Do It Yourself

By Gene Austin
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Saturday, December 20, 2008

Q: I have a bathroom sink that clogs periodically. I have tried a plunger, several kinds of drain openers and so forth, and I haven't been able to get it to drain well. What's next? -- L. Ramsey

A: I have a bathroom sink with the same problem, and the best thing I have found is a tool called Drain King, which has a special expanding nozzle on the end of a hose. Screw the hose into the sink faucet (after the aerator is removed), and insert the nozzle end into the drain or clogged pipe. I find that it works best if I remove the sink trap and insert the nozzle directly into the pipe because the clog forms deep in the pipe. When everything is in place, turn on the water full force, and the special nozzle injects a stream of water into the clogged pipe. Removing the trap eliminates some of the turns the water has to go through and improves the results considerably. In most cases, the clog gives way and the drain runs well again until there is another buildup of the clogging material, which I suspect is a mixture of toothpaste, soap and hair.

Drain Kings come in several sizes, so make sure you get the size meant for bathroom sinks.

I don't like to use chemicals to open drains but have tried a few of them and have had rather good results with gel-type Liquid-Plumbr.

Q: I have an older plastic-laminate counter that has become scratched and stained. How can I make it look new again?

-- B. Wasdo

A: There isn't much you can do about scratches in plastic laminate; the best bet is to avoid them by using cutting boards. Some stains can be removed with laminate cleaners. I like Gel-Gloss, a fiberglass cleaner that also works well on laminates and some other surfaces. Laminate can also be painted, but paint isn't a tough surface for a counter and extra care is needed to keep it looking good.

Q: A friend told me that something called a chimney balloon can keep my chimney from letting in cold air and pulling out heated air when the fireplace is not in use. Do the balloons really work? -- Lisa

A: Chimney Balloons do work, according to some tests. The plastic balloon is placed in the chimney above the damper and inflated. When properly sized and inserted, the balloon makes a tight seal that eliminates the common problems you mention. Tests showed that a balloon performed better than a damper or glass doors used separately and slightly better than a damper and glass doors used together.

It is important to get the right size balloon, so you must measure carefully. Instructions for measuring and other important information can be found at The balloons can be used with most types of fireplaces and are reusable. Prices start at about $43. The balloon must be removed if a fire is started, of course. If accidentally left in place, the maker says, the balloon will self-destruct in less than a minute.

Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to Questions cannot be answered personally.

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