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When the sink is clogged or the toilet runs, don't rush to phone the plumber. With the right tools and basic instructions, you can solve most minor plumbing problems in your home.
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How to Prevent Clogged Drains
Help avoid clogged drains in the kitchen by wiping all greasy pans with a paper towel before washing. Make sure your drain has a screen that keeps out solids, and always keep it clean.
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How to Plunge a Drain
Liquid drain openers are made with caustic chemical compounds, so pouring them down the drain is cause for environmental concern. Try these natural alternatives: First, clean the stopper. If that doesn't help, use an ordinary funnel-cup plunger to flush away the clog. Make sure you've created a strong seal (plug the overflow hole with a small rag or sponge). It may take 10 to 15 minutes to loosen the blockage.
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How to Dissolve a Clog
Pour 1/2 cup baking soda, followed by 1/2 cup white vinegar, down the drain, and cover with a plug or rag. The mixture will work to break down any fats into salt and harmless gas. Flush with boiling water poured from a teakettle. A product called Super Digest-It can also help; the microorganisms it contains eat the clogged-up material, turning it into carbon dioxide and water.
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How to Use an Auger
If these methods fail, try a drain auger, also known as a snake (at hardware and home-supply stores). Feed the tool -- the length of a thin, steel coil -- down the drain in a twisting motion. Once you feel the coil reach the blockage, steadily push through it, then pull the auger back and forth to loosen the clog and expand the hole. Then plunge again and run water for a few minutes to clear up the rest.
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How to Fix a Dripping Faucet
For any sink repair, turn off the water locally by closing the shut-off valve. If the faucet is dripping, the washer should be replaced.
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Lay Out Disassembled Pieces for Correct Reassembly
To replace the washer, line the sink with a towel to protect its surface, cover the drain, and set up a safe place for laying out the disassembled faucet parts.
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Loosen the Stem from the Seat
With a screwdriver, remove the handle, then use pliers or a crescent wrench to loosen the faucet's large bonnet nut (which tightens the thread of the faucet stem into the seat) in a counterclockwise motion. Wrap the teeth of the pliers with masking tape if the bonnet nut is chrome or brass-plated, to prevent scarring it.
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Replace the Rubber Washer with a New One
Hold the faucet seat securely to avoid wrenching it loose from its hole in the sink. With the nut loosened, unscrew the faucet stem from the seat. At the end of the stem is the washer, secured by a screw. Remove the screw and the washer, and refit it with a new washer from a kit of assorted-size washers.
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Screw the stem back into the seat, and retighten the bonnet nut.
Next, specific instructions on fixing different kinds of faucets.
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Fixing Compression Faucets
Typically found in older homes, compression faucets are the most affordable but also the most likely to leak and require repairs. The handles for hot and cold are separate, and in order to stop the water flow, you need to screw down, or compress, the handle to close it off. Compression faucets rely on a rubber washer, which opens or closes the valve seat by pressing against it.
Turn off the faucet's water supply, and remove the handle. Then use pliers or a wrench to loosen the faucet's large bonnet or packing nut in a counterclockwise motion. Hold the faucet body securely to avoid wrenching it loose.
With the nut loosened, unscrew the stem from the valve seat. At the end of the stem is the washer, secured by a screw. Remove the screw and the washer, and refit the stem with a new washer from a kit of assorted-size washers. Replace the stem if it's chipped. Then screw the stem back into the seat and retighten the packing nut.
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How to Fix a Ball Faucet
The first washerless faucet, a ball faucet has a ball-shaped cap above the base of the spout, with a single handle on top. Beneath the rounded cap, a slotted plastic or metal ball with slots or chambers controls water flow and temperature. Repairs are more common for this faucet than for other washerless types, most often because of worn inlet seals or O-rings. Turn off the faucet's water supply and, with a wrench, unscrew the faucet handle or remove the handle set screw and lift off the handle. If the handle has been leaking, just tighten the adjusting ring.
If the spout has been leaking, use pliers to take off the adjusting ring and cap. Remove the cam, cam washer, and rotating ball. With needle-nose pliers, remove inlet seals and springs. Cut off the O-rings with a utility knife. Inspect what's worn and replace accordingly, or replace all parts using a replacement kit. Reassemble.
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How to Fix a Cartridge Faucet
These faucets may have one or two handles, and often look like other types. They rely on a hollow plastic or metal stem cartridge in order to function. On a single-handle model, the cartridge moves up and down to control water flow and left or right to monitor temperature. Two-handled cartridge faucets look like compression faucets, except you don't have to tighten the handles to cut off water flow; in the closed position a cartridge faucet will turn off smoothly, without any additional pressure to the handle. Leaks occur because of a worn cartridge or O-rings.
Turn off the faucet's water supply. Unscrew the handle and remove the cartridge. Remove the retaining cap, if it has one, using needle-nose pliers. Remove the spout. Cut off the O-rings using a utility knife. Replace the O-rings with new ones. If they're not worn, you may need to replace the cartridge. Some faucet brands, such as Moen, require a special cartridge remover (at faucet dealers) to take out the cartridge. Reassemble the faucet parts.
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How to Fix a Disk Faucet
These modern faucets are often installed in new and recently remodeled homes. They feature a single handle placed over a wide cylindrical cartridge. Two ceramic disks -- one that is fixed in place, and another that moves -- control the flow of water. These faucets need repairs less often than others, but when they do, it is probably a worn cartridge or seal. Turn off the faucet's water supply and remove the set screw from the side of the handle. Unscrew the cylinder. With a screwdriver, lift out the seals from the cylinder. If they are damaged, replace them. If the cylinder is badly worn, replace it. Otherwise, clean it with equal parts white vinegar and water, rinse, and let dry. Reassemble the faucet.
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How to Patch a Leaky Pipe
Patching a pipe is a temporary solution until that section of pipe can be replaced. With Teflon tape, wrap the pipe tightly. Cut a piece of rubber sheeting, long enough to wrap around the pipe once. Secure the sheeting around the taped leak with a steel hose clamp: Slip the clamp over the rubber sheeting, then screw the clamp tightly shut.
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How to Clear a Clogged Trap
The trap is the U-shaped pipe under the sink. The trap stays filled with water whether the sink is in use or not to prevent sewer gases in the venting pipes from re-entering the house. It also traps anything solid that has gone down the drain accidentally. A slip nut at each end of the trap allows easy removal for periodic cleaning. To clear it, turn off the sink's water supply and place a bucket under the trap. Loosen the nuts with a pipe wrench and remove and empty the trap, running a bottlebrush through it to clean the walls.
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Replace the trap and the nuts.
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The apparatus inside a toilet tank is simple: The flush handle is connected to a rulerlike trip lever inside the tank, which has a chain on the end of it. The chain descends to either a ball or flapper-style stopper valve, which opens when the handle is pressed, emptying the water from the tank into the bowl and flushing the toilet.
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How to Fix a Constantly Running Toilet
If the toilet runs or sweats, the stopper may not be maintaining a tight seal, thereby not closing the valve tightly enough to allow the tank to fill.
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To replace the stopper, turn off the toilet's water supply, and flush the toilet to drain the tank.
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Most flapper-style stoppers are attached with hooks to the bottom of the overflow tube, which is a pipe that extends from the bottom to the top of the tank. Detach the flapper-style stopper; when you match it at the hardware store, buy two so that you have a spare.
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While the flapper is off, clean the valve's seat with fine steel wool to further secure the seal. Fit the new stopper. Attach the chain.