulk Take to Dry Outdoors? Solved!

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Factor 1: “Fast-Drying” Formulas Still Take Time

Some silicone caulks are advertised as “fast-drying,” claiming a 1-hour dry time, but read the fine print before planning your project based on this information: It may be that the ideal drying conditions for this rate are a narrow range of temperatures and humidity levels. Budget at least 3 to 12 hours for these products to dry and a full 24 hours to cure. For latex-based products, 24 hours is also recommended before water exposure. Polyurethane caulks can take up to 10 days to cure fully.

Factor 2: Some Caulks are Formulated to Cure Beneath a Coat Of Paint

If you intend to paint over caulk—for example, if you have tile molding in your bathroom, separating a tiled backsplash from a painted wall—you’ll find caulk that’s formulated to continue curing beneath a coat of paint. With these products, you can typically apply paint after 30 minutes, whereas with polyurethane caulk, you must wait 7 to 10 days until the surface is cured before painting. Whatever formula you choose, be sure to read instructions thoroughly, as each manufacturer has different formulas, with optimal methods for application and drying.

Factor 3: Each Type of Caulk Responds Differently to Moisture

An acrylic latex-based caulk dries as the water evaporates from the material, so placing a fan in the room will speed up the process. In contrast, silicone caulks actually need moisture to dry and cure—a humidifier in the room is an asset. Polyurethane caulk should not be exposed to any direct water or added moisture for at least 3 days to a week.

How Long Does Caulk Take to Dry? Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Factor 4: Temperature will Impact the Caulk’s Drying Time

The ideal temperature for applying and curing caulk ranges between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so adjust your thermostat accordingly. If caulking in winter, when the air is often drier, it may take silicone longer to cure—but don’t try to speed the process by adding heat (e.g., with a hairdryer), as heat softens and can potentially melt silicone. Latex will freeze in extreme cold, and frigid air lacks enough moisture for proper polyurethane curing, so avoid using it in freezing temperatures.

Factor 5: Fresh Caulk will Always Have the Best Results

Older silicone and latex caulks can deteriorate in quality, even inside a sealed tube, and never fully cure. Most companies will put an expiration date on the caulk tube, but if you have a tube of undated caulk lying around, you can play it safe and buy a new one or test a strip on a solid surface first. You should notice a firm “skin” begin to form within 30 minutes if the caulk is fresh. Polyurethane caulk should be used within 12 months of the manufacture date.

RELATED: 10 Problems You Can Solve with Caulk

Different Types of Caulk and Their Curing Times

In general, silicone and acrylic latex caulk can be dry to touch within 30 minutes of air exposure—depending on how humid or well-ventilated your space is. But it can take 1 to 10 days, depending on the formula, for the caulk to fully set or cure—in other words, become completely waterproof and ready for use.

Start with the right caulk for the job, which will have unique dry and cure times. There are three types of caulk for common household surfaces that receive a lot of moisture—like tubs, showers, and sinks:

Silicone Caulk

Silicone caulk works best with glass, metal, and ceramic because it adheres easily to smooth, nonporous surfaces, creating a flexible yet long-lasting bond. Silicone caulks with antimicrobial additives are now available, great for keeping germs at bay in bathrooms and kitchens.

How Long Does Caulk Take to Dry Around a Sink? Solved!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Acrylic Latex Caulk

Acrylic latex caulk is best for filling small gaps and joints in wood, especially areas that will be painted and not exposed to much water. This is because acrylic latex caulks can shrink or crack over time, leaving surfaces open to water damage. Some acrylic latex caulks now have silicone additives to improve flexibility, durability, and waterproofness—making them appropriate for tub and sink use.

Polyurethane-Based Caulk

Polyurethane-based caulk is growing in popularity, especially for outdoor uses and window seals. Polyurethane is paintable, provides greater elasticity, repels dirt, and creates a watertight seal. It does take longer to cure than silicone or latex caulks, however.

RELATED: The Best Exterior Caulks for Sealing Your Home

FAQ About How Long it Takes Caulk to Dry

What happens if caulk gets wet before it cures?

If caulk gets wet before it is allowed to completely cure, it’s formula won’t perform as intended. That could mean it’ll take longer than advertised to dry and cure or, worse, the tight seal you were hoping to create will be compromised. If the latter happens, you’ll have to remove the caulk and start the project over.

How long before you can use shower after sealing?

Since shower spaces are inundated with water on the regular, it’s extremely important to follow the recommended cure times provided by the manufacturer of the product you’re using. If applying silicone or acrylic caulk in the shower, expect to avoid water exposure for 1 to 10 days, depending on the formula.

How do I know if caulk is dry?

While caulk will usually become dry to the touch within several minutes to an hour after application, that doesn’t mean it’s cured and completely waterproof. Following the manufacturer’s cure times for the specific product you’re using is your best bet for determining when caulk is dry.

How long does it take silicone caulk to cure?

Silicone caulk becomes dry to the touch within 30 minutes of application, but it takes 1 to 10 days to completely cure. Temperature, humidity, ventilation, and formula are important factors when it comes to how long it takes silicone caulk to cure.

Final Thoughts

Caulk is one of the most versatile materials used in home improvement projects and repairs. As such, caulk applications, formulas, and cure times vary greatly. But considering several factors such as temperature, humidity, and—most importantly—the product label, you can effectively estimate how long it takes caulk to dry.

RELATED: The Best Caulking Guns for DIY Projects


How To: Use Muriatic Acid

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Bob Vila | Updated Apr 13, 2021 9:59 AM

using muriatic acid

Photo: istockphoto.com

Muriatic acid, a less-pure variant of hydrochloric acid, is available in high concentrations for use in a host of home restoration and maintenance projects.

While this powerful chemical agent runs cheap—about $10 a gallon at home centers, hardware stores, and even on Amazon—it’s still very caustic stuff, capable of corroding everything from some plastics and metals to clothing and skin. In fact, working with it poses numerous health risks: Momentary skin exposure can cause severe burns, inhaling its fumes can burn lung and nose lining, and contact can also cause irreversible eye damage or blindness.

Homeowners should never reach for muriatic acid lightly. Instead, consider it a “last resort” when less toxic products fail to do the trick in cleaning, prepping, deoxidizing, or removing mold from masonry, concrete, metal, and swimming pools. Before you begin any project with this multipurpose substance, read on, first for guidance in using it safely, and then for its range of practical applications around the house.

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Muriatic Acid vs. Hydrochloric Acid

Muriatic acid is a form of hydrochloric acid, as mentioned earlier. But while hydrochloric acid contains only HCI molecules, muriatic acid is made up of HCI molecules as well as impurities such as iron.

Other differences include muriatic acid’s slightly yellow color, a result of the additional iron content, compared to hydrochloric acid’s colorless appearance. And while muriatic acid is a potent cleaner that should be used with extreme caution around the house, it pales in comparison to the strength of pure hydrochloric acid, which is mostly used in laboratory settings with diligent safety measures in place.

Muriatic Acid Uses

Photo: istockphoto.com

Essential Safety Measures with Muriatic Acid

Due to all of the damage this chemical could cause in one wrong move, extreme caution is mandatory when using, storing, and disposing of muriatic acid. Adhere to the following best practices before beginning any project that involves the acid:

  • Wear full-face protection, a respirator, thick, full-coverage clothing, and acid-resistant protective gloves.
  • Muriatic acid must be diluted in water. Though degree of dilution will vary depending on the job, the general formula is one-part muriatic acid to 10 parts water.
  • When making a dilution, slowly and carefully pour the acid into the water. Never add water to acid, as an exothermic reaction will occur, propelling the acid out of the container and onto you.
  • Never pour muriatic acid into an empty vessel. Fill the container with the right amount of water before adding the acid.
  • Never mix muriatic acid with other acids.
  • Only mix muriatic acid in a glass or acid-resistant plastic container.
  • Always store muriatic acid in the container it came in.
  • Keep a supply of baking soda or garden lime nearby in case you need to quickly neutralize muriatic acid. While sprinkling these substances full-strength will work, the best plan is to mix ½ cup of baking soda and a quart of water in a sealed spray bottle and keep it nearby.
  • Work with a hose or large container of water nearby to wash skin in case of accidental splashing.
  • If using muriatic acid on large surface areas, it will need to be applied with a plastic sprayer. The plastic is bound to deteriorate quickly, so you’ll likely need more than one to complete the job.
  • Contact your local recycling center for instructions on safe disposal of muriatic acid in your area.

Effective Uses for Muriatic Acid

Practice all the safety precautions above, and you should be able to use muriatic acid with great success. Here are six projects where you might find it indispensable:

  • Neutralizing alkalinity in masonry. Masonry alkalinity can discolor or burn off paint finishes. Washing brick, concrete, or stone with muriatic acid can neutralize alkalinity, allowing paint finishes to last for years. Brush or spray on a 1:10 diluted mix of acid in water onto the surface, allow it to sit for up to 10 minutes, but no longer, then spray it with a solution of 1 cup ammonia in a gallon of water to neutralize the acid. Allow the surface to dry completely before applying paint or other treatments.
efflorescence on brick exterior

Photo: istockphoto.com

  • Removing efflorescence and prepping masonry for paint. Efflorescence refers to the white crystalline blooming that can occur on masonry surfaces, including brick and concrete. Often a sign that masonry contains too much moisture, efflorescence may indicate that a sealant is needed to contain moisture issues. Prior to applying sealant, however, efflorescence must be removed. Likewise, if you want to paint masonry, the surface needs to be “etched.” You can remove efflorescence and etch a masonry surface in one shot: Apply a 1:10 dilution of muriatic acid to water, let sit for a few minutes until you see the efflorescence lifting, then brush with a stiff nylon brush to remove residue. Spray down the surface afterwards with a 1:16 ammonia-water neutralizing solution.
  • Basement makeover. Fight mold and mildew in your basement while restoring surface appearance with muriatic acid. Just be sure to ventilate the basement as much as possible, and wear a respirator. Apply a 1:9 acid-to-water dilution, scrub visible mold patches on hard surfaces like concrete, bricks, and on some glazed tiles and grout, with a stiff nylon brush, and rinse thoroughly by hosing down with water. Use a wet vac to suck up excess water. Air the basement out for a few hours after this task is completed.
  • Busting rust. The use of muriatic acid to remove rust on metal is a contentious topic, as the substance can potentially lead to more rapid oxidization in the future. So the cautious DIYer should only use it only on stainless steel (and never cast iron) that will be painted after rust removal. Brush the acid on at a 1:10 acid/water dilution and scrub with a nylon brush. Immediately after removing rust, neutralize the acid with a baking soda-water paste (1:1). Apply paste generously so it thoroughly coats acid-washed and let sit for 10 minutes and then rinse with water, dry, and prep for paint. (Find more specific how-to info here.)
  • Swimming pool maintenance. Muriatic acid can get your swimming pool’s surface looking like new again. Spray a 1:16 acid-to-water diluted solution on the drained surface of the pool, let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. For stubborn stains, scrub with a nylon brush. Rinse thoroughly with plain water.
  • Swimming pool pH balance. If the pool’s pH level is too high, muriatic acid can bring balance to the water. Purchase “swimming pool acid” for this maintenance task. Though nothing more than muriatic acid—and the same price—it will have thorough instructions and formulas for use in a swimming pool. You’ll added it in, re-test the pH levels after a few hours and once it’s back in range, you’ll be ready for that dip!

How to Dispose of Muriatic Acid

Like many potent chemicals used for cleaning and repair, muriatic acid cannot be dumped down the drain or anywhere on your property. It must be disposed of safely to avoid harming your home and the environment.

First things first, don’t try neutralizing the used or leftover acid yourself. Instead, call your local recycling center, as they will be best equipped to walk you through the proper steps for disposing of muriatic acid. Likely, they’ll advise you to simply seal up the container it’s in and bring it to a location designed to deal with hazardous household waste.


MERV Ratings: What Do They Mean?

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Jennifer Noonan and Bob Vila | Updated Mar 31, 2021 2:33 PM

merv rating

Photo: istockphoto.com

When we set out to build a new construction home, we had a lot of research to do. Having lived in city apartments for the previous 20 years made the job a lot harder. We’d always relied on a superintendent to think about the furnace, the water heater, and all the other systems that make a building run. So we had a lot of catching up to do.

Now that our home has been built, we have begun doing regular maintenance on our HVAC system. In the process, we’ve been faced with something called a MERV filter.

MERV? Like, Griffin? Or is that some robot from Star Wars? I had no idea. So for the uninitiated (like I was), here’s a quick primer on MERV ratings and what they mean:

What is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) Rating on Filters?

MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. Or in English, “how effective is your air filter?”

MERV ratings range from 1-20. The higher the MERV rating on a filter, the fewer dust particles and other contaminants can pass through it. The American Society of Heating,

merv rating ac filter

Photo: istockphoto.com

Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) designed the MERV scale to represent a filter’s worst possible performance at removing particles 0.3 to 10 microns in size (that’s really small!).

Some of the common particles that furnace filters are tested for include pollen, dust mites, textile and carpet fibers, mold spores, dust, pet dander, bacteria and tobacco smoke. Most residential systems can adequately remove airborne contaminants with a filter rated MERV 7-12. MERV 13-20 is typically found in hospital and general surgery settings.

RELATED: The Best Air Purifiers for Allergy Relief

Understanding the MERV Air Filter Rating List

To learn more about which MERV rating is best for your filtration needs, consult the following general guidelines:

MERV 1-4

  • Commonly used for residential furnaces, window air conditioners, and pre-filtering commercial buildings.
  • Controls pollen, dust mites, sawdust, and textile and carpet fibers.
  • Filters down to particles 10 microns in size.

MERV 5-8

  • Commonly used for commercial and residential buildings, industrial buildings, and paint booths.
  • Controls pollen, dust mites, sawdust, textile and carpet fibers, mold spores, household dust and lint, and concrete dust.
  • Filters down to particles 3 to 10 microns in size.

MERV 9-12

  • Commonly used for commercial and residential buildings that require above-average air quality, and hospital laboratories.
  • Controls pollen, dust mites, sawdust, textile and carpet fibers, mold spores, general household dust, concrete dust, legionella, lead dust, coal dust, nebulizer and humidifier dust.
  • Filters down to particles 1 to 3 microns in size.

MERV 13-16

  • Commonly used for commercial and residential buildings that require superb air filtration such as general surgery facilities, inpatient care hospitals, etc.
  • Controls all of the contaminants listed for MERV 1-12 above, in addition to bacteria, tobacco smoke, automobile fumes, sneeze particles, insecticide dust, copier ink fumes, pet dander, and cosmetic dust.
  • Filters down to particles 0.3 to 1 micron in size.

MERV 17-20

  • Commonly used for facilities that house pharmaceutical manufacturing, orthopedic surgery rooms, radioactive and carcinogenic materials.
  • Controls all of the particulates listed for MERV 1-16 above, in addition to virus carriers, carbon dust, sea salt, combustion smoke, radon progeny, and microscopic allergens.
  • Filters down to particles less than 0.3 microns in size.

The Best MERV Rating for Residential HVAC System Use

According to the ASHRAE, the best rating for residential HVAC systems is MERV 13. But before you upgrade your filter, make sure your specific system can accommodate that rating. A higher MERV rating often means lower airflow, which can cause the system to work harder—use more energy—to do its job. If your home HVAC system is not capable of handling MERV 13, opt for a filter with the next highest rating possible.

To up the indoor air quality even more, home air purifiers that employ HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters can theoretically remove 99.97 percent mold, pollen, bacteria, and other particles as small as 0.3 microns, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which would fall into the MERV 16 rating. HEPA filters are often considered the best when it comes to removing contaminants from at-home air.

MERV rating air filter

Photo: istockphoto.com

When to Change Your MERV Air Filter

Filters with higher MERV ratings need to be changed more frequently (at least every three months) to avoid restricted airflow that can cause your system to work inefficiently or possibly even damage it.

We discovered that our MERV filters are a custom size, which makes them about three times more expensive than standard-size filters you can buy at big box stores. When you’re changing filters four times a year, that really adds up. So if you’re working with a builder to design a system, keep that in mind. As has happened so many times in this home-building journey, I discover I don’t even know what I don’t know! But figuring out what that MERV rating on my filter actually means does make me breathe a little easier.

RELATED: Achieve Lower Bills and Cleaner Air with One Simple Replacement

FAQ About MERV Ratings

Is the higher the MERV rating the better?

You might think that a higher MERV rating would automatically be better, but it’s not. The higher the MERV rating, the smaller the pores are for the air to flow through an HVAC filter. This can create more resistance in airflow than a system is designed to manage, thus making it inefficient. Reducing the airflow in your system can actually worsen the air quality in your home and put a damaging amount of pressure on the fan of your furnace or AC system. So it is worth doing some research. Find out what the highest MERV-rated filter is that still allows for maximum airflow in your system.

What MERV rating should I use?

While MERV 13 and 14 are recommended by the ASHRAE, it’s best to select a filter with the highest MERV rating possible for your specific HVAC system. When it comes to home air purifiers, HEPA filters are considered the best at removing at least 99.97 percent of airborne contaminants 0.3 microns in size, which is equivalent to MERV 16.

Is MERV 11 too restrictive?

Though MERV 13 is suggested by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), it might not be the most efficient choice for some residential HVAC systems. In fact, MERV 11 may even be too restrictive. It’s best to comply with furnace manufacturer recommendations or consult an HVAC professional to nail down exactly which MERV rating is best for your specific system.

what is merv rating

Photo: istockphoto.com

Is MERV 8 good enough?

MERV 8 filters aren’t the best choice for residential HVAC systems, according the ASHRAE. Though MERV 8 is known to be effective at filtering out contaminants such as pollen, dust mites, sawdust, mold spores, and lint from the air, higher MERV ratings will clean the air even further. MERV 13 filters, for example, also scrub out bacteria, tobacco smoke, auto fumes, insecticide dust, pet dander, and more., which is why it’s the recommended rating of the ASHRAE.

Final Thoughts

Filter technology has grown leaps and bounds over the years, and MERV ratings are designed to help us nail down the most effective—and efficient—air filter options for heating and cooling systems and more. In general, most residential systems can adequately remove airborne contaminants with a filter rated MERV 7-12, while MERV 13-20 is typically found in hospital and pharmaceutical manufacturing settings.


Solved! The Great Debate on Mowing Wet Grass

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Bob Vila | Updated Mar 31, 2021 10:11 AM

Mowing Wet Grass Water

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q. I’ve seen a neighbor mow the lawn in the morning shortly after the sprinklers were turned off, but I thought this practice was ineffective when the blades are still wet. Is it actually OK to mow wet grass?

A: While there are some conditions under which it’s acceptable to run the mower after a rainstorm, generally speaking, you’re right. The timing is ill-advised, and here’s why.

Water and electricity don’t mix.

Using an electric lawn mower on wet grass—especially with an extension cord—runs the risk of electric shock. When the connections (and any wiring beneath worn or damaged portions of the cord) are exposed to moisture, that leads to damage to the machine and electrocution to the operator.

Does Mowing Wet Grass Do More Harm Than Good? The Answers!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Mowing wet grass poses a personal danger.

Just walking across a slick lawn with enough force exerted forward to push the mower could cause you (the operator) to slip and fall too close for comfort to the mower’s blades.

Damp blades of grass can damage the mower.

Without the appropriate fuel stabilizer, leftover fuel in the mower’s gas tank can be contaminated because of excessive moisture and even corrode your machine. Grass clippings can also interfere with the mower’s job by sticking to the equipment in clumps that block the vacuum or the blade itself. In either case, these blockages force the machine to work harder until it shuts off if you’re not carefully cleaning as you go.

A wet lawn is notoriously difficult to mow.

Wet grass blades are slick and tough to slice, creating an uneven shred (at best) rather than the clean-cut you can achieve on a sunny afternoon. Unless your mower’s blades are in peak-condition, newly sharpened, or replaced, it may even take two or three passes over the same patch of wet lawn to get even a fraction of the cut you’d get if the lawn were dry.

Mowing Wet Grass a Wet Lawn is Difficult to Mow

Photo: istockphoto.com

Mowing a wet lawn is an easy way to spread disease.

Because fungus thrives in wet environments, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that conditions such as Brown Patch Disease can develop on a lawn that’s been cut right after a rainstorm. When clumps of damp, matted clippings are left on the lawn without sufficient airflow to dry out, the grass becomes more susceptible to fungal diseases. The wet grass clippings that stick to the underside of the mower deck can grow mold, too, which can be spread to your lawn the next time you mow.

Cutting wet grass can damage the base of your lawn.

Aside from the potential spreading of fungal diseases, mowing wet grass can also damage the soil. Mowers are heavy machines and are not designed for use on soft, muddy ground. The wheels (and even your shoes) can compact saturated soil or even cause ruts to form, damaging roots and hindering the growth of healthy grass in the future. Always check the soil before firing up your lawn mower, and if it looks muddy or feels soft, it’s probably better to wait on cutting the grass.

Mowing Wet Grass The Work Won’t Stop With the Cut

Photo: istockphoto.com

The work won’t stop with the cut.

Wet grass will require extra cleanup, with how clingy grass clippings get when you add water into the equation. And damp grass clippings that stick to a mower’s undercarriage can create a breeding ground for mold—and eventually a busted mower—if the machinery stays too moist for too long. Be sure to scrape the deck clean of those stuck-on blades, brush off the tires, and wipe down the body of the mower. Then, turn your attention to the stains left behind. Chlorophyll in freshly cut wet grass will cause more stains than what you incur on your average mowing day, so be prepared to remove grass stains from your clothes, shoes, and driveway right away.

If you absolutely must mow a wet lawn, ensure that you take all of the safety precautions. First, test the soil’s saturation. When standing on your lawn, you should not be able to sink into it or see water rising around the edges of your shoes—mowing through so much water is a bad idea. Without the presence of standing water, you could potentially tame your yard to some degree using a stabilized gas-powered mower with sharp blades. If you can, set your mower to side-discharge mode; though this leaves rows of cut grass on your lawn for manual bagging later, it will save you the mess of dealing with a mower bag with a wet interior.

Finally, change your mower deck to one of the higher settings in order to cut blades to 3 or 4 inches long and no shorter. It’s tough for a lawn mower to get a close shave when working with a wet lawn, so cut it some slack if you want it to do its job as well as it can. Following these simple rules of thumb can keep you safe even while trying to keep up with lawn care in less-than-ideal conditions.

Mowing Wet Grass Cutting Wet Grass Can Damage the Lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

FAQ About Mowing Wet Grass

Why should you not cut grass when it’s wet?

Mowing wet grass isn’t good for lawn health, equipment functionality, or operator safety. Not only is there a greater chance of damaging your expensive machinery, it also presents more places for you to slip and risk injury. Mowing wet grass can also lead to plant fungal diseases and ruts in your lawn.

How long should I wait to mow the grass after it rains?

When dealing with mild morning dew or after light rain showers, you may only need to wait between 2 and 5 hours for the lawn to dry before mowing. With a heavier rainstorm, you should wait at least one day to mow safely.

Can you cut grass after it rains?

While mowing a wet lawn could damage your mower or grass, there are tricks to minimize the problems if you don’t have time to wait. Using a sharp blade helps keep your lawn healthier when the ground is still damp. You can also raise your mower deck to 3 inches or higher and side-discharge the wet clippings. But if the soil beneath the lawn feels squishy when you walk on it, stop right there, and give it some time to dry out before attempting to mow.

Does Mowing Wet Grass Do More Harm Than Good? The Answers!

Photo: istockphoto.com

Does mowing wet grass dull the blade?

While wet grass alone may not dull a mower blade, its slick surface certainly doesn’t make the cutting process easier. And if left to sit on the blade, the saturated clippings could cause rust and an early demise to metal mower parts such as the blade.

Final Thoughts

While it may be tempting to mow your lawn as soon as the rain clears, you’re better off waiting until the grass is dry. Cutting wet grass can lead to plant fungal diseases, soil damage, and even mower operator injury—all of which are preventable with a little patience.


Stop Your Smoke Detector from Chirping or Beeping

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jun 29, 2021 12:14 PM

Smoke Detector Chirping

Photo: depositphotos.com

Beeping or chirping smoke detectors are about as annoying as it gets. But like most folks, you may know that an incessant chirp every 30 to 60 seconds usually indicates a low battery, so you’ll quickly attend to changing it. Typically, this solves the problem, whether the alarm runs entirely on batteries or is hardwired with a battery backup.

Sometimes, however, you replace the battery and the smoke detector continues making the same sound! Or, just as maddening, the alarm goes off loudly for no apparent reason. Stay calm and read on for the most likely causes—and fixes—so you can restore peace and quiet while keeping your home protected.

10 Common Problems That Cause a Chirping Smoke Detector

Three out of five home fire deaths result from fires in properties without working smoke alarms, according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). So it’s no surprise that the agency recommends a functioning smoke detector in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every floor of a home, including the basement. If a smoke detector chirps or beeps irregularly, start troubleshooting with this info immediately.

Problem 1: The alarm may require replacement.

Smoke Detector Chirping The Alarm May Require Replacement

Photo: depositphotos.com

The smoke detector itself, and not its battery, may require replacement. Most manufacturers design their products to last for about 10 years. After a decade of service, some of the alarm’s components may no longer be functioning properly. While the date printed on the back of the alarm is likely the date of manufacture, not an expiration date, you can still judge the unit’s age by that date.

Problem 2: The battery peg or pull-tab may need attention.

If you recently changed the batteries in your alarm but the device keeps making noise, you may have neglected a minor detail. That’s easy to do, since alarm designs differ, and some take different types of batteries. On some units, there’s a small security peg that must be pulled out to open the drawer and remove the battery; this peg must then be pushed back into place once the battery is changed.

If you recently installed a hardwired model that features a 10-year sealed back-up battery, chirping may indicate that you did not remove the battery pull tab. This tab must be removed after AC power is provided to the alarm in order for it to operate correctly.

Smoke Detector Chirping The Battery Drawer is Open

Photo: depositphotos.com

Problem 3: The battery drawer is open.

Some smoke alarms encase the battery in a small drawer. When replacing a battery, make sure that it fits exactly in the slot and that the drawer closes completely. If the drawer is not fully closed, the battery will not make contact with the terminals. Similarly, on other models, ensure that the unit’s lid is closed and that it is mounted properly when reinserted onto the ceiling.

Problem 4: The battery is fitted but the terminal is partially obstructed.

When replacing a battery, make sure that nothing is obstructing its connection to the terminals. Corrosion or even a small speck of dust, ash, or pollen can prevent proper functioning. What’s more, an insect or spider may have crawled inside the unit and made itself cozy. After removing a battery for replacement, vacuum the area carefully to remove any dust or debris and then insert the replacement. If there is visible corrosion, it’s likely that the unit is shot and it’s time to invest in a new one.

Problem 5: Temperature fluctuations may impair functioning.

Another common culprit behind smoke detector noise is a sharp variation in temperature and/or humidity in the home. A variety of reasons may be to blame. A smoke alarm in an unheated area of the house (an attic, for instance) can become too cold to reliably deliver an electrical charge during an abrupt decline in temperature. Other causes may be hot air issuing from the bathroom after a steamy shower or heat (not smoke) from cooking in the kitchen. To avoid this kind of false alarm, reposition the smoke alarms that are in close proximity to the kitchen or bathroom door, or direct hot air away from alarm vents with a fan.

Smoke Detector Chirping Light Beam Interrupted

Photo: depositphotos.com

Problem 6: Particulates may be interrupting the light beam.

The small light sensor housed within certain types of smoke detectors can be quite sensitive. That means something as innocuous as a bit of ash, pollen, or dust—blown in through an open window, perhaps—can interrupt the light beam and set off beeping. Consider cleaning the smoke detector using a dry microfiber cloth, a can of compressed air, or your vacuum, following manufacturer’s instructions.

Problem 7: A different device may be sounding off.

It makes sense to check the smoke detector straight away as soon as you hear an ear-piercing beep. But it’s possible the noise isn’t coming from the smoke detector at all, so check other possible culprits. Your carbon monoxide alarm may have gotten unplugged, or an aspect of your home security system may need attention. It might even be an alarm clock going off because its tab was unintentionally pulled out during routine house cleaning.

Smoke Detector Chirping Investigating the Wrong Detector

Photo: depositphotos.com

Problem 8: You could be investigating the wrong detector

Sometimes, a smoke detector siren is so loud, it may be challenging to pinpoint the location of the right device. So you may be checking the detector near your kitchen when the clamor is emanating from elsewhere in the home. Folks have been known to spend hours fussing with one smoke detector only to discover that the issue was with the unit in, say, the attic right above the alarm they’d been focused on.

Smoke Detector Chirping Too Many Errors

Photo: depositphotos.com

Problem 9: There may be too many errors saved on a smart alarm.

Some modern hardwired smoke detectors are smart devices that adapt to their environment. Trouble is, these advanced models tend to save errors to the processor, and when too many errors add up, they can trigger the alarm. All this means is that the system needs a restart; doing so will delete saved errors and start the device with a clean slate.

Problem 10: Hardwired smoke alarms may be wired on an electrical breaker line.

If your hardwired model doesn’t respond to the suggestions above, it’s time to visit the electrical panel. Look for a breaker labeled “smoke alarms” or “central alarm.” Toggle the breaker into the off position, wait several minutes, then toggle it again to restore power. If the alarm does not resume its beeping, you’ve most likely solved the problem by resetting the device. To confirm, push and hold (for a few seconds) the test button on the face of the detector. If the alarm sounds a few times and then goes silent, it’s back to working order.

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Smoke Detector Beeping

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FAQ About a Chirping Smoke Detector

If you’re still a bit unclear about chirping or beeping smoke detectors, find further information in the answers to these common questions.

How do you get a smoke alarm to stop chirping?

Smoke alarms chirp to alert you to a problem. This is usually an indication that the battery needs replacement. So in many cases, once you swap in a new battery, the device, it will stop chirping.

Why does my smoke detector keep beeping even after I change the battery?

Changing the battery is the obvious action to silence a chirping smoke detector. But if the battery is not replaced correctly, if the lid or drawer to the unit isn’t fully closed, or if dirt and/or corrosion are interfering with the battery’s connection, the device may continue to chirp.

Why is my hardwired smoke detector beeping?

Hard-wired smoke detectors (which typically include a backup battery) are subject to similar issues as those that operate on a battery only. However, hard-wired units often require resetting after problems are addressed. Simply hold the reset button for 15 to 20 seconds to silence the noise.

How long does it take for a smoke detector to stop chirping?

Once you replace the battery or otherwise successfully address the reason for the chirping, the smoke detector should immediately stop making noise. However, if you cannot figure out the problem, don’t disable the unit by taking out the battery. Obtain a new smoke detector as soon as possible to keep your household safe.

Final Thoughts

Smoke detectors save lives—but only if they are functioning and located properly. It’s a good idea to test your multiple smoke detectors every time you change your clocks, and clean the devices as well, even if they aren’t chirping. Odds are you’ll sleep more soundly knowing your smoke detectors are in good working order.


What to Do If a Bird Flies into Your House

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Marisa Villarreal and Bob Vila | Updated Apr 19, 2021 9:34 AM

how to get a bird out of your house

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cracking the windows is an effective way to air out your house when the weather is nice—but an open window can also be an open invitation to many unwanted visitors. Occasionally, a bird may fly through this entrance and trap itself indoors, fluttering about and frantically looking for an exit. If one makes its way into your house this season, keep calm and head to the linen closet for the only thing you need to usher it out: a flat sheet.

3 Steps to Get a Bird Out of Your House (and Keep it Out)

Accidentally leaving a door or window open could lead to a tricky situation: a bird in the house. At first, it may seem impossible to safely catch and release a bird that’s made its way inside your home, but by following these three simple steps, you’ll see how easy it is to get the flighty creature back to where it’s supposed to be—outside.

STEP 1: Contain the Area

Once a bird enters your house, there’s no telling how it will react or how it will attempt to get out. It’s best to lock down the area it’s in, so the bird cannot easily fly to another space in your home when you move toward it. First, make sure the room is safe by turning off the ceiling fan, covering hot pots or pans, and taking your domesticated pets out of the room.

How To Get a Bird Out of Your House - Bird Indoors

Photo: fotosearch.com

Then, contain the area by closing interior doors and making sure small spaces such as closets and cabinets are off limits. Next, select a sole exit point for your feathered intruder before blocking off all other escape routes that may confuse it. The goal is to get the likely frightened bird to fly towards the way out on its own. The bigger the exit option, the better. If there’s only one clear way to get out, you can limit the possibility of the bird getting hurt or damaging your fixtures and furnishings.

STEP 2: Remove the Bird from Your Home

Start by opening the chosen exit window or door as wide as possible. Then, close all blinds and drapes over the rest of the windows, and switch off all lights inside the house, so that the open window acts as a bright exit sign. The feathered intruder will associate this light with open air and will hopefully fly toward it. If the bird still hasn’t made any moves after some time, you may need to guide it that way.

Take a large bed sheet in both hands and hold it up at eye level (or higher) with your arms extended to make a large, flat surface. Check that the bird is nestled between you and the exit, then slowly walk forward. By creating a “wall” closing in on the bird, you can better direct it out through the window. Once the unwelcome visitor leaves, you can close the exit window or door, send the large sheet through the wash, and call it a day.

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Additional notes: If the bird is still stuck in the house after following these suggestions, then it’s time to call a professional. Look up wildlife groups, bird sanctuaries, or even animal control in your local area to confirm if they can come and deal with your trapped feathery nuisance. Wildlife experts know how to handle birds without causing injury, and they have the right equipment to help the bird removal process go quickly.

bird inside house perched on light fixture

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 3: Prevent Your Home from Future Bird Visitors

You did it! You got the bird back outside without major harm. Now, you want to make sure this problem won’t happen again. Being mindful of open doors and windows is a no-brainer, but the following tips will also help deter birds from getting too close for comfort.

  • Hang shiny objects near points of entry. Birds don’t like bright, reflecting light and won’t come near it.
  • Pretend there’s a natural predator nearby. Birds will steer clear of cats, owls, and other birds of prey, so place weatherproof faux versions of these animals around common landing areas.
  • Deck out your backyard with garden balls. Birds often confuse colorful spheres for eyes and will avoid them. Place these decorative bird deterrents in flower beds or hang one or more from a tree.
  • Install bird spikes. Designed to prevent feathered friends from perching on windowsills, overhangs, etc., bird spikes will help keep feathered friends moving along.
  • Spray some bird repellent. There are plenty of DIY options that feature ingredients such as chili pepper, water, and vinegar.

If you still have bird problems after these solutions, consider calling a professional pest and wildlife control specialist to help.

How To Get a Bird Out of Your House - Bird at Window

Photo: fotosearch.com

FAQ About How to Get a Bird Out of Your House

What do you do when a bird gets in your house?

First things first, don’t panic. The more stressed you get, the more unlikely it is that you can effectively lead the bird back outside. Next, remember not to yell or chase the fowl. Instead, focus on containing the area and ensuring there’s only one way out. Then follow the steps outlined above.

How do you get a bird out of hiding?

For a bird that’s playing hide-and-seek in your home, you’ll first need to find it in order to get it outside. If you’ve followed Step 1 above, you at least know which room the bird is in. Next, eliminate as much noise as possible and listen intently for sounds that could indicate where the bird is hiding. Once you spot it, follow Step 2 to guide it toward the exit.

How long does it take for a trapped bird to die?

A trapped bird will typically die within a few days without food, water, or way out. Of course, the exact amount of time depends on several factors, including the size of the bird. Some trapped birds will become dehydrated and weak in just hours without water—all the more reason to swiftly follow the steps above or call a pro for assistance.

Who do you call to get a bird out of your house?

If you want to get a bird out of your house but are having little success with the bed sheet method, it’s time to call your local wildlife rehabilitation center.

RELATED: How to Attract Owls to Your Yard—and Why You Should!

Final Thoughts

While it may be scary or nerve-wracking when a wild bird randomly flies into your home, it’s important to stay calm. Panicking won’t get the bird outside any quicker, so take a deep breath before containing the area and carefully shooing the bird toward the door.


How To: Kill a Tree Stump

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Bob Vila and Mark Wolfe | Updated Aug 6, 2021 5:28 PM

how to kill a tree stump diy

Photo: istockphoto.com

Removing a tree from your yard can be a tricky and expensive process, but it’s especially frustrating when you still wind up stuck with a stubborn stump. Sometimes, when its vast root system continues to send up leafy shoots, the stump will continue to grow rather than decompose long after the tree is cut down. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques you can use to rid your yard of an annoyingly persistent tree stump.

Keep reading to find a solution that’s suitable for your situation.

Physical Tree Stump Removal Techniques

If you need the stump gone as soon as possible, you could make quick work of it by digging, grinding, or burning it out. Physical removal methods come with their own sets of challenges. Let’s take a closer look at each of these methods to learn why they may or may not be right for you.

Dig the Tree Stump Out

For smaller stumps, up to about 12 inches in diameter, digging out the stump could be the most practical solution. Digging only requires basic hand tools, rather than renting or hiring a large, expensive machine. This is a labor-intensive approach, but very much doable with the right tools.

To dig out the stump you’ll need a sturdy spade, mattock, and digging iron. A narrow spade with a mid-length handle, like the Fiskars 46-inch Transplanting Spade, digs deeply and maneuvers easily around the dense root ball. The mattock, chops through roots like an axe, and loosens compacted soils easily. Use the digging iron to dig into deep or narrow spaces, and to pry up stubborn roots.

how to kill a tree stump by digging

Photo: istockphoto.com

To remove a tree stump by digging, begin by loosening the soil around it with the mattock. Clear away the loose soil with the spade. As roots are exposed, chop through them with the mattock. Continue working downward and inward from all sides toward the taproot beneath the stump. Use the digging iron to loosen soil beneath the stump or to pry the stump sideways for additional working space. When the taproot is exposed, use the sharp edge of the mattock to chop through it. Remove the stump, with its root ball and any large roots.

Burn the Tree Stump

If the stump has dried thoroughly, burning it out could be a workable solution. This method may be more time consuming than digging, and does not thoroughly remove the roots below soil level, but it may provide satisfactory results with somewhat less physical exertion. Consult your local fire department for any information about burning advisories in your area before attempting this solution.

Before lighting the fire, clear the area of flammable materials and trip hazards within at least a 20 foot radius of the stump. Also, extend a connected, pressurized garden hose to the area to quickly extinguish any flames that ignite outside the area of the burning stump. Finally, plan to attend the fire the entire time that it is burning. It could take a day or longer, depending on the size, type of wood, moisture content, weather conditions, and many other variables.

Now the hard part. Setting a stump on fire is not as easy as it sounds. Dousing it with flammable liquid is not a great idea. It’s dangerous and really not that effective. The liquid tends to burn off without actually igniting the stump. Instead, build a fire over the exposed top of the stump and keep it burning. To accelerate the process, improve airflow by digging soil away from the base of the stump. Fire needs oxygen, so the more exposure it has, the faster it will burn.

RELATED: 5 Things to Do with Tree Stumps

grinding down tree stump

Photo: istockphoto.com

Grind the Tree Stump Down

Grinding removes the stump in as little as 15 minutes, but it could take 2 hours or more. You could hire out the work, but it’s not a difficult DIY project. Stump removal machines are available at The Home Depot Rental, Sunbelt Rentals, United Rentals, or your local equipment rental company. If you do it yourself, be sure to wear the proper protective gear including safety glasses and hearing protection when using a stump grinder.

The process of stump grinding can be dangerous to the operator and bystanders. The machine grinds to a depth of about 8 inches, throwing the debris into a nearby pile. Some dangers of using a stump grinder include flying wood chips or rocks, and possibly cutting utility lines.

Use the Call Before You Dig hotline, 8-1-1, at least two weeks before your planned work day. All of the underground gas, electricity, water, and communication line locations will be flagged so that you can avoid them. Keep the work area clear of bystanders while you work.

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Home Remedies to Kill a Tree Stump

If time is on your side, you could simply kill the stump to keep it from resprouting. Soon, the natural processes of decay will take over to weaken the wood, allowing you to remove it more easily. If the long, slow approach works for you, consider employing one of these easy, inexpensive home remedies for how to kill a tree stump using materials you may already have on hand.

Epsom Salt Formula for Stump Removal

how to kill a tree stump

Photo: istockphoto.com

Fortunately, there’s a favorite bath-time essential that moonlights as an easy stump removal solution: Epsom salt. Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, is a naturally occurring compound of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen which are necessary plant food elements. But in a high concentration it draws the moisture out of the stump, killing it within a month or so.

Start the Epsom salt method by drilling 1/4-inch holes, about 3 inches from the outside of the stump. Drill into the stump as deeply as possible, spacing the holes about 1 inch apart. When you have drilled as many holes into the stump as possible, fill them with Epsom salt and then add enough water to saturate the minerals without spillage. Then sprinkle Epsom salt around the entire base. Finish by covering the stump with a tarp to prevent rainwater from washing any of your secret ingredient out of the holes. Although it could take up to a month or more, the solution will eventually cut off the moisture supply to the roots, allowing you to pry up the tree stump and get rid of it for good.

Don’t have any Epsom salts laying around the house? No trouble, you can find it on Amazon. Once equipped, you can easily—and naturally—remove the stump eyesore from your yard.

Saltwater Solution to Kill a Tree Stump

Rock salt is another multi-use product that could help eradicate unwanted stumps, but caution is warranted. Like Epsom salt, it kills by drawing out the stump’s life-sustaining moisture. Although rock salt is a naturally occurring substance that takes about the same amount of time to kill a stump as Epsom salt, it is less desirable.

Rock salt, or sodium chloride, contains the elements sodium and chlorine. These elements not only kill tree stumps, but also have an adverse effect on desirable plants. If the salt concentration in the soil is too high, sodium and chlorine displace phosphorus and potassium that the plants need, causing deficiencies and death. Note other home remedies that use saltwater to kill poison ivy and other hard-to-kill weeds.

starving tree stump with tarp

Photo: istockphoto.com

Forced Darkness to Starve a Tree Stump

If you’re going for a natural, additive-free approach to stump elimination, try this. Trees, and the suckers that grow from their stumps, need light to photosynthesize, so why not turn out the lights? To starve a tree with darkness, you’ll need a large tarp or sheet of black plastic, and a large volume of organic waste, such as wood chips, fallen leaves, or grass clippings.

First, cut the tree as close to the ground as possible. Then cover the stump and as much of the exposed roots as possible with the tarp. Finally, pile the organic waste over the tarp, at least 12 inches thick. Suckers may develop from the exposed portion of the root zone, but the stump will slowly weaken and die.

Chemicals That Kill Tree Roots

Most chemicals come with the warning, “use only as directed.” We agree with that point. Although there are a vast array of chemicals that could effectively kill stumps, possibly as well as Epsom salt, many of them cause collateral damage to adjacent plants, animals, or people. What’s the point when there are safer alternatives that are more effective? With that in mind, read on to learn about several well-known examples.

Tree Stump Remover

Many of the chemical products designed to remove stumps, like Spectracide Stump Remover, are made with potassium nitrate. This compound contains potassium, nitrogen, and oxygen that reduce the natural decay time from years to as little as 4 to 6 weeks. It is safe for the environment, and is the fastest product on the market.

Stump removers are most effective when used on aged, dead stumps. If you are dealing with a freshly cut tree, start with a stump killer such as Ferti Lome Stump Killer. Most of these products incorporate systemic insecticides like triclopyr to kill the roots and eliminate regrowth of suckers. Apply the chemical to the top of the stump within minutes of making the fresh cut, so the product is quickly absorbed into the remaining stem and roots.

how to kill a tree stump with stump remover

Photo: amazon.com

DON’T Use Bleach

Bleach is not sold as an herbicide and should not be used on plants. The dangers outweigh the marginal benefits. As outlined earlier in the rock salt segment, chlorine is indeed a naturally occurring element, but it poses problems to desirable plants when it is concentrated in the soil. The truth is that applying the high concentration needed to kill a tree stump would potentially expose adjacent grass, shrubs, and perennials to toxic levels of chlorine, and significantly raises soil pH. Instead, save your bleach for more appropriate uses.

DON’T Use Motor Oil

There is no good reason to use motor oil to kill tree stumps instead of one of the aforementioned products. Plus, a quart of motor oil costs about the same as the Spectracide Stump Killer, which is a tested and proven product for exactly this purpose. It is less messy to use and works fast.

DON’T Use Diesel

Diesel is popular among stump burners because it does not blow up like gasoline. However, as noted in that section, adding flammable liquid to the process won’t provide the long, steady burn required to eliminate the stump. As a chemical stump killer, it would likely have an effect as well. But if you have to purchase a special can and a quantity of diesel fuel but don’t have another use for diesel fuel, wouldn’t it make sense to use Spectracide Stump Killer or Epsom salt?

RELATED: The Best (and Weirdest) Things You Can Do with a Tree Stump

FAQ About How to Kill a Tree Stump

Does tree stump remover kill grass?

Tree stump remover granules, those made of potassium nitrate, specifically for the purpose of killing stumps, do not kill grass. In fact, they are made of compounds that break down into usable plant nutrients.

What can you put on a tree stump to make it rot?

Fungi are the most effective organisms for breaking down wood fiber, so you could plug mushroom spawn into the stump. An old method of hastening stump decomposition is to cut grooves into the stump, pile soil on top, and cover the stump with a tarp to promote microbe growth.

Will bleach kill a tree stump?

How to Kill a Tree Stump with Epsom Salt

photo: fotosearch.com

No studies have shown that bleach is an effective tree stump killer.

What’s the best thing to kill tree stumps?

The best thing to kill a tree stump is a systemic stump killer herbicide, such as triclopyr, applied directly to the fresh cut on the stump.

How long does it take for Epsom salt to kill a tree stump?

Following the directions outlined above, it takes 8 to 10 weeks for the stump to die using the Epsom salt method.

Final Thoughts

Left to rot naturally, a large tree stump may take decades to die and decompose. In the meantime it may cause a variety of difficulties, from unsightly suckering to trip hazards to sinkholes and more. To get rid of the problem, you have three sound and effective choices. For complete removal, when every large root must go, grab your tools and dig the stump out. Stump grinding is an easy, fast solution for large stumps, but the lower portion of the tap root will be left behind to rot naturally.

Chemical methods for how to kill a tree stump cost less and require less time and effort. But take care to avoid unproven and unnecessarily risky home chemical treatments. Choose Epsom salts to kill suckering tree stumps, and make later removal easier. If removal is necessary but not urgent, apply stump remover granules to hasten the decay process of already-dead stumps. These products will make slow-but-easy work of that hard project you’ve been dreading.


How To: Get Rid of Clover

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jun 29, 2021 12:10 PM

how to kill clover in lawn

Photo: istockphoto.com

Stubborn weeds are the bane of a beautiful lawn. Yet, although it’s pretty stubborn, clover (aka Trifolium repens) is actually beneficial. It brings nitrogen into the soil and encourages grass growth when it decomposes. In fact, some grass blends even include micro-clover as a welcome addition to a lawn.

Still, many homeowners simply don’t appreciate all those small white clover flowers interrupting their field of green. (It can also attract rabbit pests, which love to snack on clover as well as nearby garden plants.) Mowing it over is only a temporary fix, as clover always grows back, and fast. So if you’re adamant about keeping this herbaceous three-leaved intruder off your landscape, you’re in luck! Read on for easy DIY remedies for how to get rid of clover for good.

10 Easy-to-Follow Remedies to Remove Clover in Your Lawn

Proper lawn care—including the right mowing and watering habits—plus an assortment of clever hacks can send clover packing. Get started with one or more of the following tried-and-true solutions.

Remedy 1: Knock it out with nitrogen.

How to Get Rid of Clover

Photo: istockphoto.com

Generally speaking, a well-fertilized lawn keeps all weeds at bay, but ensuring proper nitrogen levels will give you an extra edge against clover. It’s a lack of nitrogen that allows this weed to thrive, because clover can produce its own nitrogen—so it’s got a leg-up on a lawn that’s low in nitrogen. Try a nitrogen-rich weed-and-feed formula. Organic fertilizers might do the trick if you have a small amount of clover, but if your lawn is becoming overrun, choose a standard fertilizer that is not slow release.

Remedy 2: Remove it manually.

Don’t give clover a chance to spread. Get rid of small clumps as soon as you notice them by gently loosening the soil around the base with a spade or your fingers, then plucking the clover up. Be sure you get all of the roots.

Remedy 3: Deprive it of oxygen and sunlight.

A natural way to eliminate clover in your lawn is to deprive it of sunlight and oxygen. Place plastic sheeting (a garbage bag will do) on top of clover, securing the corners so it won’t blow away. This ought to kill the weed in a few weeks, but use this method only on large clover patches; otherwise, surrounding grass will probably experience collateral damage.

Remedy 4: Douse it with a homemade mixture.

Here’s a natural weed control remedy many gardeners find effective: Mix vinegar with a small amount of dish soap, put the mixture in a spray bottle, and spot treat clover clumps. Just take care to avoid surrounding plants.

RELATED: How to Make Weed Killer

Remedy 5: Kill it with corn gluten.

Available for purchase online and at your local garden center, corn gluten meal can inhibit clover growth without damaging any nearby plants. It releases organic dipeptides into the soil, which dry out clover seeds and make it more difficult for them to sprout. Spread about 20 pounds of corn gluten meal per 1,000 square feet of lawn, water well, and allow to dry naturally.

corn gluten meal for lawns to kill clover

Photo: amazon.com

Remedy 6: Hit back with herbicide.

If you’ve got to pull out the big guns to get rid of clover, broadleaf herbicides can do the job. These weed control products generally contain the chemicals Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Mecoprop, and Dicamba, which disrupt normal plant growth patterns and cause the weeds to twist, the leaves to cup, and the stems to crack. While these herbicides don’t harm surrounding grass, they can hurt some garden plants and insects, so it’s wise to spot treat directly on clover rather than apply freely.

Remedy 7: Mow grass higher than 3 inches.

While some folks really like the look and feel of short turf, leaving your lawn a little bit longer can keep a clover problem in check. Clover grows low to the ground and has a shallow root system. So if you raise your mower deck and keep grass 3 or more inches high, your taller grass can effectively block sunlight exposure to the clover. This helps prevent clover from growing and spreading throughout your lawn.

Remedy 8: Water properly.

Maintaining the ideal moisture level is one secret to discouraging clover. Too-wet turf is the perfect habitat for weed seed germination, but thirsty grass is typically stressed out—and that invites weeds as well. While the right amount of watering will depend on your soil and grass species, gardening pros recommend monitoring your lawn rather than taking a set-it-and-forget it approach to an irrigation system. Water deeply once or twice a week is a rule of thumb, but temper that by remembering to water only when the lawn starts to look dry, or growth seems stalled.

RELATED: Solved! How Long to Water Your Lawn

rabbit eating clover in yard

Photo: istockphoto.com

Remedy 9: Kill clover naturally.

Those who’d rather avoid using chemical herbicides may want to check out the organic weed killer A.D.I.O.S. (the name stands for Advanced Development in Organic Solutions). This non-toxic, odorless, and all-natural selective weed killer is safe to use around pets, livestock, children, crops, and bodies of water. It not only weakens and kills clover, it won’t harm healthy grass. Spray it directly on clover as well as other unwanted weeds, such as dandelion, ground ivy, lambquaters, and yellow mustard. It may also be effective against poison ivy, sumac, buckthorn, bettersweet, ragweed, and other noxious and invasive species.

Remedy 10: Seed those bald spots.

After you’ve successfully killed patches of clover, there may be bare areas on your lawn that are even less attractive than the weeds were. The solution is to lay down grass seed right away, and cover with a thin layer of mulch. Water the grass seed regularly to promote new growth, and follow proper lawn care for fertilizing and mowing to keep clover from coming back.

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FAQ

If you want more info about the three-leaf, white-flowered weed that can bully your beautiful lawn, read on for answers to some common questions.

What’s Causing Clover in My Lawn?

Clover typically flourishes in lawns that are underfed, overwatered, and mown too short.  Practice proper lawn care with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer, water only when grass begins to feel dry, and maintain a turf height of 3 inches or more for clover control.

What will Kill Clover but Not Grass?

how to get rid of clover

Photo: istockphoto.com

A selective herbicide can target clover and other weeds while leaving grass unharmed. Avoid using non-selective herbicides, which can damage any plants they come in contact with. Even with a selective herbicide, it’s wise to spot treat rather than broadcast chemical weed killers.

Should I Get Rid of Clover in My Lawn?

If your idea of a gorgeous lawn is an uninterrupted carpet of uniform grass blades, then you will probably want to get rid of clover. There are, however, good reasons to invite clover: It has a lovely aroma, tends to stay green during periods of drought, attracts bees and other beneficial insects, and can even smother other weeds.

Why is Clover Taking Over My Lawn?

Clover can flourish on your lawn when growing conditions favor the weed more than the grass.  If your lawn is low on nitrogen, for instance, clover is likely to thrive. And because clover is a perennial, if it is present during one growing season it will probably come back the next.

Final Thoughts

Armed with 10 solid ways to combat clover, you should be able to deter the weed and pull up the well. But understanding the positive aspects of clover may help you see it as more friend than foe.


How To: Make Streak-Free Homemade Window Cleaner

To clear up this common paint problem, use our guide to find the root cause and remedy the problem before your next paint job.

By Donna Boyle Schwartz and Bob Vila | Updated Mar 2, 2021 4:32 PM

Homemade Window Cleaner

Photo: shutterstock.com

Dirty windows or a streaky glass door are easy to notice and are easy to clean. Yet, cleaning windows and doors always seems like a chore we put off—even though it requires minimal work. No more excuses! You don’t need any fancy cleaners or tools when you can make this DIY glass cleaner recipe for free from supplies in your house. Save some dollars and keep things simple by mixing up your own DIY window cleaner with nothing more than a few pantry staples you likely have on hand. This homemade window cleaner is a solution of ingredients that you can actually pronounce—like vinegar and water—and can whip up quickly and leave under your sink for the next time it’s needed. Here’s the recipe for success.

STEP 1: Gather your household ingredients.

Raid your house to gather the materials for this DIY glass cleaner. Here, as in so many other non-toxic homemade cleaners, white vinegar plays a key role. Its acidity cuts through dirt and grease, an attribute that well equips the window cleaner to remove stuck-on debris and streaks. If you’ve washed your windows for years with a commercial cleaner such as 409 or even Windex, it’s likely that the glass sports a subtle, waxy film. That residue comes off easily with ordinary dish detergent, another ingredient contributing to the efficacy of homemade window cleaner.

RELATED: 10 Things You Didn’t Know Dish Soap Can Do

STEP 2: Mix the homemade glass cleaner ingredients and dilute with warm water.

Mix your ingredients. In a spray bottle, combine a 1/4 cup white vinegar with a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Dilute the solution with two cups of water, then shake the bottle vigorously to mix the components. If you happen not to have white vinegar on hand, note that you can substitute in lemon juice. Like distilled white vinegar, lemon juice has a mild acidity that cuts through grease and grime with equal panache.

homemade window cleaner

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 3: Add something to make it smell nice (optional).

As a cleaning agent, there’s much to love about vinegar, but the strong odor isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. Fortunately, you can go a long way toward camouflaging the scent of your homemade glass cleaner by adding essential oil into the spray bottle mixture. Pick your favorite oil—it doesn’t matter which—and include about 10 to 15 drops.

With your homemade window cleaner now ready, spray the window glass with it and then, using a lint-free cloth, wipe the cleaner across the entire surface you’re cleaning. Be careful not to use a cloth or sponge that’s going to leave streaks (or even scratches). For best results, opt for a microfiber cloth or chamois. The cleaner will dry fairly quickly, leaving behind a streak-free shine.

What the Ingredients Do

Vinegar

The main reason why distilled white vinegar makes such a good glass cleaner is because it contains acetic acid. The colorless organic compound not only gives white vinegar its pungent taste and smell, it also kills some bacteria. So while cleaning solutions that contain vinegar are great for breaking down and removing dirt, grease, and mineral deposits, they can also help to remove germs on hard surfaces around the home.

It is important to note, however, that vinegar cleaning solutions should not replace true sanitizing cleaners that remove 99.9 percent of disease-causing bacteria and viruses, the EPA standard for products labeled as sanitizers.

RELATED: What’s the Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting, Explained

Lemon Juice

Similar to white vinegar, the acidity of lemon juice can effectively break down grime on glass surfaces such as windows. The citric acid found in lemon juice is technically a bit stronger than vinegar’s acetic acid, though both perform about the same when it comes to cleaning around the house.

Dish Soap

Several ingredients make up most liquid dish soaps available today, but sodium lauryl sulfate, in particular, helps to give products like Dawn dish soap its impressive grease-busting abilities. The component bonds with oily particles and lifts them off of surfaces, which allows for easy removal when used with water.

dish soap for homemade window cleaner

Photo: istockphoto.com

Essential Oils

Different types of essential oils contain different natural chemical components that are useful for cleaning as well as creating a pleasing scent throughout your home. For example, tea tree essential oil not only offers a nice smell, it also features antibacterial, antiseptic, and antifungal properties. So adding it to your homemade window cleaner can help to prevent mold and mildew growth, too.

Hot Water

As with many other cleaning tasks, water temperature makes a difference. Technically speaking, hot water has more kinetic energy than cold water, meaning it more easily agitates and lifts dirt particles off of surfaces. While this may help with cleaning to some extent, using warm water isn’t essential for cleaning windows. Cold or tepid water will work, too.

Window Cleaning Tips

A thorough window cleaning should be at the top of every homeowner’s seasonal cleaning to-do list. At the start of spring when the weather warms is an opportune time to tackle this task, both inside and outside your home. But before you start spritzing your windows, consider these useful tips:

If the windows are dusty but not streaky, you can clean them without bringing a cleaning solution, homemade or otherwise, into the equation. Simply use a lint-free cloth to pick up and clear away the dust. Then, once finished, complete the job by polishing the glass to a streak-free shine with a different, clean cloth.

If possible, clean your windows on a cloudy day. When sun is shining directly on the window, the cleaning solution dries faster, which can leave behind streaks or water marks.

DIY Window Cleaner

DIY Window Cleaner

What’s the Best Wipe?

While you could use paper towels, a soft microfiber cloth works best for first removing dust and loose debris from windows. Then use a separate clean microfiber cloth to work the homemade window cleaner along the glass surface and remove stubborn dirt and residue. A squeegee is especially useful for deep-cleaning the outside of your windows and achieving a streak-free shine.

Warnings and Precautions for Using Natural Cleaners

While opting to make your own window cleaner using natural ingredients is eco-friendly and safer for your skin and lungs compared to the harsh chemicals found in many commercial cleaners, there are still a few safety considerations to be aware of.

Natural ingredients such as white vinegar, lemon juice, and essential oils are effective homemade glass cleaners, but they should not replace true sanitizers that are proven to kill 99.9 percent of disease-causing pathogens.

Never mix vinegar with chlorine bleach. When sodium hypochlorite, the basic chemical compound in bleach, mixes with the acetic acid found in vinegar, it turns into hypochlorous acid and gives off toxic chlorine gas. Chlorine gas can burn skin, cause shortness of breath, and can even be fatal with long-term exposure.

Glass Cleaner vs. Window Cleaner

Specialized commercial window cleaners such as Windex are often ammonia-based, which can leave streaks or foggy spots on some glass. Car windows, for example, should not be cleaned with ammonia-based window cleaners, as the residue poses a risk of obstructing the driver’s view.

Natural glass cleaners such as the homemade window cleaner recipe above, on the other hand, don’t leave behind residue or streaks when wiped away using a clean microfiber cloth.

Try These Homemade Cleaners, Too

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

For the kitchen

Homemade Degreaser
Homemade Granite Cleaner
Homemade Oven Cleaner
Homemade Stainless Steel Cleaner
Homemade Silver Polish
How To Clean A Glass Cooktop

For the floor

Homemade Floor Cleaner
Homemade Carpet Cleaner
Homemade Wood Floor Cleaner
10 Homemade Carpet Cleaning Remedies

For the bathroom

Homemade Shower Cleaner
Homemade Toilet Bowl Cleaner
Homemade Grout Cleaner
Homemade Drain Cleaner

For outside

Homemade Deck Cleaner

Other Common Household Cleaning Ingredients

9 Potent Homemade Cleaners For The Home
14 Home Cleaning Essentials That You Can Make Yourself
7 Herbs That Clean
7 Surprising Pantry Items That Naturally Clean And Freshen Your Home
7 Natural Disinfectants You Probably Already Own
30 Ways To Spring Clean Your House Naturally
15 Home Cleaners That Are In Your Pantry
12 Ways To Clean Your House With Citrus
12 Surprising Uses For Hydrogen Peroxide
12 Secret Uses For Dr. Bronner’s Soap