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2005 Guide to Home Repair: Quick FIxes

Don't have the time or money for a professional repair? Here's howto keep things in good shape until you do.

Glue it

To patch together something that's broken, experts recommend Elmer's Glue-All and Elmer's Carpenters Wood Glue, both of which are strong. They are also water-soluble, which means the glue can be removed later if you have a piece professionally repaired.

For ceramics that will come into contact with water, try any two-part epoxy (Devcon is a good brand) from a hardware store. You may have to apply it twice if the material is porous. Stay away from silicone-based glues; they're difficult to remove.

Cover it

Slipcovers are a quick and less-expensive alternative to reupholstering. Prices depend on the fabric, but custom covers can be roughly half the cost of reupholstering. Premade slipcovers are even less expensive but often look sloppy because they have to accommodate so many furniture styles. They work best on dining-room chairs, which have less variation in shape than sofas and other stuffed furniture.

Blot it

The natural reaction to a spill is to rub the stain with a strong cleaning product. This is the worst thing you can do. Rug and upholstery experts insist that the best way to treat a spill is to put a bit of warm water on it, then blot it with a dry white towel. (If it's a semisolid spill, like butter or chocolate, first scrape away as much as possible.)

If blotting with a dry towel doesn't lift the spill, dab the stain with a small amount of club soda, plain water, or a mixture of eight ounces of water, one drop of uncolored dish soap, and one teaspoon of white vinegar. Be careful when treating upholstery because it's easy to leave a water mark. After blotting, dry the spot with a hair dryer. If this doesn't remove the stain, you might call a professional.

Most stain removers available in stores work on synthetic materials like nylon carpet. According to rug and upholstery professionals, these cleaners can damage both the fibers and dye in fine rugs and upholstery, causing more damage than the spill.

Scan it

Many commercial photo labs–including MotoPhoto and Penn Camera–offer digital restoration, a fast and less-expensive alternative to having a vintage photograph professionally conserved. They scan the photo, clean it up digitally to restore the color and hide cracks, and print new copies.

Wax it

A good wax can work wonders on unpainted wood furniture–hiding cracks, reviving shine, and protecting the piece. Many antiques require specific waxes that are difficult to apply properly, but you can wax regular furniture yourself.

Experts recommend using paste waxes, which are safe for most finishes. Try Johnson Paste Wax or Liberon Black Bison Fine Paste Wax. Wax no more than twice a year, and instead of applying other products like furniture polish, simply buff the piece to bring out the shine. Avoid products that contain silicone.

Oil it

People used to rub almonds or walnuts on scratches in wood furniture, says Barbara Adatte, an antiques expert. The nut oil would disguise the scratch. Now you can buy almond stick, colorless nut oil that comes in a tin. Adatte also likes Old English Scratch Cover, which is basically a mild wood stain. Use either product sparingly, and test it on an inconspicuous area first. For white marks on wood caused by heat or moisture, Adatte suggests a mixture of baby oil and ashes, from either cigarettes or the fireplace.

Shine it

Before polishing fine metal objects like silver, wash them with dish soap and water and dry them. Use only a small amountof polish, and remove the excess. Don't use a toothbrush to polish the detail; a little tarnish there is desirable.

Experts recommend metal polishes by Wenol, Simichrome, Goddard's, Hagerty, and Wright's. Products that involve spraying or dipping won't work as well as regular polish. "You need to rub the luster back in," says Joe Grenon, owner of Awesome Metal Restoration in Kensington.