Super Handyman: Clean up your vacuum cleaner

Updated 2/10/2011 1:03 PM

Vacuum cleaners are a must for most of us. Even with wood floors, they come in handy. Of course, they also come in a wide variety.

One thing should be in common with them all, though: They must clean your floors! Here are some things to check should they stop fulfilling their job requirements.

With every appliance and tool you own, you should have the owner's manual. It's easy to download a copy these days, so have one on hand when working on these items.

A thorough cleaning always is a super place to start. Make sure the vacuum is unplugged, and start exposing all of the filters. Filters need to be cleaned or replaced in order to work efficiently.

Clean the carpet rollers/beaters with a utility knife, razor or letter opener. These cut right through the fiber and hair that gets wrapped around the bars. Remove the bottom plate and really get the base clean.

Clear clogged hoses with a broom handle or plumbing snake.

Repair or replace damaged power cords. Consider installing an extra-long cord so you won't have to unplug and move it so often. Just make sure you use one sized for your vacuum. Extension cords are not a good idea.

Replace bags often. A bag is full at only a third to half capacity. Find a discount source for them, and keep plenty on hand. If your vacuum doesn't use bags, make sure you start with a clean canister each time.

Check belts and replace them if they are wearing out. Nothing smells worse than a burned-up belt!

Now your vac is ready to suck it up!

Bottle up a houseplant

With all the plants moved indoors for the winter, watering has become quite a lengthy chore. There is a super way to take care of some plants: by installing a small bottle of water in the pot. Punch a small hole in the bottle cap. Fill the bottle with water, replace the cap and turn it upside down, quickly, and stick it into the soil next to the plant's roots. The water will slowly leak out and keep the plant moist while you take care of other chores around your house. It's a great way to water plants while you are away on short trips, too.

Paint with paper plate

Painting is a great way to spruce up your home, especially during the winter months, when you are stuck indoors! But when the painting is done, you don't want a bunch of cleanup to do, so be careful not to drip any paint. Always use drop cloths, newspapers or plastic bags to cover floors, furniture and other items that you need to leave in the room while you paint. To keep the drips from the can off the floor, tape or glue a paper plate to the bottom of the paint can. Even when you pick up the can to carry it to a new location, the plate goes with it, so you don't have to worry about forgetting it. Peel it off when you are done and get rid of it. Simple, smart and foolproof!

Super hints

• Sun screens are great at blocking the sun's harmful UV rays from getting into your home during the summer. But they also block a lot of the warmth and light, so take them off in the winter and let some extra in!

• I found a great way to recycle all of the old CDs and DVDs that I need to get rid of. I hang them in my trees and near my garden to chase away the wildlife. If you hang them on string or monofilament, they will swivel around, and the bright flashes scare off birds, cats and some squirrels.

• When you go up into your attic to store away decorations or other items, take a look for roof leaks, disturbed insulation, leaking ductwork and things like that. You'll probably have something new to add to the "to-do" list.

Q. We have a new washing machine and are having trouble in our drain lines now. Is it caused by the machine? Can we do anything to fix it?

A. Check your owner's manual to make sure your current lines meet the requirements of your new washer. Most new machines actually use less water than older units. They may pump the water out faster during the drain cycle, though. Make sure the lines are all fully opened. Snake out the drain lines and the vent stack on the roof. Also, make sure you are using the suggested detergent for your machine. The wrong detergent can cause problems, too.

Q. I have had a leak around my brick chimney for quite some time. The chimney is old and has no flashing, and I'm told that's the problem. Where does the flashing go?

A. The most effective flashing to use is in two parts, using L-shaped galvanized-metal pieces. The first is with one side of the L against the chimney and the other under the shingles. The second part, called counter flashing, has one side embedded in the mortar joints between bricks, while the other side overlaps the chimney side of the first.

Q. After removing the ugly decals from the bottom of the bathtub, I still see marks on the surface. How can I get rid of these?

A. It's probably old adhesive left behind by the decals. Use nonabrasive scrubbers and cleaners in your bathtub, no matter what you are cleaning off. First, clean it with WD-40 to loosen the old adhesive. Then use soap and water to clean that off. If you have to do any scraping, use a plastic putty knife, or maybe an old credit card, but nothing that will leave a scratch.

Q. I have blue tiles in my bathroom. I want to find some way of covering them. The blue is just awful. Can you help?

A. There is an epoxy paint that you can use to paint over the tiles. It will last for a while, but not forever, especially in a bathroom. If you want to go to more effort and expense, you can cover them with drywall and then paint or wallpaper. Your last option is to chip off all the old stuff and start from scratch. It might be worth the effort to be rid of it once and for all.

Reader tips

• Well, you probably heard about the morning when traffic was stopped on the interstate for three hours. I was stuck in it. Thank goodness I keep an emergency kit in the trunk of my car. I never thought I would need it, much less for sitting in traffic, but I was sure glad I had it. The kit contains various tools, tapes, light sticks and also a blanket, water and snacks. I don't know how much longer I could have stayed, but the emergency supplies made it bearable. I will never travel without them from now on!

• Here's a neat idea that you'll get hooked on! Most of us know hooks add a lot of quick and easy storage to a shop or garage. Want to add even more? Try hanging a length of chain across several hooks. Add some S hooks in the links, and you've tripled your storage. Hang tools, hardware and all sorts of gadgets from the chain. You can do this on a pegboard wall as well with the hooks they come with.

• I know it's cold, but I was trying to use some old electrical tape, and it seemed to be frozen onto the roll. I don't know if this stuff goes bad. I warmed it up in the microwave for a few seconds, and it worked better. Maybe this just activated the adhesive again. It was soft enough to use on my repair. I will replace it, though.

• I try to keep the house organized, but everyone takes my tools from the shop to use indoors and then forgets to return them. I found one way to remind them to return the tools! I put a band of red tape around each tool that belongs in my shop. Now, when I spot a tool in the kitchen drawer or laundry-room cabinet that has red tape on it, I can take it back outside and put it in my shop, where it belongs. It's really frustrating to be working on a project out there and not have the tools I need to complete it!

• I have to say that I do use a lot of duct tape around the house. My friends and family make fun of me for it, but that's OK. I "customized" our luggage when we traveled during the holidays with the same-color strip (brown) around each piece. It was super easy to tell our luggage from the rest of those black bags. We were in and out of the airport faster than a lot of folks.

Shop talk

• Stained glass is a real art form. It's beautiful, and tons of fun to do. There are classes you can take and small kits you can buy, but the "Stained Glass for Dummies" book is a real find. It is so detailed in all aspects of stained-glass work that you practically will be an expert just from reading it. It gives you step-by-step directions for several forms of the craft and project plans to get you started. Even if you have done stained glass before, you will enjoy the new ideas and will be reinspired to take it up again. Vicki Payne, the author, has been on TV showing off her craft, and now you can get her tips and more in this book. Check it out at your local bookstore or online at, among other sites.

• If you've tried putting up plastic over your windows to cut down on air infiltration, you know that it works. But if you've had trouble doing it or just want to get it done quickly and easily, check out Duck brand Roll-On Window Kits. The roll-on system makes it go up fast and stay up. The plastic is crystal clear and unfolds easily. Each kit contains enough product to cover five average-size windows. Check it out at or at your hardware store or home center.

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or visit the Carrells' website at

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