Semi-quick fixes for dilapidated objects
July 5, 2012 5:00 AM   Subscribe

Will you share your best fixing-smaller-things-up hacks? 'I buffed it with gasoline and you'd never know there'd been water damage.' 'Did you know you can use a regular iron on them? Good as new.' 'Hardware stores sell them for 17c and that's all it takes to make a working switch.'

I am a small-time junk dealer (which I find very enjoyable) and I like to send stuff back out into the world looking a bit better than how I found it. I am very good at restoring a few things, not so much with others...

I would enjoy hearing your quick DIY improvements for virtually anything you might buy in a "curiousities"-type shop. Sometimes I can take stuff from being garbage to being a saleable item, and of course I want more of that. Mostly I just want to sell a nice, non-disappointing grade of vintage collectible junk.

(I am not an an antiques dealer; the sorts of things I spiff up are not...nobody is going to think I have ruined the finish etc etc)

Perhaps you are a doll enthusiast and have a great way to get stains off dolly vinyl. Or you collect old teacups and fix the flaws via magical product X. You know of a first-rate blog post that shows how to fix a lamp's switch using paperclips and an old toothbrush handle. Mixing peroxide and olive oil makes a salve which will restore any wood. Anything, and thank you for it.
posted by kmennie to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 123 users marked this as a favorite
Water rings on wood: mayonnaise. Glob on liberally, let sit for a few hours, wipe off. Magic!
posted by likeso at 5:09 AM on July 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

likeso, musts be something to do with food-grade fats, because peanut butter works wonders on water rings too.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:10 AM on July 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Finished wood, natch. Add a bit of (cigarette) ash if it didn't work completely the first time.
posted by likeso at 5:10 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup! I've heard peanutbutter works well, too. But kittehs are mad for pb round here, so the "let sit" doesn't work. ;)
posted by likeso at 5:11 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something else that works on water rings on wood is ironing it on low with a towel in between.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 5:21 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Husband swears by lighter fluid to get sticky residue off things.
posted by Occula at 5:56 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

To clean silver, line a baking dish with aluminum foil. Fill with boiling water and then add a spoonful of baking soda and a spoonful of salt. Put in the silver items and let sit 5 minutes.

To remove rust from metal things: Soak in white vinegar.

To remove odors from cloth items, wash in the regular way but add some ammonia.

To remove ink from leather: Clean with rubbing alcohol.

To remove wax from fabric: Cover with a cloth or paper towel, then run a hot iron over the cloth.

To remove the white powder residue from aluminum kitchen gadgets (from dishwasher detergent), combine 1 quart boiling water and 1 spoonful of cream of tarter. Soak gadget for 15 minutes.

To clean a coffeepot or a clothes iron: Run it with a full container of vinegar (no water, no coffee grounds for the coffeepot).
posted by Houstonian at 6:17 AM on July 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you have anything that has food stuck on it, and no amount of scrubbing seems to take it off.. then put some baking soda and vinegar on it.

I once had the insert to a brand new crockpot that I cooked oatmeal in.. let me tell you that the edges burned and stuck to the pot such that even after soaking it for days it still wouldn't come off. I let some vinegar and baking soda sit on it for awhile (maybe an hour?) and low and behold it all came off. I was shocked.
posted by royalsong at 6:18 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

You can clean and polish slightly rusty chrome items by rubbing them with tin foil and water.
posted by jessamyn at 6:24 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Mohs hardness scale explains a few. The reason we can use a fingernail to clean things without scratching them is because a fingernail has a hardness of 2.2-2.5. So if you need to clean copper (3), for instance, and use steel wool (6), it'll scratch. Stick below 3 with something like a fingernail, boraxo (2.25) or really soft plastic (a freebie dough scraper works for me), and it'll be fine. The trick comes in spotting alloys, avoiding chemical reactions (i.e. acids, which have their own merits such as with Oxalic, Carbonic, and Tannic), and understanding that stuff like plastic can be all over the spectrum.

As always, test in an inconspicuous location first, etc.
posted by jwells at 6:32 AM on July 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

Benzoyl peroxide (acne cream) + sunshine takes ballpoint ink stains off of vinyl dolls.

WD-40 will take crayon marks off of hard surfaces. Just spray on & then rub off with a rag.

Shine copper with flour, salt & vinegar. Or ketchup.
posted by belladonna at 6:52 AM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Brasso will shine up glossy plastics with a little elbow grease. Buff it for about 5-7 minutes with a soft cloth and it'll take most light scratches out of iPods, laptop computers, cell phone screens, etc. It'll also restore gloss to anything that's hazy, like headlights.

Get Mother's Mag Polish from your local auto parts store and you can shine up anything aluminum to a mirror gloss in about the same amount of time.

For cleaning most metals I use a bath of washing soda and water overnight (baking soda will work in a pinch, but not quite as well), it gets all the grunge off. If it's rusty too, get an old battery charger and make a electrolysis tank with the same washing soda and water and blast rust off without harming surfaces.

Check with anyone who restores old cars/motorcycle/boats and they'll have a ton of tips like these to put the new back on parts that you just can't get anymore, usually with penny fixes.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 7:08 AM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mayonnaise will remove the residue left behind when stickers/labels/price tags are removed.
posted by lulu68 at 7:39 AM on July 5, 2012

For removing rust stains I've had good results with Magica Rust Remover (despite the cheesy "as seen on TV!" vibe).

Bar Keeper's Friend is another good household cleaner and polisher that shines up copper in a jiffy, and also removes the gray streaks left by metal spoons inside coffee mugs.

Citra Solv Concentrate is an excellent degreaser that removes stickum left from price tags, gooey oxidized oil residue, bike chain grease, even roofing tar. You want the straight-up concentrate, not the versions that have been diluted. My favorite all-around household solvent, and it smells nice too.

If you need to replace a small food-safe gasket (like the kind on Grolsch beer bottles), you can buy a cheap silicone cake pan at a thrift store and cut or punch a bunch of gaskets out of the flat sections.
posted by Quietgal at 9:28 AM on July 5, 2012

Baby wipes will blot out fresh coffee and milk stains, just sayin.

Use tin foil to scrub down crusted barbecue grills.

Emergency furniture finish repair: brown cake shoe polish for light woods, black cake shoe polish for dark woods. Rub in with cotton cloth.

Speaking of cotton cloths, save those cloth diapers when your kids grow out of them. They're useful for everything from cleaning glass to working with furniture!

I've had great success with Brasso for cleaning copper teakettles and other brass and copper items.

Lemon Pledge restores the "like new" look of older or scuffed tires, on anything. (Why yes, I did know there's an entry for Lemon Pledge in the Urban Dictionary, thanks!)
posted by Lynsey at 11:15 AM on July 5, 2012

Silly putty will dissolve (slowly) in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.

For stripped screws, use a small wheel cutter on a dremel to make yourself a new slot.

Broken latch? Sometimes you can replace it with tiny neodymium magnets.
posted by porpoise at 11:41 AM on July 5, 2012

Houstonian: To remove rust from metal things: Soak in white vinegar.
Also works for rust stains on linoleum et al: lay a paper towel over the stain, wet with vinegar, and protect from evaporation with plastic wrap. Depending on the amount of stain, the rust will lift in a few seconds to minutes.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:32 PM on July 5, 2012

to blacken sterling silver, which can then be partially polished off to create a fast antiquing without jewellery supplies, soak the clean, degreased object, or (better if you have good ventilation) boil it in bleach.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:36 PM on July 5, 2012

also, scotch-brite (the scrubby part of many dish sponges) leaves a matte but even surface on almost all metals lower on the mohs scale than gold and steel (silver, copper, pot metal, brass, bronze, pewter, nickel silver.) which can be a quick way to spruce up and even out the surface on metal objects. also takes off a fair bit of tarnish. use with some dish soap.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:39 PM on July 5, 2012

If you want to make your coin collection shine all pretty, DON'T DO IT. Cleaning the patina off an old coin wears away its surface and can dramatically decrease the value.
posted by nicebookrack at 1:52 PM on July 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

ugh, I have a lot of answers, but am too fast with the posting button :P

epoxy is a god send, also. use it for everything, ever. you can buy coloured epoxy resins from jewellery supply stores, which comes in both opaque and translucent mixtures. these can be used to repair small problems with things like enamel or other cracked, coloured surfaces (glazed but broken, non-eating out of pottery and such) and resin can be sanded or polished (or heat polished) after it's totally set to blend it better.

gorilla glue makes an epoxy that is non-toxic that can be used to (very effectively!) fix things like coffee mugs that broke cleanly. especially good at putting back on knocked off handles.

additions can also be made to epoxy without it getting wrecked usually. in the mixing stage, add in aluminum filings (which have a high reflective quality even when small) or charcoal, or other things to get the epoxy to a closer match to its repair.

get a stump and a rawhide or nylon hammer. it's amazing how many things can be fixed with the two of those. seriously, gets dents out of everything.
posted by euphoria066 at 1:54 PM on July 5, 2012

Got a stripped out screw in wood? Matches, wooden matches, and toothpicks to fill in around the matches, and glue before you bang them in -- presto, new wood that *will* hold. For a harder hold, cut you some bits of oak like toothpicks and hammer/glue them in there instead. You can use plastic wood for this but ... Not generally as good, not even in the neighborhood, in my experience.

Driving a nail into pine? No problem, usually -- pine is very soft and won't usually split, the nail bangs its way through, does not follow the course of the grain. But it's a different story if it's a smaller piece of pine, and definitely a different story with oak, the nail may want to follow the grain and not drive in as you want. So -- if it's a steel nail IE not hardened, turn the nail upside down and bang on it a bit, take the sharp off of it -- it'll now push straight through and not try to follow the grain; it'll go where you want it to go.

A hardened nail is generally dull enough and you're not going to dull it anyways, no matter how many times you bang on it. They'll go straight where steel won't, usually. But let's say it's really hard oak, and maybe it's not backed up real well, so it's maybe flapping some when you try to bang the nail in it -- annoying. Obviously, you can drill it, sometimes that''s the best. But another way, and before you go to dragging out your dang drill, dip the point of the nail in wax, even in the crayon (called a keel in the trades) even just in the keel that's right there in your tool box -- you're thinking "Pfffft, that little bit of wax on that nail, won't make a bit of difference." And there you'll be wrong. It's quite surprising how fast they'll bang on through sometimes. Wax. Ridiculous.

And wax on screws, let's say you're running in some long-ass screws, or you're running some screws into some hard-ass wood, or maybe, on a bad day, you're running some long-ass screws into some hard-ass wood. You start running them in and .... Nowhere. You can pre-drill them, if you're a kid, or you can just jam that screw into wax and spin it around, wax all over the grooves, and run it in there, that screw will zip in. Whoops, maybe it still stops, only part-way home. Okay, back it out, wax it again, and run it back home again, get another running start on it. All better. You can drive that screw into Egypt. (If you use a petroleum based wax, in time the wood will lose it's integrity. Probably you'll be dead by then, certainly you'll be off the jobsite, but still.)

Oh, don't have any wax? Soap works too, not as well but it works.

Duct tape will also work to get various sticky residues off of whatever -- just stick it to it, pull it free, rinse, repeat. Some of the other solutions upthread almost certainly better, but this will work.

This one is embarrassing, but here it is -- Olde English. I think that's what it's called, some garbage you buy at your local supermarket, comes in different colors, used to hide various sins in the wood. It's like a stain and a polish in one. It works. Any painter you run into will likely go into cardiac arrest, go on about how "You must use the right stain and varnish and blah blah blah." but wait til after he goes back to get another beer out of his cooler, and use this Olde English crap, all better now.

BTW, all of those nail tips up top are moot if you're using a compressor and nail-gun -- I missed out on that by about fifteen years, walk onto a jobsite today and EVERY NAIL IN THE JOINT is run in using compressers and guns. They are great. I missed out. Go on, put up crown molding using a hammer and nails, you'll beat your fingers to death and you'll still have a crappy looking job of it; use a nail gun and just splatter nails EVERYWHERE, whether they hit a joist or not, you get enough nails in there you could hang a Buick from it, maybe. Damn sure it's not going to come down.

String. Dental floss is great, btw -- it's light and very compact, toss one of those boxes in your pouch. After a knife, and probably a saw, next thing I'd want on desert island is a piece of string. You can measure with it. You can tie a rock to it and plumb things, get them straight up and down. And once you've got things plumb, you can use the string to get things level, too, easy-peasy. A length of string can be very helpful if you're building something.

Bleach in a spray bottle -- spray on any white clothing, any stains, maybe fifteen minutes before washing. All better -- stains gone. Bleach in a spray bottle -- any scum in the shower, don't wast money on those big-buck cleaners, splatter some bleach on it, it'll absolutely kill ANY mold and also dig into soap scum. But okay, let's say that soap scum is set in there, or what-have you, you're tub is dark and you know you're in for a day of scrubbing and annoyance. Nope. Go to the dollar store, buy two bottles of cheap-ass shampoo, run it all over the tub, all down the tile, full-strength, gonna be a big mess of oozing cheapo shampoo oh no oh no. Okay, close the shower curtain, let it do it's thing, tomorrow all the crud is gone, just gotta rinse the shampoo off everything, whatever didn't go down the drain.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:23 PM on July 5, 2012 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great; many, many things I wish I'd known earlier, and am happy to know now...
posted by kmennie at 5:05 AM on July 6, 2012

Applying silicon sealant (caulk) on a work surface? Put washing up detergent on your finger before you smooth it out so it doesn't stick.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:53 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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