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- How To: Clean Aluminum
How To: Clean Aluminum
Using only a handful of household products, you can make your dull aluminum utensils, sinks, and outdoor furniture shine like new once more.
The world’s most abundant metal, aluminum, contributes to many products homeowners use every day: pots, pans, utensils, furniture, and even car parts. In any of these examples, its naturally soft exterior is often anodized—or combined with other metals, like copper or magnesium—to create an alloy that stands up to regular wear and tear. As with many other metals, aluminum products can acquire an unattractive (yet harmless) dull appearance over time resulting from the metal’s natural reaction to oxygen. Removing this tarnish requires careful handling and cleaning, since scrubbing and abrasive cleaners can scratch or discolor the surface. Whether you’re looking to restore shine to your cookware, sink, or furnishings, follow the outlined steps below for how to clean aluminum properly.
CLEANING ALUMINUM UTENSILS AND POTS
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Mild dish soap
- Aluminum pot
- White vinegar
- Whole lemons
- Cream of tartar
- Scrub sponge or pad
- Clean rags
- Non-abrasive metal polish
For regular maintenance, hand wash aluminum utensils and pots with mild dish soap and warm water. If your kitchenware has stuck-on stains, try the following method—which cleans pots and utensils at the same time!
Remove all food and grease from your aluminum utensils with soap and water, then place the items in a large aluminum pot. Don’t use pots made with cast iron or other metals for this method, since the acid involved can damage their finishes.
Fill the pot with water, leaving about 1 to 2 inches from the top for boiling. For every quart of water, add 2 tablespoons of a cleaning agent of your choice: white vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar.
Bring the pot of water to a boil, and simmer for about 15 minutes. The aluminum interior of the pot should appear brighter. Allow the contents to cool before pouring out the water.
Rinse and dry the utensils, then use a non-scratch scrub sponge or pad to gently rub the inside of the pot. Rinse with water and dry thoroughly with clean rags.
To tackle stubborn discoloration on the outside of aluminum pans, it’s best to use a non-abrasive metal polish by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Mild discoloration on the outside of pans can be eliminated with the same method for cleaning an aluminum sink, listed below.
CLEANING AN ALUMINUM SINK
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Dish soap
- Whole lemon
- Table salt
- Clean cloths
To prevent a build-up of grime and food particles in your aluminum sink, regularly clean the surface with dish soap, a sponge, and warm water. Avoid scrubbing the sink with abrasive brushes or pads, so you don’t damage the soft metal. Use the following deep-cleaning method when you notice a tarnished or dull appearance to the aluminum.
Clean the sink with dish soap and water to remove all traces of grease. Rinse well.
Cut a lemon in half, and dip it in table salt. Scrub the surface of the sink with the lemon until you notice the aluminum brightening.
Rinse well with water and a cloth. Dry thoroughly with a clean, dry rag.
CLEANING ALUMINUM FURNITURE
MATERIALS AND TOOLS:
- Mild dish soap
- Large bowl
- White vinegar
- Cream of tartar
- Soft scrubbing pad (optional)
- Salt (optional)
- Car wax (for outdoor furniture)
If your aluminum furniture is coated or painted, cleaning it depends more on its exterior finish than its aluminum base. For example, vinyl-coated aluminum furniture should be treated as a vinyl item rather than an aluminum one. The following method works well for uncoated, unpainted aluminum furniture, like patio chairs and dining tables—just save your cleaning for a cloudy or cool day, since aluminum tends to get too hot to handle in direct sun.
Soak your furniture with water from a hose, then clean with soapy water and a rag.
Mix a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water in a large bowl. You can choose to use another acid like cream of tartar or lemon juice, but vinegar is the cheapest option. The exact measurements will depend on the size of your aluminum furniture, but at least 2 cups of water and 2 cups of vinegar should be a good starting point.
Soak a clean rag in the solution, then apply it to the surface of your furniture. You can also rub the solution in with a soft scrubbing pad. For difficult spots with greater discoloration, resort to the lemon-and-salt method used for cleaning aluminum sinks (listed above).
Once the aluminum surface brightens up, rinse the furniture thoroughly with your hose. Dry with clean cloths.
STEP 5 (optional)
If you’re working with outdoor furniture, finish with a coat of your favorite brand of car wax applied per the manufacturer’s instructions. This layer will protect the surface from weather damage throughout the season.
- Major Systems >
- Give Your Home the Gift of Year-Round Climate Control
Give Your Home the Gift of Year-Round Climate Control
Turn to an innovative, space-smart, and energy-efficient heating and cooling option to bring your family all the comfort of the season, all year long.
Comfort and joy: That’s what the holidays are all about. If, however, your home fails to provide refuge from the wicked winter weather—if your heating system simply isn’t cutting it anymore, in other words—then you may find it challenging to embrace the festive spirit of the season. After all, the importance of reliable, effective, and efficient HVAC can’t be overstated. If you’re tired of your hit-or-miss heating system that costs a small fortune to run, the new year may be the ideal time to reassess your needs and your options. That’s especially true if your home lacks not only satisfactory heating, but also central air. Rather than shiver and sweat your way through another 12 months, consider giving your home (and everyone in it) the wonderful gift of year-round climate control.
You might think that such a gift would require a bit of shopping: The HVAC market offers a dizzying range of choices, and there are plenty of products capable of both heating and cooling. But perhaps no other technology delivers the best of modern climate control as unobtrusively as the Unico System. Engineered to be practically invisible, Unico installs easily and discreetly in any home, no matter its age, without the need for costly, disruptive remodeling—in fact, without forcing you to make sacrifices of any kind. What’s more: The innovative Unico System succeeds in avoiding the performance pitfalls of conventional systems, even while saving you significant sums on monthly utility bills. Want to learn more? For all the details on a solution that’s as popular and well suited for historic properties as for cutting-edge custom construction, continue reading below.
When you install a climate-control system, you expect it to improve the way your home feels. You don’t expect it to change the way your home looks. But that’s very often what happens, at least if you opt for a traditional forced-air system. After all, a conventional system relies on ductwork. In retrofit applications, in the course of contain and conceal the ductwork, contractors often must build special accommodations—soffits, chases, and more—that hog space and fundamentally alter the home aesthetically. Indeed, many homeowners discover that to adopt a forced-air system would mean letting the desire for year-round at-home comfort take precedence over equally important concerns—namely, square footage and architectural design integrity.
Enter the Unico System. Rather than put you in the tough position of having to choose between comfort on the one hand, and space and style on the other, Unico enables you to enjoy modern comfort without giving anything up in return. In other words, while forced air dictates the terms of its installation, the versatile Unico System adapts to almost any circumstance. By and large, it’s able to do so by virtue of its special mini ducts. Measuring no wider than four inches, Unico ducts fit in the unseen places (behind walls, above ceilings) where rigid metal full-size ductwork cannot. Plus, Unico ducts are flexible enough to bend around studs, joists, and other structural elements that would act as impediments to regular ducts. In short, Unico doesn’t thrust its needs upon you; instead, it cleverly bends to meet yours.
Another reason the Unico System stands out: It works to ensure that the temperature remains consistently comfortable throughout the home. Of course, that’s the goal of any climate-control technology, but not every system succeeds. Take forced air, for example. Designed to operate intermittently—to start and stop, start and stop, over and over again—forced-air HVAC often creates uncomfortable swings in temperature. Where forced air fails, Unico excels. How? It leverages a principle of air movement known as aspiration. That means when Unico introduces conditioned air to a room, it does so in a way that draws the ambient air into its stream. The result: From room to room and wall to wall, the temperature never strays more than a couple of degrees from the temperature you set on the thermostat.
While running, the Unico System makes almost zero noise. That’s in stark contrast to traditional HVAC systems, which, in the process of heating and cooling, tend to create a whole new problem—thought-distracting, conversation-interrupting noise. Unico, meanwhile, operates at an extremely low decibel level. How? For one thing, its signature mini ducts are encased in two layers of insulation, making the sound of air moving through the system no louder than a whisper—literally. In addition, besides being ultracompact—actually small enough to fit into a two-foot opening—the Unico air handler boasts its own sheath of closed-cell, sound-deadening insulation. In the end, with Unico heating and cooling, you get a solution that not only stays out of sight, but which also escapes notice due to its virtually silent operation.
On average, climate control accounts for about 50 percent of monthly household utility costs. Under the circumstances, with homeowners walking a fine line between livability and affordability, Unico appeals for yet another reason—energy efficiency. That is, even while delivering an uncommon degree of comfort, the Unico System succeeds in keeping HVAC energy consumption to a minimum. In part, the technology does so by removing one of the main causes of the relative inefficiency of conventional systems—duct leaks. In a home with forced air, duct leaks can reduce overall system efficiency by 25 percent or more. With Unico, however, because its mini ducts are so heavily insulated, there’s no duct leakage and no wasted energy. You get all the heating and cooling you pay for.
Another key factor that impacts the efficiency of a system, at least during the cooling months, is how it manages humidity. Compared with conventional systems, Unico removes 30 percent more moisture from the air, thanks to its high-tech cooling coil. Of course, everyone knows that in summer, reducing humidity means boosting personal comfort. But believe it or not, lower humidity can also translate into lower energy costs. Simply put: Rooms feel cooler in the absence of humidity, so in homes cooled by the Unico System, it’s possible to set the thermostat a few degrees higher than normal. Since adjusting the thermostat even one degree typically reduces household energy consumption by about three percent, the Unico System enables you to achieve substantial savings over the years.
Technological advances have improved the performance of, and lent new capabilities to, the offerings in countless product categories, including HVAC. If it’s been years since you last surveyed the market, you may be pleasantly surprised by the range of new and compelling options. That said, no matter how much has changed, the landscape remains rife with technologies that force homeowners to accept frustrating trade-offs. Trusted in more than 500,000 homes nationwide, the Unico System stands apart from the rest, because unlike conventional systems, it enables you to enjoy effective and efficient climate control on your own terms, without compromising the architectural design and aesthetic charms that made you fall in love with your home in the first place.
This article has been brought to you by Unico. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.
- How To's & Quick Tips >
- How To: Make Scented Candles
How To: Make Scented Candles
Create a home that's all cozy and aglow this season with these easy DIY spiced candles.
Sure you can stock up on a basket’s worth when they go on sale at a home goods store, but scented candles actually make some of the best do-it-yourself gifts—easy to craft, extremely affordable, and speedy, too. Learn how to make candles in an afternoon, and you can customize the perfect fragrance from essentials oils and spices and mold the mixture in a creative container of your choice. Any upcycled glass jar (one that is heat-resistant), enamel cup, coffee tin, or ceramic planter can appear simply charming when filled to the brim with wax and a wick!
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Wax flakes
- Metal or wooden spoon
- Old pan
- Glass, metal, or ceramic containers
- Pre-waxed candle wicks
- Metal collars
- Popsicle sticks
- Nutmeg powder
- Ground cloves
- Kraft paper or newspaper
- Decorative tags
Drop the wax flakes into a pot. The amount you’ll need will be double the volume of the container. so use it as a scoop to be precise, so if you use a mug as candle container, you need to melt two mugs’ worth of wax flakes.
Place it on a stovetop burner set to medium-low heat, and stir the melting wax with a metal or wooden spoon—preferably not a utensil that you will use later to cook food.
Thread a long, pre-waxed wick through the metal collar, and use pliers to squeeze the metal shut to hold the wick in place. This metal base prevents the flame’s heat from damaging—even breaking—the bottom of the container once the candle has burned completely.
Wash and dry your container of choice, then add a few drops of wax to its bottom and place the wick-threaded metal on top of it. Let it set a few seconds to cool. Extend the wick taut (but not so tight that you rip the metal from the bottom) and wrap it around a Popsicle stick that rests across the top of the container in order to prevent the wick from falling into the jar when you pour the melted wax in.
Once all the flakes are melted, turn off the stove and stir in the spices. For every 2 cups of wax flakes, we’ve added 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, 1 tablespoon of nutmeg, and 1 one tablespoon of ground cloves to create a very wintry scent.
Alternatively, as you gain practice making candles, you can experiment to find what scents you like—some using only cinnamon and others playing with essential oils, like peppermint. Just beware that some essential oils are very flammable and should not come into contact with an open flame; read the packaging closely and heed any warnings before you try out any oil combinations.
Protect your work surface with some paper (brown kraft paper or yesterday’s newspaper pages work just fine), then proceed to pour the melted wax slowly into your first container.
After you’ve filled the container three-quarters of the way, check that the wick is still centered and adjust if necessary. Let it partly cool and solidify, then poke a few holes a toothpick in order to remove eventual air pockets. Pour the last quarter of mix in, and let set for several hours.
Repeat this step to make candles out of whatever wax remains.
Once the wax is set, trim the wicks to be a half-inch long each.
Finally, use a cord or some twine to wrap a decorative tag around each of your candle holders. These will dress up the plain canisters (like our white ceramic planters) and even double as a gift tag should you need a place to write “to” and “from.” Display them on your mantle all season long and, when you’re ready, light the homemade candles to enjoy their sweet spiced fragrance.
Ama is a DIY addict and the creative mind behind Ohoh Blog. She likes home decor, lighting, and furniture projects that may involve painting, sewing, drilling…no matter the technique! Whatever she has on hand is inspiration to create, and fodder for her serious addiction to upcycling.
All of the Best Hands-on Tutorials from BobVila.com
Get the nitty-gritty details you need—and the jaw-dropping inspiration you want—from our collection of the favorite projects ever featured on BobVila.com. Whether your goal is to fix, tinker, build or make something better, your next adventure in DIY starts here.
- Kitchen >
- Genius! Put Your Favorite Drinks on Tap at Home
Genius! Put Your Favorite Drinks on Tap at Home
Drinks are always on the house when you serve homemade brews and sodas from this double-tapped drink dispenser with a space-saving storage secret.
The lack of storage space in small kitchens constantly forces homeowners to make sacrifices. For Reddit user averagejones, the cooking and entertaining hub couldn’t accommodate her home brewing hobby. Serving fresh pours of her favorite beverages would mean trudging downstairs to get a pint from a single-tap keg stored in her basement fridge. The inconvenient trip to the basement aside, the keg swallowed a good quarter of the space in the fridge. Plus, it could only dispense either beer or soda at any given time, which was not exactly convenient when entertaining a pack of thirsty guests. Ready to re-imagine the traditional keg and reclaim lost fridge space, averagejones devised a DIY home beer tap with two taps that could serve up both beer and soda—right when and where she needed it most.
To make the clever contraption, the ale aficionado enlisted 100 feet of plastic tubing and a couple of tap handles. She ran the tubing through the kitchen floor and into two slim kegs in the basement fridge, one for beer and one for soda. The separate soda and beer lines were a crowd-pleasing improvement to averagejones’ earlier single-tap keg system, since they meant more variety—now multiple users could dispense their choice of what was on tap. Back in the kitchen, averagejones connected the tubing to two cast iron pipes that were secured to the lid of a restored wine barrel and outfitted with tap handles. Thanks to the false back of the half-barrel, this dispenser can hide the plastic tubing behind it from view while offering shelving for glasses and other barware to boot!
This DIY drink dispenser acts as a personal beverage bellhop, conveniently carrying your favorite drinks from the dusty basement to the more comfortable and social location of the kitchen. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed beer connoisseur or you simply like the idea of a personal soda fountain, follow this smart DIYer’s instructions for even easier access to your favorite beverages. You’ll gain much-needed room in the fridge and, given the space-saving silhouette of the half barrel dispenser, you’ll also reserve plenty of floor space in the kitchen for sipping and savoring good times with guests.
FOR MORE: Reddit
All of the Best Hands-on Tutorials from BobVila.com
Get the nitty-gritty details you need—and the jaw-dropping inspiration you want—from our collection of the favorite projects ever featured on BobVila.com. Whether your goal is to fix, tinker, build or make something better, your next adventure in DIY starts here.
- Kitchen >
- The Easy and Affordable Way to Upgrade Your Kitchen Cabinets
The Easy and Affordable Way to Upgrade Your Kitchen Cabinets
Tired of your kitchen? Obviously one way of rejuvenating the room would be to take it down to the studs and start over. But introducing a new look and feel doesn't have to mean a comprehensive (read: pricey) overhaul. In fact, with a combination of much more modest measures like hardware replacement and cabinet refacing, it's often possible to achieve similarly dramatic results for a whole lot less.
Hang on a second: Before you decide to take on the hassle and expense of a full-fledged kitchen renovation, consider that a variety of cheaper, easier alternatives can deliver a similarly dramatic transformation, especially in combination. For instance, homeowners typically treat details like cabinet hardware as trivial—as “an afterthought,” according to Jim Eldredge, a product manager with Sears Home Services. But in the kitchen, he says, seemingly unimportant components “can make a surprisingly big impact on the overall room design.” That said, replacing your cabinet hardware isn’t magic; it can’t make timeworn cabinets look new again. If your kitchen has seen better days, take the time to look closely at the condition of both the cabinet boxes and the cabinet doors. So long as the boxes remain in decent condition, you can actually leave them intact and only reface or replace the cabinet doors. Especially when paired with new hardware, updated cabinet fronts can totally remake the look of your kitchen in short order and typically on a small budget.
Whether you decide to install new cabinet doors or simply refinish the existing ones, Eldredge cautions that when it comes to selecting cabinet hardware, it’s a mistake to “focus on aesthetics alone.” To prove satisfactory over the long term, new hardware must do more than merely look good. There are a key practical considerations to keep in mind. Want to learn more about high-impact, low-budget kitchen upgrades? Keep reading!
If you decide to install new hardware as part of your cabinet upgrade project, it won’t take you long to realize that, as Eldredge puts it, “Homeowners are spoiled for choice.” With so many compelling hardware options, many find it a challenge to choose from all the available styles and finishes. To make the selection process more manageable, Eldredge recommends narrowing the field incrementally, one phase at a time. First, he says, “decide which type of hardware to install.” There are certainly exceptions, but conventional wisdom holds that for ease of use, knobs pair best with doors and pulls pair best with drawers. Once you have settled the question of which type or types of hardware you prefer, you can move on to picking a style. To do so, Eldredge recommends taking cues from your cabinets. In a sleek, modern kitchen with crisp, clean lines, “people tend to go with more streamlined, angular hardware,” he says. In traditional kitchens, meanwhile, “You’re more likely to see hardware with finer details and curves.” When you’re updating both the cabinet and their hardware, however, you’re free to consider a virtually infinite number of exciting design combinations. Nothing’s off the table.
A similar approach can help you choose not only a hardware style, but a hardware finish as well. For instance, many experts recommend matching the new cabinet hardware finish to the finish of the existing kitchen lighting and plumbing fixtures. Others argue it’s best for the hardware to match the appliances. Still others maintain that, above all, the hardware must complement the color of the paint or stain on the cabinetry. For light-colored or white-painted cabinetry, Eldredge says, “black and stainless steel are among the most popular.” For darker cabinets, on the other hand, it’s wise to “think about oil-rubbed bronze or brushed nickel,” he says. Ultimately, though, when you’re updating cabinetry, Eldredge admits, “guidelines are only guidelines; they can get you only so far.” Given the sheer number of variables at play, the advice and guidance of experienced professionals can be immensely valuable. One advantage of working with a nationwide household name like Sears Home Services is that project coordinators explain all the options for making the most of your remodeling dollar. Want to discuss your kitchen with a qualified expert? Click to schedule a free in-home consultation today!
“How the hardware looks—that’s only half the equation,” Eldredge explains. After all, even if you’re not a home chef, “chances are good that you interact with your cabinet hardware morning and night,” Eldredge says. Under the circumstances, it’s only prudent to make sure you like the way a knob or pull feels in your hand as much as you like the way it looks to your eye. To that end, Eldredge says, “I always tell people to test hardware before installing it.” If the hardware pinches your fingers, or if its sharp edges seem likely to cause discomfort down the line, keep looking. You’re not going to be pleased with your choice if you can’t handle the hardware naturally, without a second thought. By the same token, take time to ensure that the size and shape of your chosen hardware suits the heft of your cabinetry. Whereas standard-size knobs usually suffice for doors of average dimensions, more substantial doors and most drawers open more easily with hardware large enough to accommodate several fingers. When you’re updating both cabinet doors and cabinet hardware, therefore, it’s often wise for your decisions about the former to determine or at least inform where you land on questions involving the latter.
Finally, recognize the larger context for a cabinet hardware upgrade. Kitchens are heavily trafficked and subject to frequent, hard use, so they inevitably collect grease, grit, and grime. Complicating matters further is that, while it’s easy to spot crumbs and spills on, say, countertops, it’s often not quite so easy when it comes to cabinet hardware. So do yourself a favor and as Eldredge advises, “Factor everyday care into your decision-making.” As much as you may love the look of certain elaborate, intricate hardware designs, it’s worth asking if those special details are worth the extra effort that’d be required to keep them clean. At the same time, being that cooking grease and dirty fingerprints accumulate not only on hardware, but also on the surrounding cabinetry, many homeowners also choose to replace or reface their cabinet doors with a low-maintenance material or finish. After all, you can’t have a kitchen that’s easy to care for if you don’t have easy-care components installed in the parts of the room most likely to experience wear and tear over time.
Different homeowners weigh different considerations when planning a budget kitchen upgrade. But no matter the project scope, any given remodel always ends the same way—putting your plans into action. Of course, if you’re only planning to put in hardware of the same type and size as your existing knobs and pulls, then it’s an easy swap that you can probably handle on your own, without a contractor. However, if you want to go a step further, updating not only your hardware but your cabinetry as well, then more often than not, taking the next step means hiring capable pros. Sears Home Services sets itself apart from local contractors in many ways, but not least is that when you work with Sears, whether straightforward or complex, coordinators guide you each step of the way through the remodeling process, from the earliest planning stages all the way through to the completed installation. Normally, when you’re working with a contractor, you have the right to expect the job to get done on time and on budget. But with Sears Home Services, you can expect all that and more—namely, a Satisfaction Guarantee demonstrating a commitment to the lasting success of your project.
This article has been brought to you by Sears Home Services. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.
- How To's & Quick Tips >
- How To: Make Your Own Dishwasher Detergent
How To: Make Your Own Dishwasher Detergent
Why waste money—or put your family’s health at risk—with store bought brands when you can DIY a safe, efficient cleanser for everything from plates and glassware to pots and pans.
Enter any supermarket and it’s obvious that detergent is big business. Yet while the choices seem endless, today’s consumer is increasingly turning to homemade detergents. This is especially true for parents of young children, due to reports that detergent poisonings have risen more than 20 percent since the advent of the colorful cleaning “pods” that have flooded the market in recent years. (In 2016, poison centers received reports of 10,673 exposures to highly concentrated packets of laundry detergent by children 5 and younger. Symptoms include vomiting, wheezing, and gasping, as well as corneal abrasions from detergent getting into the eyes; this year, one child died after consuming a detergent pod.) While pods are certainly convenient, they’re costly—potentially raising your price-per-load by 50 percent. Depending on your brand of powdered detergents, pods, or combination thereof, you probably spend between $0.13 and $0.40 per load. The non-toxic, hardworking homemade dishwasher detergent described here runs about two pennies—that’s right, $0.02—per load. So whether you want to save money, protect your family and the environment, or simply know exactly what you’re cleaning with, you’ll want to give it a try today!
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Baking soda
- Baking dish
- Kosher salt
- Unsweetened lemonade mix, powdered lemon, or citric acid
- Essential oil of choice (optional, for scent)
This recipe makes approximately 40 loads.
Make washing soda (sodium carbonate) from baking soda (sodium bicarbonate). Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour about half an inch of baking soda on the bottom of the baking dish, and bake for one hour, stirring once or twice, until it changes from silky and powdery to more grainy in texture. Let cool and store in an airtight jar, labeled “washing soda.”
Combine one cup of washing soda with the remaining ingredients (1 cup Borax, ½ cup kosher salt, ½ cup unsweetened lemonade mix, and up to 10 drops of essential oil) in an airtight container, such as a large mason jar. Label it “dishwasher detergent.”
Use one tablespoon of homemade dishwasher detergent per load of dishes, proceeding with your usual washing method. If you wash at cooler temperatures or have “hard water” in your region, you may need a bit more per load. Experiment with quantities, increasing by a tablespoon or two. Do not add liquid dish detergent to this mix, which could damage your appliance.
Helpful Tips When Using Homemade Dishwasher Detergent
• Homemade dishwasher detergents work better when you rinse stubborn food off first.
• If you haven’t the time or inclination to make your own washing soda, purchase it ready-made online or at grocery or hardware stores. However, don’t use plain baking soda in your dishwasher detergent recipe—it won’t do the trick!
• Don’t let the chemical-sounding name bother you! Borax—scientifically called “sodium tetraborate” or “sodium borate”—is a naturally occurring mineral, a salt product derived from boric acid. While not ideally ingestible, it has the same safety rating (“1”) as salt and baking soda. So if your child managed to consume some homemade dishwasher detergent, mild nausea might ensue. Borax may also irritate the eyes.
• If you have “hard water,” increase the kosher salt from half to a full cup. This will reduce build-up that might otherwise cause pesky spots on glassware.
- Tools & Workshop >
- Buyer’s Guide: Snow Blowers
Buyer’s Guide: Snow Blowers
Armed with these insider tips and best picks, you'll bring home a snow blower that will make you the envy (or the hero) of the neighborhood, clearing driveways and walkways with ease all winter long.
When Old Man Winter blows into town, home improvement stores roll out their snow blower displays—rows of shiny red, blue, and yellow machines—tempting you to pull out your credit card and take one home. But, as its price tag will remind you, a snow blower is a major purchase that will cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Before you invest that sort of money, get a better understanding of what to look for in the best snow blower. We’ve outlined the need-to-know information and identified three top-rated models so you can confidently select the best machine for your snow-removal needs, whether you’re a first-time buyer or just upgrading to a new model.
Size up the muscle power: Most people think of size in terms of the width of the path a snow blower will clear. While that is a consideration, especially if you have a large area to clear, the real challenge is in finding the best snow blower for efficiently removing both the amount and the type of snow you’re likely to receive in your region—at a price you’re willing to pay. Manufacturers describe snow blowers as “single-stage,” “two-stage,” or “three-stage” to distinguish strength.
• Single-stage snow blowers feature a horizontal auger at the front of the machine that rotates rapidly, scooping up snow and tossing it out the chute. The motion of the spinning auger creates the force that blows the snow from the chute, so single-stage snow blowers generally do not generate sufficient power to blow the snow more than 15 to 25 feet away. The auger blades on a single-stage blower skim the ground during operation, so the machine can effectively clear flat and smooth paved areas. Because the blades are so low, however, they tend to pick up small rocks and toss them out the chute, making single-stage blowers unsuitable for clearing gravel driveways. Most single-stage blowers can clear a 12- to 18-inch swath of light, fluffy snow, and they’re available in both gas- and electric-powered models
• Two-stage snow blowers, which are usually fuel-powered, feature a powerful impeller fan that works in combination with an auger to draw in snow and forcefully throw it out the chute. A two-stage snow blower can shoot snow in excess of 35 feet, depending on the power of the fan on a particular model and the weight of the snow. A snow blower will throw powder snow—the kind skiers love—the farthest, but if you’re clearing heavy, wet snow, don’t expect your blower to reach the maximum distance. Two-stage blowers can handle wet snow as well as fluffy snow, and clear a swath ranging from approximately 12 inches to 2.5 feet. Unlike their single-stage counterparts, two-stage snow blowers are suitable for use on gravel drives because their auger blades don’t touch the ground.
• Three-stage snow blowers are the big boys in the snow-removal world—and, unsurprisingly, the most expensive. In addition to an auger and impeller fan, they feature an accelerator that grinds chunks of ice and powerfully expels snow and slush from the chute. It’s not unusual for a three-stage blower to throw lightweight snow a distance of 50 feet. These muscle-bound machines can clear paths as wide as 40 inches, depending on the specific model. If you have heavy-duty snow-removal needs, a three-stage blower might be the machine for you.
Find the appropriate fuel: Like most outdoor maintenance machines, snow blowers can be powered either by electricity or by gas or diesel. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks.
• Electric-powered snow blowers are the least expensive options and smallest in overall size. Typically single-stage machines, these models clear light snow best, up to about 8 inches deep—but won’t dig you out of deep and heavy snows. Their need to be plugged in to an outlet via an extension cord limits their performance ever so slightly, making them best suited for homeowners who receive minimal snowfall and have relatively short sidewalks and driveways. They’re also handy for clearing snow from decks and steps, because they’re lightweight enough to lift and move. An added bonus: These machines don’t create fumes and won’t raise concerns about where to store their fuel.
• Gas- and diesel-powered snow blowers boast more power than electric blowers, albeit at a higher price tag. They efficiently clear away deeper and heavier snows without restricting their users to the length of an extension cord. With a fuel-powered blower, once you’ve cleared your own driveway, you can continue down the sidewalk and clear your neighbor’s drive as well.
Here’s what reviewers—everyone from the experts who tested selections out in their laboratories to the consumers who have already grappled with the pros and cons to find the best snow blower—said about today’s top models.
Toro Power Clear 518 ZE 18 in. Single-Stage Gas Snow Blower ($399)
For the homeowner with low to medium snow-removal needs, Consumer Reports gives the Toro Power Clear 518 ZE Snow Blower 4.4 out of 5 stars, a rating that Home Depot consumers confirm with an impressive 4.3 out of 5 stars. In field tests, this gas-powered single-stage snow blower excelled in quickly removing snow without engine drag. Compact but commanding, the blower clears a respectable 18-inch path, yet takes up no more room than a standard push-mower in the garage or storage shed. It comes with a rotating chute and snow deflector, allowing you to easily change snow discharge direction, and an electric start to get things up and running even in bitter temps. The Toro Power Clear is designed to remove light-to-moderate snow at depths of up to 12 inches. Available at Home Depot.
Craftsman 26″ Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero-Turn Snow Blower ($899)
A respected authority on all aspects of home technology, The Sweethome recommends the Craftsman 26″ Quiet 208cc Dual-Stage Zero-Turn Snow blower as the best machine for most people. This two-stage powerhouse is designed to handle snow depths up to 12 inches quickly and quietly, which should keep your neighbors happy. Powerful enough to quickly clear a 26-inch path—even when snow gets packed, thanks to its heavy-duty impeller fan—the two-stage blower from Craftsman earned 4 out of 5 stars from Sears consumers. With power steering and zero-turn capability, the Craftsman blower easily maneuvers through tight sidewalk turns and can reverse direction on a dime. Plus, its six forward speeds and two reverse speeds enable you to hustle through light snow or slow down for accumulations of heavy snow and slush. Available at Sears.
Cub Cadet 3X 3-Stage Snow Blower ($1,399)
For the ultimate snow-removal power, Popular Mechanics recommends the Cub Cadet 3X 3-Stage Snow Blower, which rapidly clears a 28-inch swath and ejects the snow as far as 50 feet. Designed to tackle heavy snows on large driveways and walks, the Cub Cadet chews through formidable drifts and icy chunks. Its push-button start, easy maneuverability, and ability to clear snow twice as fast as two-stage blowers earned it 3.9 stars from Home Depot consumers. And if it somehow gets dark before you’ve sped through the job, never fear: The Cub Cadet comes with an in-dash headlight so you can blow snow long after sundown. The Cub Cadet even offers one-hand operation with fingertip controls—although with heated handles that make the chore almost pleasurable, you may not want to let go. Available at Home Depot.
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- How To: Use Chalk Paint
How To: Use Chalk Paint
Turn forgettable furniture and ho-hum surfaces into showstopping home accents with this versatile and low-maintenance paint finish.
Putting a new face on tired-looking home accents can be as simple as brushing on a few coats of paint. But if you want to achieve a unique antique-style finish, think outside the conventional can of latex paint and opt for chalk paint instead. A water-based decorative paint developed and made popular by Annie Sloan, chalk paint is a nondamaging blend of calcium carbonate, talc, and pigments that delivers a whimsical matte white finish with chalk-white undertones. It has become the veneer of choice for DIYers looking to revive their outdated wooden furnishings, although it’s also suitable for use on masonry, drywall, metal, glass, and fabric. Here’s how to use chalk paint—along with a list of basic painting tools and some useful information about techniques—to produce an appealing distressed finish on nearly any surface.
MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Old newspaper or brown builder’s paper
- Sandpaper (fine and medium grits) (optional)
- Clear shellac (optional)
- Cloth pad (optional)
- Soft cloth
- Bowl of soapy water
- Painter’s tape
- Chalk paint
- Natural-bristle paintbrush, foam roller, or spray gun
- Paint pan (optional)
- Clear or tinted chalk paint wax
- Soft wax brush
If possible, work on your paint project indoors—chalk paint adheres best at room temperature. Protect the floor of your work space from paint splatter by laying out newspaper or brown paper underneath the item you’re painting. Detach any removable elements from the piece, including chair cushions, shelves, drawers, hinges, knobs, and other hardware.
You can generally skip sanding and priming before applying chalk paint, even when working with varnished wood pieces, because the paint can adhere to most surfaces. Even so, some furniture finishes warrant special treatment before painting:
• Paint-covered, rust-covered, or high-gloss surfaces like laminates could use a light sanding with 150-grit or finer sandpaper in order to remove obstacles to adhesion.
• Untreated wood should have a coat of clear shellac applied with a cloth pad before painting; cure it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This coat prevents tannins in the wood from bleeding into the paint and altering the color.
Using a soft cloth saturated in soapy water, wipe down the entire surface of the piece to lift dirt, debris, oil, and sanding dust. Give the surface a once-over with a clean, damp cloth, then let it dry fully. Cover any areas you don’t want to paint with painter’s tape.
Purchase enough chalk paint in your favorite shade to cover the piece you’re working on. (Typically, a liter of chalk paint can cover 140 square feet—roughly the surface area of a small dresser.) Before opening the paint can, turn it upside down to loosen the contents, then shake it vigorously to ensure that the chalk paint is well mixed.
Depending on the size of the object you’re painting, you can opt to use a brush, roller, or spray gun to apply chalk paint. How you apply the paint will depend on your applicator of choice:
• To use chalk paint with a brush: For a smooth, uniform finish, choose a natural-bristle brush with long, flexible bristles. Dip the brush into the can, and tap the handle against the lid of the can to remove excess paint. Then, apply the paint in unidirectional strokes to one section of the piece at a time until the entire surface is covered.
• To use chalk paint with a roller: Pour the chalk paint into a paint pan, then load it onto a high-density foam roller (depending on the size of the furniture, a four-inch mini roller may be the best option). Scrape off the excess paint on the grid of the pan. Roll a thin layer of paint in a long, unidirectional stroke, then pull it back and make one more stroke in the original direction. Repeat this process until the entire surface is coated.
• To use chalk paint with a spray gun: Chalk paint is a naturally thick medium that may not flow readily from all spray guns. You can get around this by watering down the chalk paint (adding approximately two tablespoons of water for every cup of paint) before loading it into the gun. Or, you can opt to load the paint as is and operate the gun at maximum pressure, preferably with a spray tip measuring at least 1.8 millimeters to enable the fluid to flow. To avoid risking damage to your spray gun, test this method on a small, inconspicuous part of the piece before tackling larger areas.
Allow the first coat to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
A single coat of chalk paint is sufficient for many applications. If, however, you need to cover any visual imperfections, or if you want to create a two-tone decorative finish in which the bottom layer of paint shows through around the distressed edges, you can opt to apply a second coat in the same color or a lighter shade.
Now, examine the finish. If you want a more polished matte look, keep it as is; otherwise, to achieve a subtly worn patina—a finish that chalk paint is famous for—distress the painted surface with medium-grit sandpaper, focusing on the edges or details you want to accentuate.
When you’re happy with the finish, seal the paint with one or more coats of clear or tinted wax, gently massaging the wax into the painted surface with a soft wax brush. As a rule of thumb, use a 500-milliliter tin of wax for every three to four liters of paint. Although wax can dry in less than a half hour, it’s best to let it sit overnight. Total curing of the wax can take up to three weeks, although the furniture is ready to use as soon as the wax is dry.
Finally, reinstall any hardware you removed from the piece, and let your chalk-painted accent shine!
All the Expert Painting Advice from BobVila.com
Of all the options available to remodelers, paint provides the quickest, easiest, and most affordable way to achieve a transformation, inside or out. Ready to look at your home in a new way? Click now for the color ideas to make your project beautiful.
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- 3 Ways to Waterproof Wood
3 Ways to Waterproof Wood
That natural beauty demands protection! Choose the products and techniques that work best with your wood.
Some of most delightful furniture, cabinetry, and trim work are crafted from wood, the world’s oldest and best-loved building material. Without protection, however, most wood will suffer from exposure to moisture and high humidity, resulting in swelling, warping, or even rotting. Fortunately, you can easily avail yourself of products that protect wood while enhancing its natural beauty. When choosing the best method for how to waterproof wood, keep in mind that not all waterproofing products are the same—some are better suited for interior or exterior items, while others are geared towards dark- or light-grained wood. Here, we’ve outlined the three surefire ways to preserve your wood for years to come.
CREATE A WARM HAND-RUBBED OIL FINISH
Linseed oil, derived from the seeds of the flax plant, and Tung oil, extracted from the Chinese Tung tree, are the basis for nearly all hand-rubbed (a.k.a. wiping) oil finishes. Employed for centuries, these oils beautify and protect such dark-grained woods as walnut and mahogany, and they’re still in use today—with a few improvements. Blending the oils with other ingredients hastens drying times and eliminates stickiness. You can purchase pre-blended Tung and linseed products, or mix your own for a custom finish.
A standard hand-rubbed oil blend consists of one-part oil (either Tung or boiled linseed), one-part mineral spirits, and one-part polyurethane varnish. Stir thoroughly before applying with a natural bristle paintbrush to dark-grained wood that’s been sanded and cleaned. (If looking for how to waterproof wood that is lighter in color, such as pine or ash, skip this method in favor of one of the next two; hand-rubbed oils have a tendency to yellow over time.) Let the oil soak into the surface, and reapply to any spots that look dry. Then wipe off the residual oil, rubbing well with clean dry rags to remove all excess. Allow the wood to dry completely; this can take anywhere from a few hours to overnight, depending on the degree of oil in the mixture. Finally, sand lightly with fine-grit sandpaper. Repeat the process with as many additional coats as required to obtain your desired finish.
As you become familiar with oil-rubbed blends, feel free to experiment with the formula. For a thicker product, reduce the amount of mineral spirits. If you’d like more working time before the finish dries, reduce the amount of varnish. Add more varnish for a glossier finish and quicker drying time. You can create a multitude of custom blends!
Note: Oily rags used to rub away excess oil can spontaneously combust—yup, even without being near flame, because as the oil dries it generates heat. Take precautions by keeping a bucket of water handy while working; as a rag becomes oil-saturated, drop it in the bucket while and continue with a clean rag. Later, hang rags out to dry separately. When completely dry, you can throw them away without risk, but rags should not be reused.
USE SEALANTS FOR BEST PROTECTION
Polyurethane, varnish, and lacquer are tried-and-true sealants with excellent waterproofing properties. They’re either brushed or sprayed onto clean, sanded wood and allowed to dry completely, then the piece is lightly re-sanded and recoated. For best results, apply in a “room temperature” environment and never shake or briskly stir sealants before application—that can cause air bubbles that would remain on the surface, even after the sealant dries. Though relatively quick drying (some in as little as 15 minutes), these sealants often contain chemical solvents so ventilation is necessary during application. Read on for the pros and cons of these popular sealants.
• Polyurethane sealants, which contain various amounts of solvents in addition to acrylic and polyurethane resins, let you choose your favorite finish effect, from a high gloss shine to a gentle soft sheen. Plus, today’s polyurethane won’t yellow, so it’s a good choice for light-toned woods. Oil-based polyurethane offers the greatest durability, but brush cleanup requires mineral spirits or turpentine. With water-based polyurethane, cleanup is a snap with soap and water.
• Varnish, a combination of resin, solvent, and drying oil, gives a hard-shell finish that resists scratches without yellowing. To waterproof wood that will be placed outdoors, choose marine varnish, which contains UV absorbers to resist sun damage. For interior use on end tables and coffee tables, spar varnish is a good choice to resist pesky cup rings. Clean brushes with turpentine or mineral spirits.
• Lacquer, a mixture of dissolved tree resin or synthetic resin in alcohol, is the sealant of choice for indoor hardwood furniture. While it can develop a yellowish tinge over time that’s considered unattractive on lighter woods, on deep-toned wood lacquer brings out a rich, warm finish that’s uniquely scratch resistant. It’s available in a variety of sheen choices, and can be thinned with lacquer thinner. For optimum results, apply lacquer in multiple light coats. Note: Lacquer emits off strong fumes, so ventilation is absolutely essential; work outdoors or open windows and use fans.
WORK FAST WITH STAIN-SEALANT COMBOS
When time is of the essence or you’re protecting a large project, such as a wood deck, go for a stain-sealant combo. These multitasking products add color while providing water resistance in a single step. Stain-sealant products contain color pigments with the addition of binders, which can be oil-, water- or alkyd-based. Depending on the concentration of pigment in the product, the final result can be transparent, opaque, or in-between. If applying a stain-sealer to exterior wood, you’ll want to reapply every year or two to keep the wood protected.
With the exception of alkyd-based products, stain-sealants don’t build up on the wood surface; instead, they soak in and any excess evaporates. Alkyd-based stain-sealants leave a light surface coating on the wood, making them better suited for interior wood items, such as indoor exposed beams or rustic furniture, that won’t require future applications. Outdoors, alkyd-based stain-sealers have a tendency to peel if the wood isn’t perfectly clean and dry when applied.
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- Enter Bob Vila’s Pick Your Prize Give-Away with BLACK+DECKER™ Today!
Enter Bob Vila’s Pick Your Prize Give-Away with BLACK+DECKER™ Today!
Enter today and every day in January for your chance to win a prize package of your choice from BLACK+DECKER!
With the start of the new year, many people resolve to tackle long-standing home improvement or DIY projects. Having the right tools and accessories is key to successfully completing any task—from repairing broken fixtures to trimming the hedges. Unfortunately, though, stocking your home with brand-new products is a pricy endeavor. That’s why we joined with BLACK+DECKER to give away eight prize packages during the month of January!
Today and every day this month (starting at 12:00 p.m. EST on December 31, 2016 through 11:59 a.m. EST January 31, 2017), enter Bob Vila’s Pick Your Prize Give-Away for the chance to win one of eight prize packages from BLACK+DECKER!
BLACK+DECKER is a leading retailer for power tools, hardware, and other home goods. Since 1910, the brand has improved customers’ lives by providing them with handy products and practical solutions for everyday tasks. This month, we’re giving away eight prize packages from BLACK+DECKER catered to all needs and interests. The packages fall into six different categories: SMARTECH™ Collection, Power Tools, Home, Outdoor, DIY, and Cooking.
SMARTECH™ Collection (two winners): The SMARTCH™ Collection from BLACK+DECKER embraces modern technology to provide customers with innovative and intelligent products. We’re giving away two SMARTECH™ Collection prize packages, which include a 20V MAX* Lithium Drill/Driver ($69), EASYFEED™ String Trimmer ($133), and a Cordless Lithium 2-IN-1 Stick Vacuum ($272).
Power Tools (two winners): BLACK+DECKER power tools make home improvement or DIY projects a breeze. The two winners of this package will receive a 4-Tool Combo Kit ($155), Amp Circular Saw with Laser ($40), Jigsaw with CurveControl™ ($30), ROTO-BIT™ Storage Screwdriver ($30), MOUSE® Detail Sander ($30), and a 20V MAX*Lithium Impact Driver ($90).
Home: After the hustle of the holiday season, your home could probably benefit from a deep cleaning. Get the proper tools for a spot-free abode with the Home package from BLACK+DECKER. The winner will receive a SMARTECH™ Cordless Lithium 2-IN-1 Stick Vacuum ($272), Steam-Mop™ ($169), and Compact Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum ($20).
Outdoor: Believe it or not, sunny days are just around the corner. Prepare for warmer weather with the BLACK+DECKER Outdoor prize package, which includes a 20 in. Mower ($338), Corded Garden Cultivator ($90), Indoor/Outdoor Push Broom ($24.99), Corn Broom ($12,99), Angle Broom ($15.99), Step-On-It® Dustpan ($8.99), All Around Brush ($12.99), Dustpan & Brush Set ($9.99), ZeroKink™ Hose ($49.99), Bypass Smart Pruner ($14.99), Snake Wand™ ($19.99), 21″ Bypass Lopper ($19.99), and a Cordless Pruner ($99.99).
DIY: Whether you’re a seasoned or beginner DIYer, this package can help you create crafty homemade goods. The winner of the BLACK+DECKER DIY package will receive a 4-Tool Combo Kit ($155), Corded Garden Cultivator ($90), ROTO-BIT™ Storage Screwdriver ($29), MarkIT™ Picture Hanging Tool ($15), Wireless Bluetooth Speaker ($39), SMARTECH™ Cordless Lithium Hand Vacuum ($76), and a 20V MAX* Cordless Glue Gun ($80).
Cooking: The BLACK+DECKER Cooking package is the ultimate prize for any home chef. Step up your kitchen skills by winning an 11-Cup Performance Dicing Food Processor ($149.99), Extra Wife 8-Slice Toaster Oven ($79.99), Easy Storage Hand Mixer ($24.99), 12- Cup Mill & Brew™ Coffeemaker ($69.99), Performance FusionBlade™ Blender ($99.99), 6.5-Quart Multicooker ($129.99), 14pc Copper Cookware Set ($119.99), Cake Pan, SQ 9 in. ($8.99), Cake Pan, Round 9 in. ($8.99), Cookie Sheet, Medium ($8.99), Cookie Sheet, Large ($11.99), Loaf Pan, Large ($7.99), Muffin Pan, 12 Cup ($13.99), Cake Pan, Oblong 13 x 9 ($11.99), Pizza Pan 16 in. ($11.99), and NS Spring Form Pan ($16.99).
*Maximum initial battery voltage (measured without a workload) is 20 volts. Nominal voltage is 18.
Enter today and every day in January to increase your odds of winning one of these prize packages! To learn more about BLACK+DECKER, click here.