Q. My plastic porch railing has become unsightly with dirt and stains. Is it possible to paint it and if not, how can it be cleaned?
A. It is possible to paint plastic, but special paint is usually needed to insure good adhesion to the slick surface.
You can probably find a paint suitable for plastic at a paint store or home center. Some well-known brands are Rust-Oleum Specialty Paint for Plastic and Krylon Fusion Spray Paint for Plastic. Rust-Oleum also makes a new all-surface paint that is said to be suitable for plastic.
Many of the plastic paints I’ve seen are spray paints, sold in aerosol cans. Be sure to read and follow the directions carefully, and don’t forget to cover and mask surfaces that you don’t want painted. Choose a calm day for painting, since a breeze can blow spray paint in unwanted directions.
Your porch rail is probably vinyl, and I would definitely try cleaning it before attempting to paint it. I have had no trouble cleaning vinyl surfaces with household cleaners such as Fantastik; just spray it on, let it work for a minute or two, and wipe it off.
Pressure washing will also usually clean vinyl and other plastics.
Q. Our wall-to-wall carpet has wrinkled and has humps in it after three years. Is there anything we can do ourselves to flatten it?
A. Wall-to-wall carpet is generally fastened at the perimeter of the room with tackless strips. These are metal strips, attached to the floor, that have prongs facing up to snag the edges of the carpet.
To refasten or stretch the carpet, you need a tool called a knee kicker, which can be bought for about $25. The tool user works on hands and knees. The tool snags the top surface of the carpet and is given a sharp rap with one knee, which stretches a section of carpet.
It takes a lot of whacks and some expertise to properly stretch a carpet. If you have some patience and a strong knee, you might be able to do a creditable job yourself.
The tool might be hard to find at home centers, but is available from a number of online dealers. To find sources, use a search engine and the words Carpet Knee Kicker.
Q. What causes a toilet to have very low water, almost nothing, in the bowl? This happens in our second-floor toilet only. Is it still safe to flush it?
A. There are several possible causes. One possibility is that the toilet is not properly vented or that the vent, a pipe that usually extends through the roof, is clogged with leaves or other debris.
Before calling a plumber to check the vent, however, remove the lid from the toilet tank and make sure the bowl is filling properly after a flush.
Examine the overflow pipe, which is a vertical pipe near the middle of the tank. A small tube should be clipped to the rim of the overflow pipe. After the toilet is flushed, water should issue from the small tube and go down the overflow pipe and into the toilet bowl.
If water from the small tube is missing the overflow pipe for some reason, it needs to be adjusted, which could solve your problem.
It is also possible that the toilet simply has a low water level. This is the case with some newer toilets, which use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush.
To check, use a bucket to slowly pour some water into the bowl. If the water level quickly reverts to the old position, there isn’t much that can be done that is the normal level for the toilet.
It is safe to flush the toilet even if the bowl’s water level is down. The flushing water will come from the tank, which will refill afterward.
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