Bathroom - 3/13 - Bob Vila

Category: Bathroom

The Dos and Don’ts of Tiling a Small Bathroom

There are a number of design and installation considerations when incorporating tiles into your small bathroom. Sidestep costly mistakes with these best practices, and, in turn, you'll find your bath looking more attractive and spacious.

Tiling a Small Bathroom

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Phoenix, AZ

Thanks to the abundance of design and colors on the market today, choosing tiles that can visually expand a small space is easier than ever. Whether you select mosaics, large tiles, or a combination of sizes, keep in mind tile installation is usually permanent and can be costly in terms of both materials and labor. Choosing the correct tile for your small bathroom requires careful planning. As projects go, tiling a small bath isn’t exactly a quick and easy task, but if you are patient and diligent it can be a very rewarding experience. Before you invest in any materials, consider the following guidelines to help avoid an expensive mistake.


Accurate measurements are a crucial first step in any tile project, but especially in the likely awkward layout that is your cramped bathroom. Any mistakes here can lead to conspicuous design problems. When calculating the amount of tile needed for floors or walls, multiply the length of the area you are covering by the width to find the square footage. Then you’ll want to add extra footage for waste. The exact amount of waste will depend on your tile size and the configuration, but 15 percent (up to 20 percent, in cases where the space has lots of corners or a diagonal layout) of the calculated square footage is a safe bet. Double-check your numbers before ordering.


Tiling a Small Bathroom - Mosaic Tile in a Small Shower

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Seattle, WA


Why invest in so much tile as part of the waste factor? Remember: Running out of materials on any job can be very frustrating. Having to stop mid-job to regroup is bad enough, but—in an even worse case scenario—you might find that the store is out of your particular tiles. Ordering tiles 15 to 20 percent more than you expect to use will help ensure against miscalculations, breakages, and cutting odd sizes to fit the space. It’s also a good idea to have spare tiles in reserve should any tiles become cracked or damaged in the future. Check to see if your retailer will allow refunds for unused tiles or unopened boxes, or start dreaming up projects to make with the spares.



In addition to injecting your bathroom with the look and feel of a professional spa, covering your space in mosaic tiles also visually expand limited square footage in the bathroom. One-inch tiles on walls, floors, shower enclosures, and even ceilings fool the brain into thinking the space is larger just because there are so many round or square tiles lined up. When choosing mosaic tile from the wide variety of colors and styles on the market, consider glass. Glass mosaics will reflect light around the walls and ceiling, which in turn creates the illusion of a deeper, wider, and overall larger room.


Tiling a Small Bathroom - Floor Pattern

Photo: Zillow Digs home in Brooklyn, NY


We don’t mean to suggest that you can’t fit large tiles into the scheme of your small bath. Quite the contrary! Just like small, 1-inch tiles, large tiles can actually make the small space appear larger. Here’s how it works: Our brain associates big tiles with a large space, so seeing them in a smaller setting tricks us it into thinking the room is larger than we know it to be. If you’re ready to adopt an extra-large tile treatment on your floors, consider, for additional impact, continuing them up the walls to the height of a chair rail.



Tiling with several colors and bold patterns in a small bathroom can overwhelm the space and make it seem even more cramped than its actual size. Choosing a single light color for the floors and walls, however, makes the tiny room appear more spacious. If you prefer variety, select soft-hued colors that are a few shades lighter or darker than each other and consider smaller-scale design to keep with the size of the room.



Be sure that the surface on which you are working is clean, smooth, and solid. Otherwise, soft floors cause tiles to crack or loosen and uneven walls allow moisture to get behind tiles causing them to loosen and fall off—not exactly what you want to see soon after completing a labor-intensive project. In addition to leveling any uneven surface, also be sure to always remove wallpaper from walls and sand the surface before applying tiles.



Here’s another optical illusion that can work in your favor: Tiles set in a diagonal pattern across the floor can help a small bathroom be perceived as larger than its actual size. This layout places emphasis on the length and width simultaneously. Intrigued? Just know that diagonal tile patterns require more planning, precise measuring, and cutting—especially around the perimeter of the room. Before starting, you’ll use graph paper to lay out a scaled diagram of your floor. After measuring, marking the floor, and cutting the tiles, installation is fairly straightforward.



While glossy tiles and polished stone can look very luxurious in a bathroom, skip these materials for flooring. The sheen of these surfaces are slick to the touch—add a splash of water outside the tub or excess soap in the bottom of your shower, and they can be downright slippery. Fortunately for you, tiles are rated according to their slip resistance so that you know exactly what belongs where in order to minimize risk of falls. Check with your retailer before buying to make sure your choice is suited to the purpose.

How To: Make Your Own Grout Cleaner

Nothing ruins the impact of an otherwise clean bathroom or kitchen quite like dirt between the tiles. This recipe for homemade grout cleaner will have your floors sparkling in no time.

Homemade Grout Cleaner


No matter how hard you work to keep your kitchen and bathroom clean, they’ll always look dingy if they’re plagued by dirty grout, whether it’s lurking between tiles in the shower or along your backsplash. But before you spend a small fortune on cleaning products, consider this: You can mix up your own homemade grout cleaner, less toxic and less expensive than the store-bought variety, using just a handful of ingredients that may already be sitting beneath your kitchen sink. To get started, you’ll need to put on some protective gloves—but after that, this cleanser takes just under 10 minutes to make. Here’s our handy how-to, which will help you make all the grout in your house look brand-new!

– Protective gloves
– Baking soda
– Hydrogen peroxide
– Liquid dish soap
– Small squeeze-top container
– Sponge

Homemade Grout Cleaner - How to Clean Bathroom Grout


It’s a good idea to don some protective gear before you gather the materials to make your homemade grout cleaner. Remember to be extra cautious when you’re working with hydrogen peroxide. Pull on your rubber gloves before you get to work. (While hydrogen peroxide is generally safe for topical use, it can sting if it gets in any cuts.) Also, be sure not to splash any in your eyes—rinse immediately if you do.

Unscrew the lid of a small squeeze-top container. (This bottle from Amazon is one good option.) Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the bottle, then mix in 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide. The baking soda will help remove tough stains and hard water buildup, while the hydrogen peroxide will clean and brighten, cutting through residue on the grout to remove discolorations.

Add 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap, then replace the lid and shake the mixture to make sure the ingredients in your homemade grout cleaner are well combined.

Use the squeeze-top bottle to apply the homemade grout cleaner in a fine line to any areas in need of a good scrub. Let the mixture sit on the grout for about five minutes so it can really work its way into the stain, then wipe the mixture off with a sponge or paper towel. Rinse with water to remove any residue. If stains remain, repeat as needed until the grout is clean.


As wonderful as it is to see your grout clean again, wouldn’t it have been better if there had been no stains to deal with in the first place? In the future, make housework even easier by regularly cleaning and maintaining your grout before it gets out of control. Here are a few simple methods for keeping dirt and grime at bay:
• Prevent discoloration by sealing your grout once a year. Sealant creates a barrier that protects against unsightly stains and dirt buildup, so you won’t have to break out your homemade grout cleaner. (Here’s a handy how-to.)
• Regularly vacuum grouted tile floors. Your machine can pick up excess dirt before you break out the mop and specialized cleaners so that you’re not just pushing it around.
• Mop tile floors once a week with water and suds, but go easy on the detergent! Use too much and the residue left behind will attract more dirt after the floor dries.

When exposed to moisture, grout can make a breeding ground for mildew, but that’s not the only place the fungus can thrive. Take a look at this quick tutorial to learn how you can bust the stuff and keep your bathroom clean.

3 Fixes for Bathroom Odor

For a breath of fresh air in the bathroom, DIY one of these three all-natural solutions and replace unappealing odors with a clean-smelling scent.

DIY Air Freshener


Bathroom odors rank as some of the most unpleasant household scents you can encounter, and they are definitely not ones you want to let linger. While sprays and store-bought products can be effective in banishing bad smells, they can also be costly and filled with chemicals you may not care to bring into your home. Instead of spritzing the off-the-shelf stuff, try mixing up one of these natural (and practically free!) air fresheners that absorb odors and leave your bathroom smelling exactly as you like it—fresh and clean.



DIY Air Freshener - Potpourri


If you recently received a lovely bouquet of flowers, don’t toss them when they’ve reached their brittle end. Instead, use the petals as the main ingredient in this DIY potpourri recipe. First, thoroughly dry the arrangement by tying a piece of twine around the stems and hanging it upside down for a week or two. After that, pluck the blooms from their stems and place them in a jar with a few drops of essential oil. Seal the container, and let the flowers absorb the oil for another week. Once they’ve had time to soak up the scent, you can mix in lavender, cloves, or other herbs or spices that pack a good-smelling punch. Display the concoction in a shallow decorative bowl in the bathroom for a pretty way to eliminate not-so-pretty odors.



DIY Air Freshener - DIY Diffuser


The next time you’re worried about persistent bathroom stench, try this five-minute fix that requires only a handful of materials—most of which you probably already have on hand. To start, fill a vase one-quarter of the way with the essential oil of your choice, such as peppermint or lavender, and then fill the rest of the vessel with baby oil. Next, rifle through your kitchen drawers for some bamboo skewers (yes, the kind you typically use for summer shish kabobs), trim the pointy ends, and drop them into the jar. The final step? Breathe deep and enjoy a freshly scented space.



DIY Air Freshener - Baking Soda


You’ll need a mason jar for this deodorizing solution, but rest assured that you can find the rest of the supplies in your cupboard. Fill a small mason jar about one-quarter of the way with baking soda, then add 8 to 12 drops of essential oil to the powder, adjusting the amount according to the size of your bathroom. (You should be able to notice the scent when you’ve added enough.) Next, pop the mason jar’s flat lid out of the ring that seals it tight and trace its outline onto a decorative piece of cardstock. Cut out the paper and use a needle to punch small holes through which the scent can disperse. Finally, place the paper circle inside the ring (in lieu of the metal lid) and seal your jar for a colorful finishing touch. The secret to this trick’s success lies in the hardworking ingredients: baking soda absorbs unwanted smells, while the oil gives off a soothing scent, leaving your bathroom free and clear of unappealing odors.

How To: Install a Toilet Seat

This simple upgrade can make a marked improvement in your bathroom's appearance. If your toilet seat is cracked, dinged, or worn out, it may just be time for a (quick) change!

How to Install a Toilet Seat


Sure, there are plenty of intimidatingly complex bathroom repairs for which you would be wise to hire a plumber. This is not one of those. Virtually anyone can install a new toilet seat. Really, it’s only slightly more involved than swapping a new roll into the toilet paper holder. So, regardless of the reason for a new seat, whether the old one has cracked or you’re simply in need of a change, you can move forward confidently on this project, which should take no more than half an hour.

– Replacement toilet seat
– Tape measure
– Screwdriver
– Pliers
– Lubricating oil (optional)
– 1/2-inch socket wrench (optional)

How to Install a Toilet Seat - Upright Isolated


Remember that although they often look the same, toilet seats come in a variety of sizes. For that reason, before you purchase a replacement, be sure to measure your existing toilet seat. It simplifies things that these days, toilets come in a set of standard sizes and their accessories (seats included) are made to fit. Still, in the interest of avoiding a return trip to the home center, take three measurements—the length of the seat, the width of the seat, and the distance between the bolts that secure the seat to the toilet. Note that on some toilet seats, the bolts are hidden by plastic covers that snap off to reveal the fasteners beneath.

Removing the old seat may be the trickiest part of the job. Much depends on the nature of the nuts and bolts that keep the seat in place. If either or both are plastic, then you’ll probably have no problem. With pliers, hold the nuts on the underside of the toilet tank in place while you unscrew the bolts with a screwdriver. If the nuts and bolts are metal, particularly if the toilet seat hasn’t been replaced in years, corrosion may stand in your way. Here, it often helps to apply lubricating oil (WD-40, for instance) to the nut. Wait about 15 minutes, then use pliers—or, for extra punch, a 1/2-inch socket wrench—to take off the nut.

Having removed the old toilet seat, take the opportunity to clean in and around the bolt holes. Next, place the new seat on the toilet, threading the bolts through the freshly cleaned holes. With one hand preventing the bolt from budging, use the other to finger-tighten the nut underneath. Finally, gently screw in the bolt as you hold the nut steady with pliers. Take care not to over-tighten the bolt; doing so runs the risk of damaging your toilet. Put the plastic covers, if any, over the bolts, and before you call it a day, raise and lower the seat a few times to test for looseness. Tighten if necessary.

If only every home improvement offered such an outsize reward for so little effort! Though we seldom acknowledge it, the toilet seat—first and foremost a practical component—actually goes a long way toward influencing the appearance of a bathroom, especially one with a small footprint. Does your bathroom look better with the new toilet seat in place? Thought so.

How To: Snake a Drain

Learn how to clear a clog yourself—no plumber required—using a drain auger (a.k.a. the "plumber's snake").

How to Snake a Drain


If it looks like a snake and moves like a snake, it probably is a snake, right? Or, perhaps, its toolbox doppelgänger, the drain auger. Called a plumber’s snake, this handy tool’s 1/4-inch metal coil breaks up blockages in toilet, sink, and bathtub drains. The next time your plunger won’t clear that clog, wait to call a pro and try to snake it out yourself using the following steps, instead.

– Drain auger (manual or electric)
– Rubber gloves
– Protective goggles
– Bucket
– Paper towels

How to Snake a Drain - Tub Upright


You’ll first need to get hold of a plumber’s snake, either manual or electric. Some manual models do allow you to attach an electric drill to give the tool more power to push through and break up the clog.

At your home improvement store, drain augers cost anywhere from a few dollars for a flimsy plastic model meant to pull out a hair clog to $25 for a longer, sturdier metal coil, or more for an electric model. Think of it this way: While you might spend upwards of $100 on a service call, you could put that money—even just a portion of it—toward buying your own snake for this and all future DIY plumbing work. If you don’t want to buy, you may be able to borrow one from a neighbor or rent a snake from your local home improvement center for a nominal fee.

Before you begin, put on a pair of rubber gloves and goggles (especially if you had tried a chemical drain cleaner earlier on), and have a bucket on hand. Then, insert the snake into the drain and slowly feed the line down the pipe. It may take a few tries to get it going. Once it’s in a few inches, gently crank the handle, causing the auger to descend down the drain.

As it descends, a tight bend in the pipe may require you to crank the handle a little harder or wiggle the wire, but don’t give up—keep turning. At some point the snake will reach the blockage. When it does, the rotating tip will either break it up as it moves down the pipe or grab hold of the gunk so that you can pull it out. If the stoppage is a solid mass, the auger head will pierce through the obstruction and resist turning. Crank a few more times so that your snake has a good hold on the clog, give the wire a wiggle to help loosen it, and get ready to remove.

When you can’t feed the coil any more, simply turn the handle to wind the snake back out of the drain. Chances are the clog will come out with it, either in pieces or as a solid chunk. Detach the debris from your snake and test to see if your pipes are clog-free by running the water or flushing the toilet. If necessary, start from the top and repeat the process.


Going forward, save yourself some hassle by using the following tips to keep your pipes clear:

• In the kitchen, when you’re using your garbage disposal, always run cold (not hot) water to flush debris from the sink drains. After you’ve turned the disposal off, keep the water running for at least 30 seconds to rinse the pipes.

In bathtub drains, once a week remove the overflow plate and raise the pop-up assembly so you can reach the spring or rocker arm to clear away any obstructions.

In the shower, once a week or as needed remove the drain cover and use a bent wire to clear out any built-up soap and hair clogs.

Last but not least, don’t treat your drain like a garbage can! Your garbage disposal, sinks, and toilet drains aren’t meant to be a dumping ground for debris. To keep backups at bay, never put any of the following common clog culprits down your pipes: grease, fats, coffee grounds, gum, pasta, rice, eggshells, baby wipes, napkins, feminine hygiene products, hair, cat litter, dental floss, bandages, or building materials like plaster and similar compounds.

How To: Seal Grout

Make it easier to keep your bathroom sparkling by following these simple steps to seal your grout.

How to Seal Grout - Backsplash Tile


Even if you keep your bathroom tiles clean, dirty grout lines can really detract from the look of your tiled floors and walls. Because cement-based grout, whether sanded or not, is porous by nature, substances like oil, grease, and water tend to seep inside and cause ugly discoloration. The best way to prevent this is to seal your new grout and repeat as needed—every year or so for wall and floor tiles that don’t get much moisture, and more often for grout in the shower or on the bathroom backsplash. Adhere to the following instructions, though, and you’ll learn how to seal grout and create a reliable barrier against unsightly stains and a dingy appearance. You may never have to scrub those grout lines again!


– Toothbrush
– Dish soap
– Vinegar
– Sealer
– Sponge or small brush (optional)
– Cloth

How to Seal Grout - Clean Grout with a Toothbrush


Before applying a sealer, be sure to clean your grout thoroughly and repair any cracks or crumbles in the grout lines. Otherwise, you’ll seal in dirt and damaged seams. Scrub away as much of the grime as possible using a toothbrush dipped in soapy water. (Switch to a 50-50 vinegar and warm water solution if you’re trying to eradicate stains.) Tackle one grout line at a time. When you’re finished cleaning the grout, allow the area to dry for 45 minutes before sealing.

Next, choose your sealer based on the type of tile you have and its location. No one sealer is best suited for all situations. As you’ll see when you get to your home improvement store, the variety of products available allows for a certain level of customization. Labels specify which sealers work best with marble, stone, and ceramic tiles, as well as how much moisture the sealer can tolerate, be it high moisture in the shower or low moisture along a kitchen backsplash. Depending on your tile and its location, you can narrow down the choices to two main categories: penetrating sealers and membrane-forming sealers.

• Penetrating sealers use a water or mineral spirit base that lets the formula’s tiny particles of latex or silicone penetrate the granular structure of the grout. As the porous grout absorbs the sealer, the particles of latex and silicone fill in all the gaps, keeping moisture out. These sealers are the best choice for use in especially damp areas, such as bathrooms and, in particular, showers.

• Membrane-forming sealers create a coating on the surface of the grout that resists water permeation. (These sealers work well in the kitchen but should not be used in the bathroom; membrane-forming sealers won’t allow water that’s trapped underneath the tile to evaporate, which, in a swampy shower, could lead to mildew.) These sealers also often feature pigments, so you can change the grout color. While membrane-forming sealers are good for unglazed tile like stone, they won’t adhere to glazed tiles, such as most ceramics.

How to Seal Grout - Shower Tile


Choose the applicator tool that’s right for you. Although aerosol spray-on sealers are commonly used for reasons of convenience, there are a few cases in which they may not be the best choice for your project:

• If you have very thin grout lines and unsealed tiles, a sponge allows you to seal larger sections of your bathroom (walls or floors) easily by wiping over both surfaces at once.

• For glazed tiles where sealer won’t adhere, you’ll need to seal only the grout lines using an applicator brush or specialty applicator bottle with a rolling wheel on top.

Whichever tool you choose, read the manufacturer’s directions on how to seal grout before you begin.

Apply sealer in small areas at a time, working left to right. By working methodically, your grout lines will look more consistent and your sealer will provide better protection—no spots will be overlooked! Keep a dry cloth close by to wipe off the excess sealer. Whether you’re sponging over a large area or using an applicator to avoid drips on glazed tile, you’ll want to remove sealer from the tile before it starts to dry (within five to seven minutes of application) so that you’re not left with a foggy film that’s nearly impossible to remove.

Once you’re done with the first coat, let it dry for an hour before applying a second. (Generally speaking, it takes one to three coats of sealer to achieve adequate protection.)

After the second coat dries, test the surface with a few drops of water. The liquid should bead up into droplets; if not, apply a third coat to ensure quality results.

Let your tiled space dry completely before using. Some sealers need only 24 hours to cure, while others can take up to 48 hours; check the manufacturer’s directions on how to seal grout to be certain. While it may be inconvenient to keep a room off-limits for a day or two, remind yourself how convenient it will be the next time you clean your grout. A good sealer means less time scrubbing, so this is one chore that will make your routine bathroom cleaning a breeze.

Quick Tip: An Easy Refresh for Stinky Bath Towels

Smelly, mildew-infested towels can put a damper on a relaxing bath. Turn dank towels fresh and clean again with this life-changing tip!

Smelly Towels - Dirty Laundry


It’s been a long day, but it’s not you who needs a hot bath—it’s your towels. When wet towels dry in open air, they accumulate mildew only to greet you later on with a foul scent and dingy appearance. But even taking dirty towels for a traditional spin in the laundry doesn’t pack the punch needed to banish deep-set odors. To return to fluffy, fresh bath linen, kick your laundry game into high gear with a couple pantry essentials, vinegar and baking soda.

Smelly Towels - After a Wash


Gather your sullied shower companions and toss them into the washing machine. Reserve this load exclusively for your bath towels so as not to expose other fabrics to the mildew you’re seeking to eliminate. Next, add a cup of white vinegar to the load, skipping the usual suspects like detergent and fabric softener. Now turn your washing machine to the highest heat setting and give those smelly towels—and your bright idea—a whirl! The vinegar will vanquish odor-causing mildew on contact, but for best results, run the towels through a second, additional cycle, this time with the detergent you would normally use.

Still miss the days of brighter bath linen? Try a two-step (and two-cycle) solution that addresses not only the smell but also the appearance of your worn-out towels. For extra scrubbing power to wash away unsightly stains, add a quarter-cup of baking soda into the first load. During the second cycle, throw in a single cup of white vinegar to make mildew a memory (and your towels like new)!

The Right Way to Use a Plunger

Clear clogs quickly, easily, and correctly by following these tips for choosing and using a plunger.

How to Use a Plunger - On a Sink


If your toilet’s overflowing or your sink’s stopped up, it’s time to take the plunge! About 90 percent of the time, a clog can be cleared with just a couple of thrusts of a plunger. To make the messy job easy, though, it’s important to have the right kind of plunger and the proper technique. As it turns out, not all plungers are created equal; some are best suited for sinks and showers, while others are appropriate for use on toilets. Once you’ve determined the best tool for the job, success is all about form. Contrary to popular practice, repeatedly flushing while frantically pumping won’t release the blockage any faster—instead, it will break the plunger’s seal and ruin the suction. To keep the water flowing freely down your pipes, avoid those amateur mistakes and learn to plunge like a pro with these valuable tips.

Pick the Perfect Plunger
Start at the very beginning: While there’s probably a shelf full of plungers available for purchase at your grocery or home improvement store, the two most common styles are the cup plunger and the flange. It’s smart to stock one of each and be familiar with their strengths so you can determine which one’s right for your mini emergency.

How to Use a Plunger - On a Toilet


The Cup: When you think of a plunger, the image that comes to mind most often is that of a simple wooden handle attached to a rubber cup. It’s this cup that gives the tool the name “cup plunger.” This design is most effective on flat-surface drains, which are found in the sink and bathtub. While it works well for a sink, shower, or bathtub clog, the cup plunger can’t create a sufficiently airtight seal in the curve of a toilet drain to produce adequate suction.

The Flange: A toilet clog calls for a different type of plunger entirely: the flange plunger, which has an extra ring of rubber (the flange) around the cup. The flange is inserted into the toilet drain, sealing in the air and increasing the suction power. In a pinch, you can fold the rubber ring back into the bell of the plunger and use it to unclog a tub or sink drain, but a true cup plunger will be more effective.

Properly Plunge the Sink, Shower, or Tub
When using a standard cup plunger, start by covering the overflow drain, if there is one, with a wet towel. Doing so prevents air from escaping and decreasing the suction power. While you’re at it, it’s a good idea to seal off any nearby drains in sinks or tubs to ensure better results. To further improve the plunger’s suction power, create a tighter seal by lining the rim of the cup with a small amount of petroleum jelly.

Next, place the rubber bell securely over the sink or shower drain and completely submerge the bell in the standing water. Plunging can get messy, so if there is too much water, scoop out the excess into a nearby bucket in order to minimize cleanup. Push down on the handle—gently at first—forcing the air out. Then continue plunging with quick and deliberate thrusts, directing the pressure down the drain without lifting the plunger enough to break the seal. Continue this action for approximately 20 seconds. When you pull the plunger away, the clog should be cleared.

Note: If you choose to use drain-clearing chemicals, don’t use a plunger at the same time. If you do, you risk splashing around harsh, toxic substances that can cause burns or, if they come in contact with your eyes, even blindness.


Correctly Clear a Toilet Clog
If your toilet looks like it’s about to overflow due to a clog, don’t continue flushing the handle in the hope that the bowl will drain. Instead, allow 10 minutes for the water level to drop. Then, locate the water supply hose on the wall behind the toilet and turn the handle clockwise to close the valve. Next, examine the water level in the toilet bowl. If the bowl is too full, move the excess water to a bucket. If the bowl is almost empty, however, add enough water to fill the bowl halfway. Having an adequate amount of water in the bowl will improve the suction and ultimately lead to a more successful plunge.

Remember to use the flange-style plunger for optimal suction, and make sure that the flange is extended. Submerge the plunger (the top of the bell should be covered with water) and make sure the rubber ring is inserted directly into the drain opening. Push and pull on the handle with quick, concentrated thrusts for 20 seconds without lifting the plunger out of the drain and breaking the seal. Usually, this is all it takes to clear the clog. If the toilet remains stopped up, it may be time to put away the plunger and pull out the drain snake—or call in a plumber to diagnose a bigger problem.

Bob Vila Radio: Replacing a Shower Diverter

Experiencing issues with your shower? The problem may lie not with the plumbing or shower head, but with a small yet vital part of the bathtub spout. Here's how to investigate and address this common, easily remedied frustration.

You know that little knob on top of the bathtub spout? It’s tiny but not insignificant, as it performs the vital role of directing water either to the tub or to the shower head.

How to Fix a Shower Diverter


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Listen to BOB VILA ON REPLACING A SHOWER DIVERTER or read the text below:

If you pull the diverter and see only a few drops of water—or none at all—come out of the shower head, then you likely need a new tub spout and diverter. Luckily, such components are fairly inexpensive and easy to install.

Start by inspecting the underside of your existing tub spout. Look for a small hole and a set screw. If you find one, remove the screw with a screwdriver, after having covered the drain to prevent the piece from disappearing down the pipe. Once you’ve removed the screw, twist and pull the spout straight out until it clears the copper supply pipe.

Couldn’t find a set screw on the tub spout? That means the spout threads directly onto the supply line. To remove it, use a pipe wrench, turning the tool slowly and firmly in a counter-clockwise direction.

Once you’ve successfully removed the spout, take it to your local home center so that you can be sure to purchase the right sort of replacement, one that attaches to the supply pipe way in the same way as the old unit. Note that in the case of a threaded spout, the threads on the new fixture must run in the same direction as on the one you’re replacing. Otherwise, you’ll be making a return trip!

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!

3 Fixes for a Clogged Shower Drain

Don’t call your plumber just yet! These clever solutions for clearing a stubborn clog will have your shower draining smoothly again in no time.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain


Hopping into a hot and steamy shower only to notice that the water is pooling around your feet makes for a rough way to start the day. The problem? A clogged drain, typically caused by a backup of hair and soap scum that has been accumulating for some time. But before you call the plumber, check to see if you have the proper tools to handle the job yourself. You’d be surprised: These three easy solutions for fixing a stubborn (and nasty) clog are proof that you don’t always need a professional for this at-home fix-it job. All that’s required are the right tools (and good control of your gag reflex), and you’ll soon be able to enjoy your relaxing morning ritual once more.


How to Unclog a Shower Drain - Using Boiling Water


This trick is perhaps the easiest one in the book: Fill your teakettle (or a large saucepan) with water, and bring it to a boil. Next, pour the water directly down the drain a little bit at a time, giving the hot liquid the chance to work its way through the clog in between each pour. The temperature of the water will help break up and dissolve the gunk that is blocking your drain. Attempt this only if your plumbing consists of metal pipes; don’t use boiling water if you have PVC pipes, as it could cause joints to loosen.


How to Unclog a Shower Drain - Using Baking Soda and Vinegar


This next solution is a nod to that elementary school science fair classic—the volcano project. That same foamy chemical reaction that fueled your papier-mâché mountain doubles as a powerful home cleaner. Mix 1/3 cup of baking soda with 1/3 cup of vinegar in a heat-resistant measuring cup. As soon as it starts to fizz (which will be immediately), pour the solution down your clogged drain. The chemical reaction will help break up the hair and grime that has caused the backup in your pipe. If you can, let it sit for at least one hour. Then, turn on the bathtub faucet and run hot water down the drain to help flush the mixture through the pipes.


How to Unclog a Shower Drain - Using a Wire Hanger


For a really nasty clog, you’ll need to roll up your sleeves and snake the drain. It’s easier than you think (though every bit as disgusting as it sounds): Put on rubber gloves if you have them, then use a screwdriver to unscrew or pry off the shower drain cover. Once that’s removed, straighten out a wire coat hanger, retaining a tiny hook on the end. Feed the wire down the drain to fish out any hair, accumulated soap scum, or other debris that’s causing the clog. After you’ve pulled out all that you can, pour boiling water down the drain and replace the drain cover.