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Home maintenance isn’t restricted to repairs. In fact, certain tasks, when performed regularly, may actually prevent things from breaking in the first place. But when things do go wrong — and it’s inevitable that they do — try these backup plans before you grab the phone to call a pro. Appliances and plumbing are the most frequent offenders, but they also can be the simplest to care for.

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Kitchen sinks: Poison perfume

Drains 101: Skip the plumber and tackle these tasks yourself (© Popular Mechanics)

Garbage disposal and drain odors are making your kitchen an unpleasant place.

The quick fix:
Garbage disposals can retain food bacteria in the blades, making for an olfactory nightmare. Clean out the unit by pouring a cup of white vinegar followed by a flush of very hot water. For a drain, pour in a cup of white vinegar; let it stand for 30 minutes, then rinse with hot water.

Slime time

Drains 101: Skip the plumber and tackle these tasks yourself (© Popular Mechanics)

You’re right in the middle of preparing that big Thanksgiving feast when your kitchen sink chokes on all the grease that you’ve been allowing to go down the drain.

The quick fix:
Use a heating pad wrapped around the drain trap (or a hair dryer if you’re willing to hold it there) until the metal becomes hot. This will melt the grease and allow you to flush it away with a running stream of hot water.

Disaster prevention

Stopping clogs is a battle fought on two fronts. First, you should be careful about what goes down the drain. Second, you need to take regular action to clear small deposits that inevitably form in any drain.

  • Use drain screens to keep hair, soap scum and other solids from making their way into the drain.
  • Never pour grease down the drain, and clean greasy pots and pans as thoroughly as possible with a paper towel before cleaning in hot water in the sink.
  • Never dump chemicals such as paint or paint thinners down a drain — even a shower drain or utility sink.
  • Clean all your sink stoppers regularly.
  • Once a week (make it a regular part of your weekly cleaning schedule), pour boiling hot water down your drains.


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Bathrooms: Slow motion

Drains 101: Skip the plumber and tackle these tasks yourself (© Popular Mechanics)

Your bathroom sink is draining little but your patience.

The quick fix:
The handy plunger is one of the best tools for a slow-moving drain. Fill the sink with a few inches of water to provide a good seal around the plunger. Next, stuff a wet rag into the overflow opening of the sink. Try to completely fill the opening so that you get a good seal. By blocking the opening, no air can reach the drain, which greatly increases the effectiveness of the plunger. Finally, plunge away.