Q. We have two toilets, and we hear sudden noises like someone has flushed one of them at intervals. We don’t know which one is making the noise or what causes it. Can you help?
A. Mysterious flushing noises from a toilet are often caused by a leak between the tank and bowl. Water seeps from the tank into the bowl, sometimes unnoticed, and when the tank water level gets low enough the tank starts to refill, which makes the flushing noise.
This is a common problem and it can waste huge amounts of water. Fortunately, the repair it is usually rather easy and inexpensive.
First, determine which toilet has the leak with an old and effective test: Put food coloring, such as Easter egg dye, into the toilet tank. Do not flush the toilet for several hours; overnight is better. If the dye color shows up in the bowl without a flush, there is a leak.
With the lid removed from the tank of the leaking toilet, take a good look at the mechanism inside. The leak normally occurs at the flush valve in the bottom central area of the tank.
This valve, often a flapper device, is attached to a chain that attaches to a rod on the flush handle. When the flush handle is depressed, the flapper lifts and lets water rush into the bowl, creating a normal flush.
When the flush handle is released, the flapper should close completely; if it doesn’t the chain attaching it to the flush handle might need adjusted or there might be debris between the flapper body and its seat.
To check for debris on the flapper body or seat, turn off the water to the tank (the shutoff valve is under the toilet tank) and flush, which will remove most of the water from the tank. Lift the flapper with your fingers and feel around the ring-shaped metal seat for roughness or bits of debris.
If necessary, the seat can be cleaned and smoothed by rubbing gently with a kitchen scrubbing pad. Also check the underside of the flapper for stuck-on dirt or debris and clean with a soft cloth.
If the flapper passes these tests and there is still a leak, it might be warped or otherwise defective. New flapper valves are available at most hardware stores, often for less than $10.
Be sure to get a flapper designed for your brand of toilet and follow the installation directions carefully.
Q. Our wood deck is located under a large tree and the wood has become almost black. We are thinking of using a bleach on it, then pressure washing. Will that help?
A. Most deck cleaners contain bleach, either chlorine or oxygen-type. One of these should remove the black stain, which is probably a bad case of mildew and ground-in dirt.
I assume this is pressure-treated wood. Deck cleaners such as Wolman Deck & Fence Brightener should do the job. Read the directions for the specific cleaner.
For the Wolman product, mix enough solution in a five-gallon bucket to clean the deck, then pre-wet about 10 boards with water. Apply cleaner to the wet area with a synthetic-bristle brush on an extension handle.
Let the cleaner work for about 10 minutes, then scrub the treated area with the applicator brush. Rinse thoroughly when cleaning is completed.
You can use a pressure washer instead of brushing if you like. A 40-degree nozzle is recommended.
For pressure-treated wood or hardwoods, use 1,500 to 2,500 psi; on softer woods such as cedar, use 500 to 1,000 psi. Pressure washing is not recommended for composite decks.
When the deck is clean, let it dry thoroughly and apply a water-repellent stain or sealer. You might have to repeat cleaning and sealing every year or two to keep the deck looking good.
Q. How can I remove old decals from the bottom of my bathtub? Part of them came off but the backing is still there and it looks terrible.
A. Use a gun-type hair dryer on moderate setting to warm the decals and carefully scrape off as much as you can; the heat will soften the old glue and make scraping easier. Use a plastic auto-windshield scraper to avoid scratching the tub.
To remove the residue, use a solvent such as Goo Gone or Goof Off. The solvents are sold at many home centers and supermarkets.