Household Lubricants

The Fix-It Club can help you reduce repairs by explaining the how and why of household lubricants. Many things around your home are mechanical and are supposed to move. That’s what they do. For example, a windup alarm clock is a mechanical thing. Other mechanical thing repairs you may undertake include toy repair, garden tool repair, exercise equipment repair, and others. What do they all have in common? They technically are machines. That is, they convert one form of energy into another. A hand tool, for example, converts your energy into strength to turn a bolt or cut a board.

Troubleshooting Mechanical Things

mechanical things1 Household Lubricants

A careful spray of lubricant can extend the life of a small motor. Lubricate moving parts only – never electrical parts.

Troubleshooting mechanical things is a little more difficult than troubleshooting stationary things because you may have to take something apart. However, if you know what your broken item is supposed to do, you probably can figure out what needs fixing. For example, a windup alarm clock may run very slowly, not keeping the correct time–and making you late for work. Rather than toss it and get another one, carefully open it up and see if there’s anything (a loose screw, dust) keeping a mechanism from turning as designed. Or the item just may need a small amount of lubricant to reduce resistance between moving parts.


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Popular lubricants for common household repair jobs.

Lubricants decrease friction between moving parts, and are a vital part of fixing things. Many lubricants are petroleum based. Thin lubricants are called oils and thicker lubricants are greases. Here are the most popular household lubricants and what they work best on:

  • Machine or penetrating oil (such as WD-40) is a general lubricant for small moving parts.
  • Silicon spray is a multipurpose product that lubricates, waterproofs, and reduces corrosion.
  • Graphite powder and spray is a fine powder lubricant (sometimes in a base of light oil) for lubricating locks, bearings, and other very small parts.
  • Penetrating oil lubricates as well as reduces and cleans corrosion from metal parts.
  • Lithium grease is a petroleum-based grease with lithium powder in it to enhance lubrication of larger moving parts such as automotive gears.
  • Silicone is an organic compound that is highly resistant to wear, heat, and water; it makes a great lubricant.

Easy Ways to Take Things Apart

disassembling things Easy Ways to Take Things Apart

Some appliances specifically state “No Serviceable Parts Inside.” That typically means that even if you get it open there won’t be anything in there to replace, so reconsider fixing it.

The Fix-It Club helps thousands of people each day for more than a decade with free repair help. One challenge that keeps many people from repairing things is figuring out how to take things apart — and get them back together when done.

Disassembling things is an important part of repair whether you are performing toaster repair, motor repair, riding lawn mower repair, washer repair, iPhone repair, computer repair, car repair, and many other consumer repairs. You’ll want to be able to reassemble an item properly whether it’s done today, tomorrow, or once you’ve found some parts a month from now. Here’s how to take things apart:

  • Find a place where you can take things apart and leave everything out for an hour or a day, if you need to stop and get additional parts.
  • Make notes on disassembly and needed parts numbers.
  • For tougher repairs or when you know it will be awhile before you can get replacement parts, use a film or digital camera to take photos of the disassembly process.
  • If you know you will be reassembling everything within the next couple of hours, lay the parts in a line as they come off, left to right, and reassemble right to left.
  • Use old muffin pans, empty frozen dinner dishes, clean coffee cans, clean plastic containers, or other containers to collect parts as they are removed.
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When disassembling, put parts in a small tray or container in the order of their removal. It makes reassembly much easier. (The mini-muffin pan pictured here costs less than $1 at a garage sale.)

Steps to Take Things Apart

Intimidated by what you see when you open up something to fix it? Don’t be. Most things are made of components, more than one part. And each of these components is replaceable. It’s just a matter if figuring how the thing works, which parts or components don’t work, and replacing the problem part(s). Many Fix-It Guides include photos or drawings that let you see what’s inside the device or object — you’ll know what you’re getting in to.

Most parts either twist on or plug in. For example, disassembling an appliance requires twisting (unscrewing) fasteners that hold the outside body together. Once inside, you may need to unscrew or unplug other parts. Many components are plugged together, especially electrical parts. For example, a couple of wires enter one side of a plastic plug and other wires run out the other side. To disconnect the part, find a tab on the connector and lift it or apply pressure to it and carefully pull the connector apart. Install the replacement component by plugging the two halves of the connector together. Most connectors go together only one way, so it’s relatively easy.

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Some fasteners are hidden behind trim.

You’ll find that many consumer items are assembled using screws, clips, or other fasteners. In fact, if you don’t find a screw or clip, the manufacturer is probably telling you there’s nothing inside that the consumer can fix. You may be able to replace the entire component, however.

Some parts may be hard to remove because they are friction-fit (fit snugly) to a shaft. Don’t force friction-fit parts; they may break. Instead, use a wide-bladed screwdriver under the coupling to carefully twist and lift the coupling upward. If that doesn’t work, try heating the coupling slightly (try a hair dryer) to expand the part enough to pull it from the shaft. Or slip a pair of thin wood wedges under the coupling. Then push the wedges toward each other and lift. If none of these succeeds in separating the friction-fit part from the shaft, you may have to take the appliance to a professional.

Fix-It Tip:

If you want to teach yourself more about how to take things apart, find something that is obviously unrepairable and disassemble it for practice. You can sometimes find unrepairable items cheap at garage sales. Invest in your education and have some fun!

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Some friction-fit fasteners are not intended to be removed without damaging them. Fortunately, once removed you can find a replacement at larger hardware stores.

Some manufacturers use a pressure clip to hold a product’s case together. This is the preferred assembly method for many consumer electronics such as iPhones, tablet computers and laptop computers. If you plan to do many electronic repairs, consider an electronics toolkit available at Radio Shack and various electronic supply stores.

To disassemble, look for a notch along the seam and insert the tip of a straight screwdriver to push and turn the clip, opening the case. Make sure you unclip all of the notches and remove all screws before disassembling the body or you could break one of the small clips.

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Many smaller consumer components can be disassembled by carefully prying the case apart. Special electronic tools may be required.

You can take things apart and reassemble them after repair if you plan out the job and take it a step at a time, as outlined in the Fix-It Club’s free Fix-It Guides.

10 Really Good Reasons to Repair

BLENDER3 200x150 10 Really Good Reasons to Repair

You can repair household things that break with free, illustrated instructions from the Fix-It Club.

Things break. Everything we own, from air conditioners to zippers, eventually wear out or stop working. We can toss them and get new stuff — or we can try to repair them. Here are ten very good reasons to repair or recycle household things that break:

  1. You can be a smarter consumer by knowing how things work and what to do if they don’t: appliances, heaters, air conditioners, mowers, plumbing, electronics, clocks, paint, flooring and more.
  2. You can save money by not having to replace things that you easily can repair. It might just need a fuse, a new electrical cord, or a screw tightened. You can do that!
  3. You can buy better things that will last longer than disposables because you know you can probably repair them if they ever do conk out.
  4. You can reduce the environmental impact of having a replacement manufactured from raw materials and transported from a far-off land.
  5. You can learn how to recycle or reuse the things you just can’t repair.
  6. You can learn new skills and discover the satisfaction of repairing something that’s broken.
  7. You can spend some quality time with kids repairing things together — and teaching them the importance of recycling.
  8. You can keep that family clock or other heirloom running longer.
  9. You can justify the cost of expanding your collection of tools.
  10. You can impress your spouse, partner, and others with your new-found repair skills.

How can you repair broken stuff? The Fix-It Club offers easy-to-follow instructions. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a door chime, a barbecue grill, a child’s toy, or a computer printer. Figuring out what’s wrong with it is the most important task. Once you know what’s wrong with it, you’re well on the way to repairing it — or making an informed decision not to. Figuring out what’s wrong with something may sound obvious, but it’s often the step that keeps folks from repairing things easily.

  • What does this thing do?
  • How is it supposed to work?
  • What isn’t this thing doing that it should do?
  • What’s the possible cause(s) of the problem?
  • What parts and tools will I need to repair it?
  • What are the steps to repairing it?
  • Once repaired, does it now work?

For example, a coffee maker, obviously, is an apparatus for brewing coffee. There are two types of coffee makers: drip and percolator. A drip coffee maker is designed to heat water then pump it to drip through the coffee basket and into a carafe. Most drip coffee makers also keep the carafe of coffee warm. That’s a drip coffee maker’s as-designed state; that’s what it’s supposed to do.

What does it not do? In our example, the drip coffee maker doesn’t keep the coffee hot, though everything else works. Knowing how a coffee maker is supposed to work, you will identify the problem to be within the warming element or controls. To check it you need a multimeter for testing these components. Then, following the specific steps in the Coffee Maker Repair Fix-It Guide, you disassemble, test, and, if needed, replace the part. Finally, you can brew yourself some coffee and know that it will stay warm.

So, that’s the fix-it process . You can apply it to every thing that’s broken. That’s because the fix-it process works for every thing. It’s a simplified version of a time-tested problem-solving system. If it’s repairable, you probably can fix it!

Nails, Bolts, and Screws, Oh My!

stationary things1 Nails, Bolts, and Screws, Oh My!

Mechanical fasteners come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and purposes.

The Fix-It Club offers basic information on a variety of household repairs. Most repairs require mechanical fasteners. In the photo are (left to right) nails, screws, bolt with washer and nut, and wall anchors.

Your home has hundreds of fasteners in it, holding walls together, binding appliance components, keeping the floor from moving underfoot, and even fastening sleeves on to clothing.

All fasteners have a single function: to hold two or more things together. When they don’t, something’s broken. That’s when you need free help from the Fix-It Club.

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Types and sizes of nail fasteners.


Nails are thin, pointed metal fasteners driven with a hammer to join two pieces of wood. There are dozens of varieties of nails, depending on the specific purpose. There are special nails for masonry, roofing, finishing, and other common applications. Nails are classified by the size of the shank and the shape of the head. Fix-It Guides refer to specific types of nails needed. The most common type is called common nails, with large, flat heads for secure fastening. Next is finish nails with smaller heads that aren’t so obvious if flush to or below the wood’s surface. Nails are sized by length, indicated by a d or “penny.” A 4d nail is 1-1/2 inches long; an 8d nail is 2-1/2 inches long.

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Types and sizes of screw fasteners.


Screws are pointed-tip, threaded fasteners installed with a screwdriver. The type of screwdriver used depends on the type of screw head: Round- and pan (flat)-head screws require a straight-tip screwdriver; Phillips-head screws require a Phillips screwdriver; and square-head screws require a square-drive screwdriver. Wood screws fasten wood, and sheet-metal screws fasten metal. Screws are sized by length. Screws are stronger than nails and easier to remove.

Bolts and Nuts

Bolts are flat-tipped, threaded fasteners that use a threaded nut to attach wood or metal together. A washer may be placed under the bolt head or the nut for a firmer fasten. Bolts are classified by the type of head. Stove bolts and machine screws (actually bolts) are turned with a screwdriver. Hexagon- and square-head bolts are held in place with a wrench while the nut is turned to tighten. A carriage bolt‘s head imbeds itself into the wood when the nut is turned. Bolts are sized by length and thread. Bolts are stronger than screws.

Nuts, usually square or hexagonal blocks of metal with threaded holes, screw onto bolts to hold something together.

Anchors are additions to bolts or screws that help anchor a fastener in a hollow wall or door. Other handy fasteners include lag bolts, which are bolt heads with screw bodies.

Thread is a fastener for clothing and upholstered furniture. Thread is a long strand of fabric installed with a needle, either by hand or by a sewing machine. Thread is sold by fabric (cotton, nylon, polyester, etc.) and thickness (Tex or T). Cotton-wrap polyester is used for jeans and poly-wrap polyester for a wide variety of clothing. T-18 thread is light weight and T-50 is medium weight. Thread needles are rated by the eye size, shaft length, and purpose.

Fix-It Tip

Velcro can be used for many quick fixes. You can use it to fasten toys, fabric, shoes, wall decorations, and many other things. Velcro is a trademark name for nylon fabric that can be fastened to itself. The back sides of the Velcro are fastened permanently to the object to be fastened, and the front sides of the Velcro adhere to each other when they touch.

How to Get Local Repair Help

faucet3 How to Get Local Repair Help

Local repair services include plumbers, electricians, roofers and other service businesses.

The Fix-It Club offers hundreds of free Fix-It Guides for repairing broken things around the home and garage. Occasionally you won’t be able to or won’t want to fix it yourself. That’s okay. There’s someone else out there who can perform refrigerator repair, bicycle repair, plaster repair, jewelry repair, or any other repair you need done. When should you consider hiring someone for a local repair?

  • When it’s something you shouldn’t be messing with, such as a microwave’s magnetron or a freezer’s refrigerant
  • When you can’t find replacement parts, but think maybe a repair pro may know how to make it work
  • When it’s quite valuable and you don’t want to take the chance of perhaps damaging it during repair
  • When you just can’t figure out what the heck’s wrong with it, but want it fixed

Who can you make a local repair? Depending on what it is, you can contact the manufacturer or service center. Alternately, check area telephone books for appropriate listings such as Appliances, Major, or Appliances, Parts & Supplies, and Automobile Repairing & Service. Retailers from which you purchased merchandise may be able to direct you to local repairs centers. Also, ask among friends and neighbors because they can give you value judgments on whether specific repair services are customer friendly.

First check to determine if local repair is covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. Even if it isn’t, ask the manufacturer to recommend a repair service. You’ll find many manufacturers have websites that include parts and repair information as well as referrals.

You can make sure you select the best local repair service for the job by asking a few questions:

  • What experience do you have repairing this item?
  • What training or certification do you have?
  • Do you charge a flat rate or an hourly shop rate? What is that rate?
  • Do you have a minimum charge?
  • Is there a charge if you can’t fix it?
  • May I see your shop? (You’ll see how your item will be treated.)
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Finding and checking a fuse can save you an expensive trip to a repair shop

Remember to read anything you sign because verbal agreements are not binding. If the repair service says “$49.95″ and the service contract you sign says “whatever we want to charge,” you may wind up with a $500 repair on a $100 item. Most repair agreements include space for a do-not-exceed price; if not, write it in. And make sure the estimate includes both parts and labor. Ask what could happen to make the estimate go up. Ask if final bills usually come in under or over the estimate. Leave no room for surprises.

What should you tell the local repair person? Indicate the symptoms and list the things you’ve done to attempt to alleviate them. For example, “The unit won’t turn on. I’ve checked the electrical cord and it works, but I haven’t found any fuses.” Any information you can provide means less time the technician needs for diagnosing and should mean a smaller final bill.

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The fuse inside this blender is sealed, but can be accessed by removing the base

Should you bring the unit in assembled or unassembled? That depends on whether you feel comfortable assembling the unit once it is fixed. Also, will the unit need assembly before the repair person can test it to make sure it’s fixed? The best advice is: Bring it in assembled. A pro may actually charge more if it comes in unassembled. You can also call the shop and ask which is more efficient.

On other option: Get the parts and tools you need to repair it yourself. The Fix-It Club is standing by to offer you free instructions and a wide variety of repair resources for fixing broken things around your home and garage. Visit the Fix-It Club often. It’s free!

Home Repair Safety

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Many electrical appliances have warnings on their outside case to tell you of potential dangers to safety.

The Fix-It Club is dedicated to showing you how to easily and safely make hundreds of household repairs. Repair safety is a very important part of fixing anything, whether you are performing gas furnace repair, roof repair, yard trimmer repair, gas cooktop repair, electrical cord repair, or even jacket repair.  In one infamous example, technicians decided to find out what would happen if they tried to run the system with the various safety mechanisms defeated — at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Fixing your toaster won’t start a mushroom cloud of nuclear waste, but it can hurt you if you don’t apply some common-sense repair safety rules:


Houses built before 1978 may contain lead paint. Before disturbing any surface, get a lab analysis of paint chips from it. Contact your public health department for information on how to collect samples and where to send them.

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If the electrical device you’re working on doesn’t unplug, make sure the power is turned off to the circuit you’re working on.

  • For electrical repair safety, make sure the power source is disconnected before working on any electrical or gas system.
  • Turn the water off ahead of the fixture before working on plumbing.
  • Wear gloves if using caustic chemicals.
  • Wear safety glasses if using a saw blade or any tool that can throw debris.
  • Wear a breathing mask if working around dust or strong chemicals.
  • Never place a body part where it can get hurt.
  • Don’t use a tool for any task but its intended purpose.
  • Don’t stand on something that won’t support you.
  • Don’t try to fix anything when your thinking is impaired by lack of sleep, emotional stress, alcohol, medications, or illness.
  • Plan it before you do it.
  • Remember repair safety for all Fix-It jobs.
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Some electrical devices have labels telling you of potential danger due to high voltage inside. Heed them.

Aluminum wiring was used in home construction during the 1960s and early 1970s — until it was discovered that its interaction with copper and brass electrical terminals was causing some house fires! The metals expand and contract at different rates and the aluminum wire was pulling away from the copper terminals. How can you tell if your house has aluminum wiring instead of copper? Aluminum wire is dull gray or silver; copper wire is dull orange. “AL” may be imprinted on the wire sheathing (covering). What can you do about it? You may want an electrician to upgrade your home’s wiring with new aluminum-compatible connectors or by adding copper pigtail wires to the end of all electrical connections. You may be able to do it yourself, but do so under the direction of a licensed electrician.


Should you worry about asbestos? Asbestos is a fireproof, non-conducting mineral that was used in building materials for many decades — until OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) determined that asbestos fibers are a health hazard. Tiny asbestos fibers can readily break away from building materials and the fine dust can be inhaled or swallowed. And asbestos was in many types of materials that are now in homes today. Should you worry? To be a health hazard the fibers must be friable or loose in the air. Disturbing asbestos insulation or breaking up products that have loose asbestos fibers is a health hazard and requires an asbestos-removal expert. However, products like roofing that has asbestos impregnated in it (because it’s fireproof) aren’t a significant health risk.