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10 Easy Fixes for Annoying Bath Problems

Good news! Stubborn mildew, singing faucets, and other common bathroom problems can be simple fixes. Read on for DIY details.

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    • Problem: Slow Drain

      Solution: For sinks, start by simply flushing it with hot water, says Paul Abrams of Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Drain Service. Close the drain, fill the sink with hot (or even boiling) water, then carefully open the drain. The weight and heat of a sink full of hot water will sometimes dislodge the offending debris. You may have to repeat this a few times to see a difference.

      Most tub and shower clogs are caused by hair. A simple fix is to remove the drain cover, straighten a wire coat hanger, then bend one end into a small hook. Push the hook down the drain and into the U-shape trap a few inches down. Then twist it around, and carefully pull it back. Chances are good you will have hooked the sizable hairball that was causing your slow drain.

    • Problem: Singing Faucet

      Solution: Usually, this is a matter of a loose or worn washer, or other valve component, says Ron Hazelton, home improvement expert at RonHazelton.com. When water flows through the valve, the loose part vibrates, producing a squealing, humming, or "singing" sound. To silence it, disassemble the faucet by turning off its water supply -- usually via a shut-off valve below the sink -- then removing the faucet handle or handles, usually as simple as loosening a screw. (If it's concealed beneath a decorative cap, pry the cap off with the tip of a knife.) Be sure to take photos of the faucet before and during disassembly to make reassembly a breeze. You'll see a large nut, which is part of the valve body. Loosen the nut by turning it with a wrench, then carefully lift it out. Take the valve to your local hardware store, plumbing supply company, or home improvement center, and purchase any recommended replacements. Reassemble.

    • Problem: Scaly Faucet

      Solution: Believe it or not, plain old white vinegar* can slay those scaly water deposits. Just wipe on, rinse, then dry. If this doesn’t do the trick, soak some paper towels in vinegar, then wrap them around your faucet. Leave them there overnight. Remove in the morning, then wash the faucet with regular soap and water, attacking any stubborn spots by scrubbing on a little baking soda with an old toothbrush. Rinse, then dry thoroughly. Speaking of drying thoroughly, did you know that’s the best way to keep scales from developing again? Keep a microfiber cloth handy for regular drying between uses.

      *Take care, as vinegar can etch natural stone.

    • Problem: Leaky Showerhead

      Solution: Usually this is just a matter of excessive mineral buildup, or a worn-out rubber gasket where the showerhead meets the pipe, says Jeff Wilson of HGTV. To pinpoint the problem, remove the showerhead with a pair of pliers or a wrench, taking care not to bend the pipe it’s attached to. (To protect the finish, wrap metal pieces with a bit of rag, so they don’t come in direct contact with your tools.) If the gasket looks worn, bring it in to your local hardware or home store to find the correct replacement. Clean the showerhead by soaking it in vinegar overnight. In the morning, poke a toothpick into the showerhead’s holes and scrub it. Reinstall. Of course, you can always skip both the cleaning and gasket-replacement steps and just install a brand-new showerhead instead.

    • Problem: Grubby Grout

      Solution: Make your grout white again with a solution of 2 parts baking soda to 1 part borax, combined with enough warm water to form a thick paste. Rub this on your grout, work in with a soft brush or an old toothbrush, then let it sit for about twenty minutes. Rinse.

    • Problem: Running Toilet

      Solution: Carefully take the tank cover off. Is your water level too high? It should be approximately one inch below the top of the overflow pipe, that tall, open-top tube. To change it, adjust the float -- the ball at the end of the metal rod -- by turning the adjusting screw where the rod meets the toilet valve. If that doesn't fix the problem, flush the toilet, and watch what happens. If the flapper chain gets stuck under the flapper -- the piece of rubber that's supposed to cover the valve opening at the bottom of the tank -- tighten the chain by connecting it to a different hole along the flush-handle lever. If not, there's a good bet the flapper is too worn to securely cover the valve. To replace it, turn the toilet's water valve off, and flush the toilet to drain the tank. Then, remove the flapper chain from the flush-handle lever, and remove the flapper from the tank. Bring it to your hardware or home store to make sure you get the exact same flapper as a replacement. Reassemble.

    • Problem: Leaky Faucet

      Solution: If the leak is loud and keeping you up, try this quick, temporary fix from home improvement expert Ron Hazelton: Tie a piece of string as close to the source of the drip as possible, and let the rest of the string to fall into the sink, with the end touching the bowl. Your drip will wick slowly, and trickle quietly down the string.

       

      To tackle the drip once and for all, start by turning off the faucet's water supply, usually via a shut-off valve below the sink, Hazelton says. Next, remove the faucet handle or handles, usually as simple as loosening a screw. (It may be concealed beneath a decorative cap, which you can pry off with the tip of a knife.) Be sure to take photos of the faucet before and during disassembly to make reassembly a breeze. You should now see a large nut, which is part of the valve body. Loosen the nut by turning it with a wrench, then carefully lift it out. Take the valve to your local hardware store, plumbing supply company, or home improvement center, and get any recommended replacements. Reassemble.

    • Problem: Clogged Drain

      Solution: Your first order of business, according to Roto-Rooter’s Abrams, is a sink plunger. (It looks like a toilet plunger but with a flat bottom.) Make sure there’s enough water in the sink or tub to surround the plunger base, and plug up the overflow -- that little hole toward the top edge of some sinks and tubs -- with a rag to ensure a good seal. Plunge away. If this doesn’t work, try a zip-it tool or mini-drain snake to manually clear the clog.

       

      If you’re still having a problem, try this home remedy: Pour ½ c baking soda down the drain, followed by ½ c white vinegar. Cover the drain if you can -- a pot lid or upside-down plate will work -- and let the mixture do its thing for about 5 minutes. Next, carefully pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain.

       

      Use old-fashioned lye-based drain cleaner only as a last resort, Abrams says. It can harm some pipes and burn eyes and skin -- though it likely will dissolve hair, grease, soap scum, and other common problem materials that clog drains.

    • Problem: Weak Water Pressure in the Shower

      Solution: If the weak pressure's unique to the shower, this is probably a simple case of hard-water buildup in your showerhead. Fix it by removing the showerhead with a pair of pliers or a wrench. "Firmly hold the pipe with one hand, or another wrench, to make sure you don't bend it while you're removing the showerhead," says Jeff Wilson, HGTV host and author of The Greened House Effect. To protect the finish, Wilson also recommends wrapping metal pieces with a bit of cloth, so they don't come in direct contact with your tools. Once it's off, replace it with a new one or simply clean the old one by soaking it in vinegar overnight. In the morning, poke a toothpick into the showerhead's holes and scrub it. Re-install.

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      Problem: Clogged Toilet

      Solution: Before you break out the plunger, scoop out any excess water. While this may sound not fun at all, it's far less fun to have to clean that water off the toilet, the floor, and the rug, thanks to unexpected sloshing. Next, gently maneuver the plunger into the drain opening until a suction seal is formed. "Plunge rhythmically for up to two minutes, or twenty to thirty plunges," says Mr. Handyman President Alex Roberts. "Waste water should drain after you break that suction seal by removing the plunger." If it doesn't, repeat the process until it does.

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