Handyman On Call

Get basement dry, then look for mold

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / April 4, 2010

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Q. My cellar had several inches of water, which has since subsided. The 1880 foundation is made of rock. How can I dry out the cellar even more, and what can I use for mold that may appear?

VERY DAMP A. You can hasten the drying by ventilating the basement. Open windows on both sides of the basement to allow cross-ventilation. You also can put a fan in a window exhausting outdoors. As for mold, wait until the basement is completely dry, then check for mold. You might not have any. If you do see stains of mold, mostly black but sometimes white, or smell a musty smell, treat with one part bleach and three parts water. Another mold treatment, which claims to make places free of mold for a while, is Moldex, sold in hardware stores.

Q. The sink in my bathroom, of which I am the only user, has a terrible smell — like sewer gas. I tried baking soda, but nothing helped. No other drains smell. What can I do? All drains, including that sink, drain well.

ROXANNE SCHOFF, Cape Vincent, N.Y.

A. Another stumper. For starters, check the trap under the sink, and make sure it is full of water, which keeps sewer gases from backing up into the sink and bathroom. Sometimes grease and oil and hair and makeup line the drain, slowing it down a bit and smelling to high heaven. It is especially strong when you put water down the drain. Put a cup of bleach in the drain and leave overnight. Another possibility is a partial blockage on the soil stack (the vertical pipe that goes up through the roof), which could cause siphoning of water out of the sink trap. It is unlikely because no other drains are affected. If all else fails, call a plumber to see if he can find the source.

Q. I have a problem with spiders. They keep coming back, building their webs on an outside wall. There is a large pond near my house. Have you heard of such a thing?


A. Heard? Yes, and I have written about it many times. The spiders are there, feeding on bugs morning noon and night. You can hose them down, brush down the webs, do everything to stop them, but they will be back, because the bugs are there. If there were no bugs, there would be no spiders, so be content that you are relatively bug free. The pond has some influence, because bugs like moisture. Keep sweeping, and the arachnids will keep coming back.

Q. Is there anything not toxic to put in a toilet that is partially blocked? I put in some ground-up chamomile flowers, hoping they would go down, which they did not. They must have formed a solid mass. A plunger does no good.


A. Never put anything in the toilet but human waste. The only nontoxic things that I can think of are baking soda and enzyme-based Drano. And neither is likely to clear that blockage. You can try using a snake, which has a sort of a hook at one end that will grab the chamomile mass and bring it back up rather than trying to push it further down. If all else fails, call a plumber, who might lift the toilet and go from there.

Q. One of my walls was water damaged, and the wallpaper developed several bubbles. This occurred March 15, and I can press down the bubbles but they just pop up again, so I don’t think they hold water. Will they go down some day, or do I have to repaper that wall?


A. The paper expanded when it got wet, creating the bubbles. Cut one bubble to see if it has any water. Just a pinprick will do. If it does contain water, drain it and the other bubbles. If not, just wait a while for the paper to dry out; as it dos, it will shrink, turning the bubbles flat. Wait a month; after that long, you may have to repaper. If the paper is strippable, you may be able to pull it down from the top down, repaste, and rehang. Otherwise it is a matter of stripping the whole wall and putting up new, if you can find a match to the old paper.

Q. Some of the weather stripping is failing in replacement windows that were installed 20 years ago. I don’t know the brand. The stripping is cracking. Is there any kind I can replace it with?


A. Ah, the chickens come home to roost. Many of the companies that replaced windows years ago are out of business, so there goes any guarantee. If the weather stripping is at the bottom or top of the window, you might be able to buy self-adhesive strips of foam that could fit in the space vacated by the old stripping. Or, put a rope caulk, one that can be removed and saved for another season, along the edges where the sash meets the jamb. If that doesn’t work or other methods fail, call a window repair company.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to Hotton’s email is