How To’s & Quick Tips - 4/67 - Bob Vila

Category: How To’s & Quick Tips


How To: Clean Upholstery

Get off the couch and give it the spruce up it calls for with this problem-solution guide.

How to Clean Upholstery

Photo: istockphoto.com

Just like the fabric in clothing, upholstery gets assaulted daily by skin oils, hair, dust, food crumbs, and spills. If your chairs and sofas are starting to look worse for the wear, save yourself hundreds of dollars and don’t call in a pro—not yet, anyway. Banishing dirt, stains, even discoloration yourself can cost mere pennies. But before you dive into this guide on how to clean upholstery, first learn what you’re dealing with by checking the label on the bottom of the piece or under a cushion to see what type of cleaner is recommended. The label should have a code: W = Water Based, S = Solvent Based, WS = Water or Solvent. X = Professional Cleaning Required. Then use the cleaning tips and techniques here (making sure to test on an inconspicuous area first). If you do a general upholstery upkeep as part of your routine home maintenance, your furniture will look great longer.

How to Clean Upholstery of Dirt

Photo: istockphoto.com

How to Clean Dirt from Upholstery

Give the piece a thorough vacuuming using the upholstery attachment. Start at the top, and work your way down, using short, left-to-right strokes. Working in the same direction is important, especially for fabrics that have a nap, like corduroy, chenille, or suede. Switch to the crevice attachment to better clean seams and folds, as well as around buttons and tufting. Or, employ a can of compressed air (just as when cleaning your computer keyboard) to dislodge dirt and dust from nooks and crannies.

For fabrics with a W or WS code, mix a few drops of liquid dish detergent in a bucket of lukewarm water. Gently brush over the entire piece with a soft bristled brush, making it lightly and evenly damp with the soap solution. Be careful not to soak any areas, as excess moisture can cause some fabrics to discolor. Follow up by wiping the entire piece with a clean, damp cloth. Allow the piece to air dry completely before sitting on it. Don’t try to speed things up with a hair dryer, as the heat could cause fabrics to shrink or pucker, but feel free to turn on fans to amp up the air circulation in the room. Clean one side of any cushions and allow to dry completely overnight before cleaning the other side.

For fabrics with an S code, use only solvent-based cleaners such as a dry cleaning solvent; water based cleaners can damage these fabrics. Dry cleaning solvent can be purchased online (type “upholstery safe dry cleaning solvent” into a search engine), or you may find it in home dry cleaning kits like DRYEL, available at a grocery store or at big box discount stores. Make sure your work area is well ventilated. Apply dry cleaning solvent to a clean towel and gently brush over generally dirty areas of upholstery. You can work solvent into heavily soiled areas with a clean, soft-bristled brush. Allow the piece to dry completely before sitting on it again.

How to Clean Upholstery Stains

Photo: istockphoto.com

How to Clean Stains from Upholstery

The quicker you attend to a spill (of wine, sauce, greasy food), the less likely it will stain, so as soon as your able, blot—don’t rub!—immediately with a clean, white cloth. To treat whatever mark remains, or go after spills that have set into stains, try a spot cleaner or dry cleaning solvent approved for your type of upholstery. If your fabric is water safe, wet and wring out a clean cloth or sponge and dip it into a mixture of water and a little liquid dish soap. Then gently blot the stain. Follow-up by blotting with a clean cloth or sponge that has been dipped in clean water, and wrung out. Repeat as necessary, and then blot the spot dry with a clean cloth or white paper towels. If the spot does not come out after two or three applications, it’s time to call a professional.

How to Clean Upholstery

Photo: istockphoto.com

How to Clean Discoloration from Upholstery

“Browning” can occur when natural fabrics get overly wet or dry too slowly. To counteract, use a neutral pH-based, fast-drying upholstery shampoo. Thoroughly vacuum the furniture first. Then, mix the cleaning product in a bucket of water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Tip: Use a hand-held egg beater or electric mixer to whip it up into a foam.) When there’s very little water left in the bottom of the bucket, the shampoo is ready to apply. Fold a clean, white, absorbent towel, dip it into the foam, and wring all of the moisture out. Wipe the entire piece of fabric in overlapping strokes, either vertically or horizontally—just make sure to stay in one direction. Apply more foam to the towel as needed. Allow the foam to sit for at least five but no more than 10 minutes.

Remove the foam with a clean towel that’s been moistened in clean water and wrung dry. Rinse and wring the towel out as needed. Dry the piece quickly by opening the windows and moving the air in the room with fans. Do not use a hair dryer or anything that would apply heat to the area. The fabric, overall, needs to dry at the same rate.

General Tips for Cleaning Upholstery

• With any of these techniques, be sure to test an inconspicuous area first (like under a cushion, or on the back side of the skirt) to make sure colors won’t bleed or fade.

• Be sure to avoid getting water or cleaning agents on the wood or metal portions of your furniture, as this could rust, corrode, or cause discoloration.

• These techniques should be used on natural or synthetic woven fabrics. Find out about cleaning leather here.

• If your fabric has an X code, call a professional to clean your upholstery. These services are generally provided in your home, a professional cleaner should be able to give you a general estimate based on the size of furniture and type of fabric that you have.


How To: Snake a Toilet

Follow this guide to unclog the commode safely and quickly so you can go on to more fun projects!

How To Snake A Toilet

Photo: istockphoto.com

Let’s face it: Dealing with a clogged toilet is about as much fun—but, unfortunately, just as necessary—as a root canal. So if you’ve tried a plunger, a hot-water flush, or even a homemade baking soda solution and things still aren’t flowing like they should, it’s probably time summon the snake (also known as a plumber’s auger). That doesn’t necessarily mean calling a pro, however. You can rent a snake specifically made for the task at hand from your local hardware store for about $10 to $15 per day (far more affordable than even the most reasonable $50-an-hour plumber’s fee). This highly effective tool features a long metal cable with a coiled hook at the tip, perfect for dredging unwanted material from your commode. Simply follow the steps here to learn how to snake a toilet and simply flush the problem away.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Rubber gloves
– Plumber’s toilet auger (“snake”)
– Toilet plunger
– Wide-mouthed bucket or container for wastewater
– Household bleach or vinegar

STEP 1
Call your favorite hardware store to find out if it rents augers suitable for toilets. Check one out for the day and familiarize yourself with its mechanics before use. The snake, housed within a thin rubber hose, has an angled handle that also acts as a crank on one end; the other end goes into the toilet bowl. (An electric auger would attach to your power drill, but manual augers are usually successful for this job and cost far less to rent.)

STEP 2
Put on your rubber gloves and place a large, empty bucket or waterproof container next to the toilet. Position the business end of the auger’s cable into the toilet bowl and aim it toward the drain in the back. Crank the handle clockwise to release and extend the cable down into the drain; keep turning the crank until it stops—you’ve reached the clog.

STEP 3
Pull back slightly on the snake. If you feel resistance, it likely means you’ve hooked the source, so turn the crank in the opposite direction to bring the unwanted material back to the surface. Remove it from the bowl and dispose of it in the bucket. Repeat as necessary to make sure you’ve freed the clog entirely. Then retract the auger by cranking the handle counter-clockwise and place the wet end in the bucket.

How To Snake A Toilet

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 4
If you’re unable to pull out the clog out entirely, attempt to break it up enough so that it will flush down. Crank the cable as far as it will go, jiggle it lightly, retract, and repeat several times. Once you’re able to move it farther and more freely than you were when you started, you’ve breached the clog. Now, remove the auger and stick the business end in the bucket.

STEP 5
To avoid the possibility of overflow when you flush, remove the tank lid and manually stop the flapper from releasing too much water into the bowl. It’s a two-handed procedure: With your less-dominant hand, flush the toilet as usual and close the flapper—the 2- or 3-inch rubber disc attached to a chain inside your tank—with your dominant hand to prevent the bowl from filling up too high. Once you’re sure the clog is gone, flush again while leaving the flapper alone.

STEP 6
To clean up, dump any waste collected in the bucket back into the toilet in small amounts and flush to make sure it all goes down without causing a new clog. Then, thoroughly clean the bucket and the auger with very hot water and bleach or vinegar before returning it to the store.

Avoiding Future Clogs

You may be able to save yourself the trouble of a repeat performance by being careful about what you put in the commode. The safest approach is to flush toilet paper only. Sanitary products, paper towels, dental floss, and hair should never be flushed. If you have particularly old or sensitive pipes, consider switching to a lighter ply brand of toilet paper to help keep things moving along.


Solved! Yes, You Can Tile Over Tile

Does your tile need an update? Learn how you save time and effort in this DIY job—so long as you follow these rules of thumb for installation.

Can You Tile Over Tile

Photo: istockphoto.com

Q: I want to re-tile my floor, but I’d rather not go through the hassle of ripping up the existing flooring first. Can you tile over tile in order to save time?

A: The short answer is, most likely, yes. If your tiles are in relatively good condition—evenly placed, without cracks, and not appearing to retain any moisture—then you can probably leave them underneath your new layer of tile when going about installing a new floor or even a backsplash.

Assess the existing tile. Before you begin tiling over tile, conduct a thorough assessment of the base layer to pinpoint any surface irregularities, which can cause foundational problems down the road. Mildew and deep discoloration in the grout often signal an absorption issue–meaning that trapped water has damaged the grout and could thus rot the new tile from below.  An absorption issue will fester and worsen when the tiles are covered up. Likewise, if the original tiles were not properly installed, the new overlaying tiles won’t lie flat or line up. If you do discover either of these issues, it’s better to start from scratch than to tile over the existing floor.

Prepare the surface for installation. Tiling over an uneven surface will give you less-than-stellar results, so level out any globs of dried grout with a sander and secure loose tiles with fresh tile adhesive before beginning the project. Then, lay out your new tiles and cut them to fit around the walls and fixtures, as necessary. Once all pieces of tile are cut to size, move them out of the way so that you can scrub down your base layer with a degreasing soap. Let the surface dry completely before you start taping off the edges of the project area with painter’s tape and laying out plastic sheets to protect surrounding surfaces.

Can You Tile Over Tile

Photo: istockphoto.com

Lay the groundwork for the new tile in stages. Generally speaking, thin-set adhesive (also known as thin-set mortar) is great for setting tiles in areas subject to moisture, like bathrooms, while mastic adhesive is best for drier spaces, like kitchens. Scoop the adhesive of choice from its bucket with a trowel and apply a thin layer to a section of tiles only a few feet wide, for starters. Don’t attempt to cover a full floor or backsplash at once; since curing times may vary, you’ll want to set each tile before the bonding agent is too dry to do its job. Score the surface adhesive with the toothed edge of your trowel by drawing straight lines along the wet surface, as these grooves aid in the drying and adhesion process.

Position the tile as you go. Set each tile atop the adhesive you’ve scored and firmly press it into place. Once these are in place, you can rotate through spreading adhesive, scoring, and laying tile until you’ve completely covered the space.

Tip: To save even more time, apply your adhesive directly to the back of your new tiles rather than prepping the area with thin-set adhesive. This method, though, should be saved for situations where the original tile is in perfect condition and you’re really only looking for a temporary fix until you can attempt a more in-depth renovation project—placement this way won’t set the tiles so securely that they last for generations without needing repair. Take a cue from the blogger at Renov8or, who chose to lay crisp white subway tile over an old layer of beige squares in the kitchen simply by applying silicone adhesive to the back of each individual tile, and placing them over the old tile with spacers in between to save space for even grout lines. While silicone isn’t a recommended adhesive for tiles that will encounter lots of water (a shower wall, for example), this simple fix could cut your project time in half on areas where heavy splashing won’t be a concern in the long run.

Finally, seal off your work. No matter what kind of adhesive you’ve used beneath the new layer of tiles, you’ll need to apply grout in the grooves between them. This step protects the entire surface from moisture creeping into the seams between each tile and leading to water damage or out-of-sight mildew growth. For the sake of speed, use premixed grout from the hardware store, and apply it quickly in a single round. Or you can choose to mix the grout yourself; just be sure to use an application tube with an opening small enough to fit the troughs you’re filling.

So, in short, you can tile over tile as long as you’re working on a fairly sound surface. The surface of the existing tile should be uncompromised by mold or mildew, completely level (including grout), and without any warping or strangely-placed tiles that might otherwise interfere with a smooth new layer. Also, keep in mind that it’s best not to lay heavy new tile over existing tile floors unless the foundation beneath both is concrete. Otherwise, the excess weight can cause structural issues. Now go forth and enjoy your new, easy-to-install tile surface!


How To: Remove Black Mold

Don't let an infestation of black mold damage your home and health. With a few natural ingredients, you can eliminate the harmful substance without the help of a professional.

How to Remove Black Mold

Photo: istockphoto.com

As a naturally occurring and pervasive substance in our world, mold exists in a variety of different forms—many of which are non-toxic and mainly affect those with allergies and asthma. Black mold, specifically, though, is a more serious offender. Exposure to the toxic variety of Stachybotrys chartarum can cause respiratory issues ranging from mild to severe. It, like most kinds of mold, grows at an alarming rate in the right conditions—namely in places with prolonged exposure to moisture and humidity, such as basements, bathrooms, under-sink cabinets, or recently flooded areas. For this reason, homeowners should take action at first sign of it, and learn how to remove black mold before it transforms from a benign player to an invasive species.

Because black mold can form in the walls before spreading to drywall or other surfaces, chances are that homeowners may smell its musty, mildew odor before seeing it. When you do start your inspection, look for its characteristic slimy texture, dark green-black (sometimes gray) color, and spotty appearance.

If someone in your home has recently experienced an unshakable increase in respiratory symptoms (sniffling, sneezing, forgetfulness, congestion, and so on) and you suspect a recent mold infestation, you may be facing a more serious mold strain. Under such conditions, hire a licensed mold inspector to examine your house and advise on the best way to mitigate it based on its pervasiveness. You should also hire a mold-removal specialist if the black mold has moved into your walls, in order to stop the problem before it spreads further. Otherwise, a mold problem confined to accessible, hard surfaces—such as bathroom walls, basement floors, or wood trim—can be tackled with the right gear and some persistence. Here’s how to remove black mold from your home.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Flashlight (optional)
– Tea tree oil
– Grapefruit seed extract
– Spray bottle
– Disposable coveralls
– Rubber gloves
– Airtight safety goggles
– Face mask or respirator
– Nylon scrubbing brush
– Old rags
– Paper towels (optional)
– Plastic garbage bag

STEP 1
First, locate the source of mold in your home. Black mold can be identified by its often-slimy texture, dark-greenish/black (sometimes gray) color, and growth that appears as spots or patches that spread over time. Common sources of black mold include corners, covered areas under sinks or cupboards, baseboards, under cardboard boxes in the basement, and anywhere else with high levels of moisture. Pay attention to your nose, and follow musty scent of black mold to locate the source. A flashlight will help you inspect nooks, crannies, and dark corners.

STEP 2
Once you’ve spotted the offending growth, whip up a mold-fighting solution. While plenty of agents can fight mold (Borax, vinegar, bleach, and ammonia, to name a few), tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract are often considered the most effective products to disinfect and deodorize the problem area. Moreover, they’re completely non-toxic. You can purchase tea tree oil online and in health stores; just ensure that its from melaleuca alternifolia (an Australian tree) and that its active ingredients include 30 percent terpinen 4-ol and no more than 10 to 15 percent cineole. Grapefruit seed extract may be slightly less effective but easier to find, also available from these sorts of retailers.

How to Remove Black Mold

Photo: istockphoto.co

For every one cup of water the spray bottle holds, add a teaspoon of either tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract. Both oils have a long shelf life, so as long as the spray bottle can be turned to an “off” position for air-tightness, the solution will last for at least a year.

STEP 3
Before removing any black mold, gear up: Don disposable coveralls, rubber gloves, airtight safety goggles, and a face mask/respirator. This protective gear will reduce the risk of health issues that may result from exposure to the substance, including respiratory infections, allergic reactions, joint inflammation, and rashes. Because a single black mold spore hitting your eye can even induce blindness, you don’t want to cut any corners.

STEP 4
Thoroughly shake the spray bottle of mold-mitigating solution, then spray the affected area so it’s well-saturated. (Continue to shake the bottle repeatedly during this process in order to ensure the solution stays well mixed.) Allow the liquid to sit on the mold for 5 to 10 minutes so the antibacterial properties have time to work through the grime. Never scrape dried mold, or else the toxic spores could spread into air and cause negative health effects.

STEP 5
Take a nylon bristle brush and scrub the surface area to lift and unsettle the dampened mold. Move the brush in careful strong strokes so you aren’t splashing the mold on the surrounding areas—even dead mold spores can be an allergenic health issue. After scrubbing thoroughly with the brush, wipe the area clean with old rags or paper towels.

STEP 6
If the mold proves difficult to remove, repeat Steps 4 and 5. A light stain may remain after you’re through, but as long as you’ve cleaned the surface thoroughly, the mold should be properly killed.

STEP 7
Do not rinse the area with water, since the tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extracts are mold-fighting agents that help prevent mold’s return. Instead, shake the bottle of solution, give the mold-infested area a final light spray, and then allow it to air-dry.

STEP 8
Dispose of the coveralls and paper towel in a plastic bag, which you should tightly seal before taking out with the trash. Wash soiled rags and the nylon scrubber in hot water, or throw them away with the coveralls and paper towel as an extra precaution.

Remember, mold is naturally occurring. It may return. To tackle a few random spots of a fresh resurgence, it’s not necessary to don coveralls. Instead, grab a mask, goggles, gloves, and the leftover mold-killing solution, then proceed from Step 3 onward. Armed with this information on how to remove black mold, you’ll stay on top of the household menace in the future.

 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from BobVila.com
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.


How To: Pour Concrete

Want professional results for your patio or driveway project? Take this crash course!

How to Pour Concrete

Photo: istockphoto.com

Pouring concrete yourself may save you money and build your skills, but without proper equipment and attention to detail, the results can look far from professional. Concrete—generally a combo of cement, sand, gravel, and water—is tricky to mix and manipulate. Moreover, it’s fairly quick drying constitution tends to make any mess-ups permanent. Fortunately, whether you plan to make patio slabs or driveways, working in small areas divided by concrete forms following this guide on how to pour concrete makes this daunting material more manageable.

Before you begin, expect to use just more than seven bags of concrete for every cubic-meter of concrete in your project. And keep in mind that while concrete can be poured nearly year-round, except in freezing conditions, you’d be wise to put off doing it in very hot weather. At temps above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, concrete can “flash set,” and while preparing the mix at a higher water-to-mix ratio can prevent this, it can also weaken the concrete, making it more likely to crack or a flake over time. For an ideal pour, work in temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit or in early morning hours to outsmart summertime heat.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Measuring tape
– Square-point shovel
– Level
– Gravel for subbase
– Hand tamper
– 1×4 boards
– Nails
– Hammer
– Concrete mix
– Filtered water (optional)
– Long 1×4 or other board to use as a screed
– Groover
– Wood float
– Magnesium float
– Finishing broom
– Plastic mixing tub, concrete mixer, or wheelbarrow
– Gallon measuring pail
– Work gloves
– Safety glasses
– Concrete sealer

STEP 1
Measure and prepare the area where you plan to pour concrete. If this involves digging up earth to prepare a subbase, first ensure there are no gas lines or buried cables below the surface. Contact power, gas, or city authorities if your home’s blueprints don’t show where buried lines and cables are located. Remove all sticks, twigs, odd-sized stones, and other obstructions that could cause air pockets or an uneven concrete surface. Then use a 48- to 72-inch-long level to ensure the ground is perfectly flat. If not, do some grading by moving soil around with the shovel and test with the level again.

STEP 2
Compact the subgrade—the earth or soil that will lie beneath a subbase layer of gravel—by compressing with a hand tamper. This flat-bottomed plate with a broom-length upright handle allows you to apply weight by pressing down or standing atop it. Work the hand tamper evenly over the entire area to create a firm subgrade, which will prevent the concrete from cracking down the line.

STEP 3
Put a 4- to 8-inch layer of subbase gravel or stones over the compacted subgrade. Open-grade stones are cheaper and allow more water drainage, but finer-grade stone or gravel compacts better and can sometimes ensure a more stable end product. Use the hand tamper to compact the gravel over the subbase.

How to Pout Concrete

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 4
Build a form around the perimeter of the subbase out of 1×4 boards and nails, into which you’ll directly pour concrete mix. Use the level to ensure the form is of even height, which will help ensure level concrete in the finishing stages. If you’ll be using this concrete project for heavy load-bearing, like a driveway or a base for a work shed, it might be wise to use rebar or wire mesh to help reinforce it.

STEP 5
Don your goggles and gloves to prepare for mixing the concrete. You can rent a concrete mixer for about $85 a day, but a wheelbarrow, shovel, and elbow grease will suffice. If you have hard water in your region, mix with filtered water to avoid the whitish look of efflorescence blooming on the concrete. (For detailed info on mixing concrete, including how much you’ll need and proper consistency, go here.) Keep a five-gallon bucket of water or garden hose nearby to use for cleaning tools and the mixing vessel in order to prevent concrete from setting.

STEP 6
Tilt your wheelbarrow of mixed concrete into the form to pour the contents. If you’ve enlisted friends to help, get all hands on deck and scrape the concrete into the form as quickly as possible. Be sure to pour enough concrete to fill up to the top of the form boards, which will make finishing the concrete easier. Rinse the wheelbarrow as soon as it’s empty to keep residue from hardening.

STEP 7
Quickly “screed” the poured concrete before it begins to set with a clean, long plank of wood, like a 1×4 or 2×4. Ideally, rest the narrow side of the screed board over the top of the form boards on either side of the perimeter, with the screed board in contact with the concrete surface. Now jig it back and forth slightly as you hand-drag it from one end of the concrete project to the other to smooth and level out the concrete. Repeat this step as needed till you achieve a smooth surface.

STEP 8
For a truly professional job, use both a wood or bull float and magnesium float to further smooth the concrete. First, apply the larger flat-bottomed wood or bull float to the concrete. When pushing the wood float away from you, keep the far side slightly elevated, and when bringing the float back toward you, the side facing you should be slightly elevated—this will help avoid drag marks. Use the magnesium hand float next, with sweeping semi-circular motions for the final finish.

STEP 9
Groove the concrete every four to six feet in width. This will let it expand and contract with temperature changes, preventing surface cracks. “Groovers” can be long-handled tools for working while standing and reaching, or hand tools for crouching close-up work. Both work the same way, cutting a groove through the depth of the concrete. A long-handled groover will make it easier to cross a wider project with a straighter line.

STEP 10
For an edge against slippage in wet conditions, “brush” the concrete by dragging a broom over the surface. Allow concrete to set just enough so that brushing won’t cause clumps. (How long to wait will depend on the temperature and humidity you’re working in.) If clumping occurs, smooth the section again with the magnesium float and give it a little more time. Once the concrete’s no longer clumping on the broom, do light dragging patterns across the entire area. Be careful that the brushed pattern’s grooves aren’t so deep that water can pool in them, as this can cause surface flaking over time. Once the whole surface is grooved, you’ll have created safe non-slip traction.

STEP 11
Now seal the concrete with a concrete sealer recommended by your local home center. Once you’ve applied the sealant, take measures to protect the concrete by roping it off, so it can safely cure for the industry-recommended 28 days. Feel free to walk on concrete after three days, as that won’t create scuff marks or gouges, but it’s recommended not to drive or park on concrete for at least seven days. For heavy equipment (like a concrete truck, for example), it’s best to wait the full 28 days.

To keep concrete looking great for decades, periodically wash it down with soapy water and rinse. Re-sealing every five years will further protect it.

 

How to Pour Concrete

Photo: istockphoto.com

Easy DIYs for Your Best-Ever Backyard

All of the Outdoor Design and DIY Tips from BobVila.com
With fair weather having arrived finally, it’s time to turn your home improvement efforts to the backyard and your deck, porch, or patio—the parts of the home built specifically to enjoy the extra hours of sunlight. Guided by these practical pointers and inspiring ideas, you can introduce beauty, comfort, and utility to your backyard and outdoor living areas, making them as inviting and enjoyable as your home interiors.


How To: Mix Grout

To ensure a great-looking, long-lasting tile job, get this all-important mortar blended just right.

How to Mix Grout

Photo: istockphoto.com

Grout—the putty-like filler between tiles that keeps them sealed, solid, and set in place—tends to be an afterthought. But homeowners have reason to prioritize this DIY job: When this filler is not clean, smooth, and uniform, it detracts from the overall look of your finished tile project. Fortunately, the key to good grout lines is simply knowing how to mix grout correctly, so that it spreads on with ease and produces even lines between tiles for a perfect finishing touch.

Before mixing grout, you’ve got some decisions to make in the selection and prep processes.

• First, choose between sanded or un-sanded grout. If the joints between the tiles are under ⅛”-thick, un-sanded grout is will be easier to use and give better adhesion in those narrow spaces. For thicker joints of ⅛- to ½”-thick, go with sanded grout for best bonding and less shrinkage.

• Some tiling pros favor grout with a polymer additive, claiming it helps grout dry to an even harder final product and resist staining. For bathrooms, consider grout that includes a fungicide to help resist mold growth.

• A bonus tip from the pros: Avoid mixing grout with well water or hard water, minerals from which can cause efflorescence, an unattractive white residue, as moisture seeps into the grout. If you’ve got a well or hard water in your area, use distilled to mixing.

• Finally, resist the temptation to use a corded drill with a paddle attachment to mix grout. Automated mixing can introduce too many air bubbles, weakening the grout and potentially causing discoloration.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– 2-gallon bucket
– Grout-mixing knife or small trowel
– Grout mix
– Water (ideally distilled or soft water)
– Drywall sponge or a 6”-plus kitchen sponge

STEP 1
Pour about a quarter or half of the grouting powder into the bucket—you’ll want extra available in case you get the water-to-powder ratio wrong in the mixing phase. Refer to the manufacturer’s mixing directions for how much water to add, using a fraction less water than recommended; you can always add more later. Look at preparing grout as similar to making cake batter, in that recipe amounts can change depending on humidity.

How to Mix Grout

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 2
Turn the bucket onto about a 45-degree angle so it’s easier to see the contents and mix thoroughly. Add water (remember, less is more—cautiously up the water content as needed) and stir with the grout-mixing knife or small trowel. Continue mixing until all the powder is blended, making sure to remove all lumps.

STEP 3
Check the grout’s consistency. Ideally, it should resemble creamy peanut butter—not that oily all-natural peanut butter, but the super-emulsified commercial kind a knife can stand up in. Some tiling pros describe the perfect consistency as being akin to soft bread dough, where you can grab a handful and it maintains its shape, and, if squeezed slightly, shouldn’t leak water.

If grout is too slack or liquid-y, or has a cake icing consistency, add some more powder and mix well. Left too thin, it’ll shrink too much after it’s applied and crack. Good grout will need a little elbow grease to push into the tiles.

If grout is too dry and clumpy, moisten the sponge with water and squeeze just a dribble of water into the grout mix. Do this in gradual additions until achieving the right peanut-butter texture.

STEP 4
Allow the grout to “slake,” the term for letting it rest for five to 10 minutes so that the chemicals can bond. During slaking, moisture fully permeates all the powder; without proper slaking, grout will be weaker and more prone to cracking and chipping. Don’t worry—and don’t add water—if the grout seems a bit thicker after a maximum of 10 minutes.

STEP 5
Mix your batch of grout thoroughly one more time, and get busy applying it to complete your DIY tile job.


How To: Catch a Mouse

Prevent a single furry invader from turning into a full-on infestation with six easy steps.

How to Catch a Mouse

Photo: istockphoto.com

No horror movie can match the terror of a mouse skitter across the living room floor at night—because where there’s one, there’s likely many, many more. (A single female mouse can give birth up to 10 times a year with six offspring in each litter!) If the pitter-patter of feet alone does not creep you out, the real threat to your health and home should: These wall-dwellers are known to chew through electrical wiring and leave behind droppings and urine that spread diseases. So, if you find evidence that suggests this problem is more than just “a mouse or two”—skittering sounds coming from the walls, ceilings, or room’s corners at night; gnawed corners on cardboard boxes in the pantry; ¼-inch brown pellets on the kitchen floor or counter—call pest control fast. Spotting a mouse before any of these telltale signs of infestation materialize, however, means that you can likely head off the problem yourself with this easy (and humane) guide on how to catch a mouse.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Humane mouse traps (cage-style)
– Peanut butter
– Nuts (optional)
– Cheese (optional)
– Rubber gloves
– Heavy-duty plastic bags
– Outdoor broom
– Dustpan
– Bleach
– Disinfectant spray
– Paper towels

How to Catch a Mouse in a No-Kill Trap

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STEP 1
Purchase humane mouse traps online or from your local home improvement center. Of the traps marketed as “no-kill,” cage-style traps tend to be more humane than plastic cases, since the latter can have insufficient air. (If you’re limited to plastic case traps, though, you may consider drilling additional airholes into them using an electric drill with a sharp bit.) Start with at least three for the kitchen, but know this: The more you buy, the greater your odds will be at catching. Any other room you may have seen mice or evidence thereof may also require a few traps.

STEP 2
Set up your specific model of trap according to the packaging’s instructions. To bait the mice, place a teaspoon of peanut butter in the middle of each trap and press a nut or crumb of cheese into it. The sticky peanut butter ensures that, even if the mouse bumps the trap before entering, the bait of choice remains firmly rooted in the center rather than jostled from its initial position, forcing the mouse to fully enter the trap in order to access the snack.

STEP 3
Place your trap (or traps) anywhere you’ve seen mice scurry, nearest the baseboards, as rodents are more likely to run along the perimeter of a room.

If you have only heard—but not seen—your furry house guests, you can situate traps in three common gathering places: at the back of floor-level cupboards, behind the fridge or stove, and beneath furniture. Any kitchen cabinet door that sits slightly ajar is inviting, making the pantry a favorite spot to seek food (and mice won’t be afraid to gnaw through cardboard boxes to get to oats and other dried goods). They love fridges and stoves for the same reasons: the bits of food and grease that can gather beneath and around them. Furniture, on the other hand, will offer enough of a false sense of safety and shelter that they investigate bait.

While laying your traps, keep an eye out for any holes or access points; mice can squeeze into any hole the size of a ball-point pen or dime. Position a trap near any you see and, once you catch a mouse, seal those holes pronto with steel wool.

STEP 4
Donning rubber gloves, check your traps every morning and again in the evening. It’s imperative you check twice daily, so you can release the mouse as soon as possible.

STEP 5
If your traps remain empty, don’t despair. Give it up to three days before relocating it. You may need to test out a few different spots before your traps prove successful.

If you catch a mouse, though, grab a heavy-duty plastic bag and then—with gloves on—carefully lift the trap and bag it for transport. Take it to a forest or park at least 500 feet from your home (a distance they likely won’t navigate back) and release the critter.

STEP 6
Even after the mouse is out of the house, retrace your steps every couple of days. Look for droppings anywhere you found them before, as well as the other hangouts: cupboards, along baseboards, under the kitchen table, behind furniture, and so on. If a couple of weeks pass with no further evidence of critter presence, then you have successfully put the kibosh on an infestation!

 

How to Catch a Mouse and Clean Up The Mess

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Cleaning Up After Mice

After dealing with a mouse infestation of any size, clean the house immediately and thoroughly. Remember: Mouse droppings spread disease, and older, dried-out droppings can crumble and become airborne if disturbed, which means you can inhale them and get sick.

Start with the proper gear. Always wear rubber gloves and even consider a face mask to reduce exposure. It’s best to work with a broom and dustpan designated for garage or outdoor use, so you’re not potentially spreading rodent bacteria by sweeping in the house. (If using a primarily indoor broom, keep your protective gear on after cleanup while you soak the broom in a bucket of water with a cup of bleach per gallon for a few minutes to disinfect it; disinfect the dustpan with the same solution before reusing either of them.)

Scrub all surfaces. First sweep any visible droppings, dispose of them in a trash bag, and seal it. Then wipe all surfaces—countertops, shelving, and floors—in food-focused rooms like pantries, kitchens, and storerooms using disinfectant spray and floor cleaner. Consider adding some bleach to your floor cleaner for its antibacterial qualities. As mice are more likely to climb exterior walls than interior ones, it may not be necessary to wash them (except for peace of mind).

Don’t cut any corners. Pull out boxes, furniture, dishes, and whatever else may be obstructing your inspection and proceed with a flashlight. Kitchen cupboards are notorious for droppings in the corners, so shine a light on in there to be sure you’re not missing anything.

 

How to Catch a Mouse - Protecting Your Food from Future Pests

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Avoiding Rodent Recurrence

If you don’t know where mice are getting in, it can be a daunting task to prevent these agile critters—which can climb exterior walls and walk on a space no wider than a wire—from invading. With proper diligence and cleaning, there’s no reason you should ever have another pesky rodent in your home again. Start with the following measures:

• Install a draft guard or door sweep to close the gap wherever exterior doors aren’t flush with the ground.

• If there are gaps around plumbing fixtures indoors or out, consider stuffing the holes with steel wool so they’re impassable for mice.

Transfer all dried goods from its original cardboard box or plastic packaging to cans, jars, plastic containers, or ceramic pots—anything with a tight-fitting lid. Even pet kibble and wild bird seed should be stored airtight so that rodents can’t smell them.


How To: Put Out a Grease Fire

These kitchen conflagrations are serious, and taking the wrong action can make them worse! Learn the right moves here.

How to Put Out a Grease Fire

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Not to scare you into ordering takeout more often, but more home fires are caused by cooking mishaps than anything else—and these cooking fires lead to more injuries than any other type of residential fires, according to the most recent United States Fire Administration data. Especially dangerous are grease fires, responsible for one out of every five at-home fire deaths. Knowing what causes this particular flame to form and how to put out a grease fire quickly could actually save your life.

More than 60 percent of grease fires occur on the stovetop, when fat or oil hits boiling state, then starts to smoke—and can predictably catch fire soon after. So the first and most important rule to preventing grease fires is to never leave a pan unattended: Simply stepping to the pantry while you’ve got a slicked-up pan on the heat could lead to big trouble. The smoking point ranges from 375 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the fat or oil in question, but the first sign of smoke indicates the danger zone: Turn off the heat, move the pan to a cool burner, and place a metal lid on it to stop a fire from forming.

If a grease fire does start, never, ever douse it with water or any other kind of liquid in an attempt to extinguish it. Liquid vaporizes as it hits fire, instantly creating steam explosions in all directions and potentially engulfing a kitchen in flames. So cook with care, and keep the following information in mind—and supplies on hand—so you can stay cool should a grease fire ever ignite.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Baking soda
– Table salt
– Pan or pot lid
– Cookie sheets
– Fire extinguisher (class K)
– Telephone

STEP 1
For a grease fire contained on the cooktop, turn off the stove immediately if you can safely reach it. Do not attempt to move the pan. Movement can cause the fire to get stronger and grow faster. If the fire has spread beyond the cooktop to anything nearby—curtains, counter, cupboard, wall—do not attempt to get near the stove. It takes less than five minutes for an entire room to become engulfed in flames, so grab your phone and leave the area, closing the door to contain the fire. Get out of the house and call 911.

If the fire is in the oven or microwave, do not open the door—that would cause oxygen to rush in and create a flame surge. Instead, turn off the appliance immediately and move to Step 5, calling 911.

STEP 2
If a small fire is contained within a pan, throw as much baking soda or salt as you have on hand directly on top of the fire. Do not throw flour, biscuit mix, or baking powder onto the flames, as all these substances are combustible; only salt and baking soda are safe for extinguishing a fire.

Do not throw salt or baking soda onto the flames from the side, which could cause the fire to leap out the back of the pan and catch elsewhere. Do not swat the fire with towels or an apron, which could also cause it to spread.

How to Put Out a Grease Fire

Photo: istockphoto.com

If salt or baking soda fail to quell the flames and you own a class K fire extinguisher, continue to Step 3; homeowners without a class K extinguisher should skip to Step 4. If the fire has been fully put out by salt or soda—no more flames or smoke visible—air out the room and proceed to cleanup.

STEP 3
Only a class K fire extinguisher can put out grease fires; other types contain water or other agents that could worsen the fire. The class K extinguisher will contaminate your kitchen and make for a huge mess, but if it’s a choice between a tough cleanup job and your house burning down, go for it! To use the fire extinguisher, remember P.A.S.S.: Pull the pin, aim the nozzle, squeeze the lever, and sweep the flames. Go here for more in-depth instruction.

STEP 4
If smoke or visible flames continue to come from the pan, cover it with a metal lid or cookie sheet to deprive the fire of oxygen. Never put a glass or ceramic lid, bowl, or plate over a grease fire; these could explode and become shrapnel, injuring you in the process. Should you need to adjust the lid or sheet, use metal tongs or a spatula—not cloth mitts or a kitchen towel, which could ignite. Once there’s no evidence of flames or smoke, move on to Step 6.

STEP 5
If you’ve covered the fire and it’s still actively smoking, leave the area, close the door, and go outside. Call 911 and report a kitchen grease fire. You’ll be asked what the flames are doing and what you’ve done so far, as the fire department is dispatched. The dispatcher, trained to confront fires of all kinds, may instruct you to take other fire-mitigating steps, so stay on the phone and follow the course of action. The dispatcher may ultimately cancel the response call if the situation is deemed safe.

Once you know the fire is out (911 dispatch will help you ascertain this safely, but a lack of new smoke is a good indicator), air out the kitchen by opening windows and doors. When the kitchen is smoke-free, breathe a sigh of relief. You’ll have a long day of cleanup ahead, but you saved your home, and yourself!

Easy Ways to Avoid a Grease Fire Altogether
• Never leave the stove unattended for any reason when cooking with grease. Smoke to fire can happen in less than 30 seconds if heat is high enough

• Keep baking soda and salt stored near the stove, but not so close to the cooktop that would prevent you from accessing them in a fire.

• Never store your cookie sheets in the bottom of your stove, so you’ll always be able to access them in case of a stove-top fire.

• Cook with a thermometer clipped into the skillet you’re deep-frying in to monitor the temperature. This will help you stay ahead of the smoking point, which all too quickly can become the flash point

• Get into the practice of always leaving your pot’s lid on the counter even when you don’t need it, or having a cookie sheet nearby, in case you must cover pans to prevent a fire from spreading.

How to Put Out a Kitchen Fire

Photo: istockphoto.com


How To: Cut Glass Tile

Glass tiles are an attractive option for backsplashes and bathrooms, but they can be easily damaged during installation. Here, review the right techniques for cutting glass tile for a project of any scale without shattering this beautiful, durable material.

SHARES
How to Cut Glass Tile

Photo: istockphoto.com

Glass tiles are still enjoying their day in the sun as homeowners continue to incorporate these trendy tiles into their home renovation projects. With their easy-to-clean, glossy surface, durability, and versatility, glass tiles provide an attractive option for backsplashes, shower walls, and bathroom accents. What’s more, glass tiles have a clear or jewel-toned hue that radiates light, producing a shimmering effect you won’t find in ceramic tiles.

Installing glass tiles is a DIY-friendly project that requires little in the way of grunt work. That said, however, cutting the tiles to fit in corners or around outlets can be tricky, because the glass surface tends to shatter easily. The best tools to use for cutting glass tile depend on the size of the project and the type of tile you’re installing. To cover all possible scenarios, we detail below how to cut glass tile using four different tools: a wet saw, a manual scoring wheel, a bar cutter, and wheeled mosaic nippers.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
– Wet saw
– Washable marker
– Rubber gloves
– Damp rag
– Glass scouring wheel
– Straightedge
– Grozing pliers or running pliers
– Rubbing stone
– Manual bar tile cutter
– Wheeled mosaic nippers
– Protective eyewear

Preparing to Cut Glass Tile

For best results, create a dry layout of your tile pattern before installation. This will allow you to adjust and finalize the placement of tiles before permanently attaching them to the wall. Position cut tiles in areas where the sliced edges will be least apparent, such as along the top portion of a backsplash where the tile touches the underside of the cabinets.

How to Cut Glass Tile

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cutting Glass Tile with a Wet Saw

A wet saw is especially helpful if you’re tiling a large area that requires many straight cuts, such as a shower. Using a wet saw is a time-effective method for achieving clean edges while reducing the risk of damaging the glass tiles. The saw releases a steady stream of water as the blade cuts through the tile, which decreases friction and cools the cut edge, resulting in a smoother cut with minimal breakage. These powerful saws range in price from around $100 for an inexpensive model to more than $1,000 for a high-end contractor-grade tool. If you don’t want to shell out big bucks for a saw you’ll use only once or twice, you can inquire at a construction tool rental store, or even your local big-box hardware store, about renting one. A quality wet saw that costs $500 to buy can often be rented for around $50 per day.

STEP 1
Measure the tile to be cut, and use a washable marker to draw a cutting guideline on its surface. Later on, after you’re done cutting, you should be able to easily wipe away any remaining marker line with a clean, damp rag.

STEP 2
Pull on rubber gloves (leather or fabric gloves will quickly become saturated with water) and then turn on the wet saw. Let it run for around 15 seconds, allowing the water to flow freely over the saw blade.

STEP 3
Align the glass tile with the cutting guide on the wet saw, and carefully cut along the guideline you drew. Feed the tile through the saw slowly, moving away from you with light but steady pressure until you’ve cut through. Power down the saw after the cuts have been made, and wipe away remaining traces of marker with a damp cloth.

 

How to Cut Glass Tile

Photo: istockphoto.com

Manually Score and Cut Glass Tiles

Before the invention of tile saws, artisans manually scored and cut thick glass to create stained-glass windows and glass mosaics. Cutting glass tiles manually takes longer than using a wet saw and is more likely to result in uneven breaks, yet professional tile setters still use this method today, particularly when cutting small tiles. Manual glass scoring wheels are inexpensive, with prices starting at around $15. You’ll also need a pair of grozing pliers or running pliers, which are glass-specific tools you can buy for under $20. Once you have the appropriate tools, practice scoring and snapping a few sample glass tiles before diving into the project to make sure you understand how much pressure you’ll need to use.

STEP 1
Place the glass tile on a flat surface, face up, and draw your cut line. Then, take a straightedge and align it over your cut line. Position the scoring wheel at the far end of the tile, then pull it toward you along the straightedge to ensure an even cut. Press firmly enough that you hear a distinct crackling sound as the scoring wheel rolls along the glass. The scoring wheel will create a weak line on the surface of the glass.

STEP 2
With the tile still facing upward, place grozing pliers on the section of glass you want to break off (positioned parallel to the scored cut) and snap downward. Alternatively, you can break the tile along the scored line with running pliers, which feature a slightly curved head that gently compresses the tile at the scored line. To use running pliers, place the center of the pliers directly on one end of the scored line, with the jaws of the pliers positioned perpendicular to the line, and press down. The movement will apply even pressure to the glass on both sides of the scored line, allowing the glass to split along the length of the line for a clean cut.

STEP 3
Smooth the cut edge of the glass tile, if necessary, with a rubbing stone before installing. A rubbing stone, which retails for around $7, is similar to a knife-sharpening stone, but with slightly larger grit for polishing away sharp edges of glass.

How to Cut Glass Tile

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Cutting Glass Tile with a Bar Cutter

Using a bar cutter to cut glass tiles is more efficient than using a scoring wheel and pliers, because the machine can both score and cut the tile. (Some bar cutters only score the tile, while others include a pressure foot that snaps the tile along the scored line.) Inexpensive bar cutters start around $25 and go up from there according to weight and quality. More expensive models often come with measurement tools for cutting precise angles.

STEP 1
Measure the glass tile and mark the desired cut lines, then position the tile on the cutting pad of the bar cutter. Carefully align the marked line with the cutting guide on the bar cutter.

STEP 2
Score the glass tile by pulling the scoring handle (or knob) along the tile away from you.

STEP 3
If your tool is equipped with a pressure foot, use it to snap the tile along the scored line. Otherwise, you can manually snap the tile with running pliers or grozing pliers, as described above.

STEP 4
If necessary, use a rubbing stone to remove any shards, and wipe away the marker with a damp cloth.

 

How to Cut Tile

Photo: istockphoto.com

Nipping Glass Tiles with Wheeled Mosaic Nippers

Mosaic nippers are most often used to cut small, irregularly shaped pieces of glass tile to be used in artistic designs. While with any of the methods outlined here it’s helpful to practice on a few spare tiles before leaping ahead, practice is particularly important here. Nipping is not as precise as scoring or cutting with a wet saw. Wheeled nippers are similar to regular pliers, but instead of flat heads, this $15 tool features sharp upper and lower carbide wheels that cut through the glass.

STEP 1
Draw guidelines in marker on your glass tile.

STEP 2
Wear protective eyewear and don’t nip tiles while other people are nearby, as these cuts will send nipped glass shooting across the room. Hold the nippers in your hand (the same way you would hold ordinary pliers), keeping them close to your work surface, and position the edge of the wheels along the line you wish to cut.

STEP 3
Squeeze the nipper’s handles forcefully to cut through the tile.


How to Cut Glass Tile

Photo: istockphoto.com

Cutting Curves in Glass Tile

If you’re laying glass tile around a pipe or other curved object, straight lines just won’t do. You can, however, achieve a smooth curve by using a scoring tool, wet saw, grozing pliers, and a rubbing stone in combination, and blending some of the methods detailed above.

STEP 1
Draw the curved line on the glass tile in washable marker, then carefully pull the handheld glass scoring tool toward you along the marked guideline. Since you’ll likely be doing this freehand, without the equivalent of a straightedge to guide the tool, work slowly and precisely.

STEP 2
With a wet saw, make multiple straight cuts (approximately 3/8 inch apart), starting from the edge of the portion of the tile that you’re planning to discard, to the scored line, working perpendicular to the scored line. These cuts will result in narrow spokes of glass. As you near the edges of your curve, your straight cuts will shorten.

STEP 3
Snap off the skinny rows of glass one at a time using grozing pliers until you’re left with just the curved glass tile.

STEP 4
Smooth and polish the cut with a rubbing stone. Once you’ve wiped away the glass shavings and marker with a damp cloth, the tile is ready to be installed on your sleek new surface.


Bob Vila Radio: Melt Driveway Ice the DIY Way

Sometimes the snow and ice come faster than we can prepare for. If that's the case, don't worry! You already have the supplies for homemade ice melt.

Winter storms sometimes have a way of sneaking up on us. If that happens, and you get another surprise—no ice melt on hand!—don’t despair. Chances are you already have the makings of homemade ice melt on the shelves of your pantry or garage.

Homemade Ice Melt

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Listen to BOB VILA ON MAKING HOMEMADE ICE MELT or read below:

Although rock salt works better than table salt for melting ice, the stuff you add to your soup can help out. Either type of salt has to permeate the ice, so it does the best job if you pour hot water over patches of ice before spreading the salt.

A common ingredient in commercial fertilizers—ammonium sulfate—also helps in a pinch. It works by effectively lowering the temperature at which ice melts. Careful, though: You’ll want to go easy on use of fertilizer in areas that might drain into municipal sewers and end up in waterways.

Rubbing alcohol is another alternative. You can either pour it on straight or mix it with water in a spray bottle.

Regardless of which method you use, it’s best to include some cupfuls of sand or kitty litter to help with traction.

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!