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Basement Odor

My mother's house has had an odor in the basement for the last 2 summers.  It is NOT sewer gas - which is everyone's first suggestion.  It smells like cat urine, but there is no cat.  The odor is not there in the winter - whether the smell is gone or the furnace removes it, I can't say.  The smell is worse during/after a rain.  We have had the plumber, who cleaned out the sewer pipes, etc, and found nothing else wrong.  I had the borough engineer out, who was unable to offer any ideas.  It seems to come from one corner of the basement floor, and sometimes the bare concrete is dark, as if water is leeching up from the ground.  There is never a puddle.  We have already tried the enzyme odor removers - to no avail. We are having the tile floor removed and will have the concrete painted with an epoxy paint, but don't want to do the work if the smell will still be able to get through the paint.  Anyone have any ideas?  Thanks!

Our Answer

It is rare but sometimes fiberglass insulation develops a urine-like odor from amines that are used in the adhesive manufacture. Moisture exacerbates the emission.

Pull some of the fiberglass out and put it in vegetable steamer and see if it smells after you heat it up in a humid, hot environment.

Don't spend any more money on "remediation" until you are sure of the problem.

And let us know if it's the fiberglass.

Jeffrey May

May Indoor Air Investigations

Author: Jeff May's Healthy Home Tips

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dryer vent cleaning

Dryer Vent Cleaning: Best Way to Remove Lint

Your newsletter last week had a section on dryer vent cleaning using a product called "Lint Eater" (see I looked at that, but it requires you to access the vent on the outside of the house. Since my dryer is on the second floor, I think my dryer vent goes out of the roof. Is that right? If so, how can I possibly clean it?

I have never cleaned the vent because we had a real hard time lining up the back of the dryer with the vent in the wall. If I pull it out, I'm not sure I'd be able to get it back in. Should I just not worry about it? I do clean the dryer lint filter out all the time, but I know that isn't really enough.

Photo credit:

Our Answer

No, cleaning your lint filter is definitely not enough! You'd be wise to get a friend to help you pull that dryer away from the wall and use the Lint Eater brush to scrub the insides of the duct. You will be quite surprised by the volume of lint that gets trapped in the ducts of those with even the most admirable lint-trap cleaning habits! You got the dryer back once before, so you will be able to do this again.

The only other way to attack the duct is from the roof where it terminates, but since gravity won't be in your favor there, we recommend you access it from the dryer area first and clean the dryer vent from there.

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floor, cleaning, dust

Why Is My House Always Dusty?

When I dust my house in the evening, everything is covered again by the next morning.  Could the problem be stemming from the heat pump system? We've had the unit thoroughly cleaned inside and out, to no avail.

Our Answer

Consider upgrading or adding filters to your HVAC system to reduce the dust problem and improve air quality.  Filtrete makes a range of filters customizable to various issues from excess dust to allergies. However, your best solution - albeit a more expensive one - is an electronic air cleaner that can remove even virus-sized particles from the air.  It's mounted on a return duct and protects your home from mold and pollen - and will do a number on that dust!

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Interior Painting Preparation: Three Steps to a Beautiful Finish

I'm about to tackle my first interior painting project and don't want to wind up with the same rough-looking results I've seen in other homes. What painting preparation steps do I need to take to make sure my interior painting project turns out well?

Our Answer

There are several interior painting preparation steps you'll need to take to make sure your painting project comes out perfectly, starting with preperation.  Many interior painting projects that have turned out badly are the result of a lack of interior painting preparation.  Too many times first-time painters get so excited about the new paint color that they skip over the "boring" parts of a proper paint job.

Here are the three basic interior painting preparation steps:

  1. Clean all surfaces. The first step in proper interior painting preparation is to scrub away any accumulations of smoke, oil and grime that can keep paint from adhering. Use liquid sandpaper to remove buildup from trim, and wash walls down with a TSP (trisodium phosphate) solution, available at most home centers and hardware stores. Tip: Apply the solution with a sponge-head floor mop for an easier reach and avoidance of ladder catastrophes.
  2. Smooth everything out. Once cleaned surfaces are completely dry, you'll need to smooth them out. This is where a lot of the painting preparation work happens, so don't skimp or get lazy with the details, because the new paint won't hide them. Fill all holes and cracks, followed by a thorough allover sanding and removal of the resulting dust. Then grab a really strong flashlight and hold it against and parallel to the wall to check your work. As the light bounces over the repaired area, you'll be able to see exactly how the surface will look when sunshine hits it. If this test reveals unsightly details, go back and smooth them before packing up the sander.
  3. Mask marvelously. Finally, you'll need to mask off everything you don't want painted and carefully create a clean edge for every coat of paint. For this preparation step, apply painter's tape along trim and glass edges, and use it in combination with plastic sheeting or masking paper to cover fixtures that can't be moved and large surface areas to be left out of the equation. Also remove switch and socket plates (followed by a bit of tape over remaining switches and plugs) and all possible hardware. Also important to your interior painting preparation is make sure the room temperature is below 90 degrees and above 55 so that paint goes on smoothly. Then begin the primer application, cutting in around edges and then filling in surfaces. After the primer is dry, apply your new paint shade in two rounds for a durable, beautiful finish that reflects the proper preparation you've put into your painting project.
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gas grill, grill cleaning

Gas Grill Cleaning Tips

After a couple of months of heavy grilling, my gas grill needs an extreme makeover of its own. Do you any tips for a mid season grill cleaning?

Our Answer

The same char broiling grill action that flavors ribs, chicken, steaks and burgers all summer long can really cause problems if you don't stop and do a thorough grill cleaning once in a while. Here's what to do:

  1. Soak the grids in hot, soapy water and clean them with a nylon scrubbing pad. If the grids are really encrusted, use oven cleaner in a well ventilated area and rinse clean.
  2. Remove the lava rock or ceramic briquettes and clean them with a wire brush, replacing any that are deteriorated. Remove the burner, brush it clean and check carefully for cracks, split seams or holes. If any are found, the burner should be immediately replaced.
  3. Check all the rubber gas hoses for cracks and replace any that show the slightest sign of wear.
  4. Once the grill cleaning is complete, you are ready to put the grill back together and check all gas connections for leaks. To do this safely, mix a 50/50 solution of liquid dishwashing soap and water. Brush the solution on all gas connections and watch for bubbles. If any are seen, the connection is leaking and should be fixed before firing the grill.

Now that you know how to clean the grill, the only thing to do is help make it dirty again! So, here's a recipe for a great barbecue sauce that Leslie likes to whip up. This is the messiest sauce out there but it is so worth it. It works on flank steak, chicken, ribs, or just about anything else you can grill.


  • 32oz bottle of ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons garlic salt
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey

Mix well in a bowl and marinate for at least three hours or overnight. Use extra sauce to brush on during grilling.  

Then, see the above gas grill cleaning instructions again!

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vinyl stain, floor, linoleum

Remove Stains from Vinyl and Linoleum Floor

There are blueish stains on the linoleum floor in my bathroom, possibly caused by the rubber mat backing on an area rug. How can I remove these rubber mat stains on my  floor?

Our Answer

Though they provide warmth and comfort in baths and kitchens, rubber-backed area rugs can also leave permanent stains behind on vinyl and linoleum floors. Here's why:

Antioxidants, added to the rubber mats during the manufacturing process to prevent the rubber from drying out, react chemically with the sheet flooring. This chemical reaction results in a permanent color change. So, unfortunately, what you are seeing is not a stain that can be removed, but rather a physical change in the color of the flooring that cannot be reversed. Vinyl and linoleum flooring manufacturers often warn of this condition in their usage guides.

For example, the following paragraph appears on the website for Armstrong Floors: "Place a walk-off mat at outside entrances to reduce the amount of dirt brought into your home. We do not recommend the use of rubber- or latex-backed mats because the chemical (antioxidant) used to keep the backing from becoming brittle can permanently stain your floor. We suggest a non-staining vinyl-backed mat or a woven rug that is colorfast. Most of these products are identified "colorfast" by the manufacturer. All Armstrong floor care products have been specifically developed to care for Armstrong floors. You may purchase Armstrong floor care products at your local flooring retailer."

So, after vinyl and linoleum floor rubber mat stains have set in, your only options are to completely replace the flooring or just buy a bigger (and non-staining) area rug!

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paint, prep, paint brush, choosing the right paint brush

Removing Mold and Mildew From Siding

There's growth on my painted wood siding.  I'm pretty sure it's either mold or mildew.  What is the best way to remove this? I heard there is a product i can spray on the siding and thats all I have to do, but I have a hard time believing it could be that easy!

Our Answer

Rest easy: Mold and mildew on siding are common, and nothing to be terribly concerned about.  But it does need to be managed.  What you want to use is a mildewcide.  There are a great numbers of commercial  and DIY options available, from mixing bleach and water to using professional products but we like Spray and Forget the best simply apply and let them sit, and they prevent further mold.  The other treatments can have a detrimental effect or grass, plants, and other growth.  Now, you mentioned your siding is painted.  If you're ever getting ready to repaint it, it's really important you thoroughly remove that mold and mildew first. 

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Help! Overrun with House Flies!

Our home is overrun with house flies.  There is no apparent cause such as open trash, food being out or even Jimmy Hoffa (ha!).  I kill up to 25-30 flies *per day*, no kidding.  The worst part is the next day there are that many right back. The only thing I can think of is that our cat's box is maybe 12' from our door in the garage but we keep that cleaned out every 4-5 days so as to eliminate this as a possible cause.

Can you guys suggest either a fix or a possible cause for this?  It's about to drive me absolutely nuts!

Thanks and I love this show!

Daniel Ledford

Louisville, KY

Our Answer

Wow! That does sound like a lot of house flies.  Animal waste and garbage are actually both excellent breeding material for flies.  A fly can go from pupa to adult in eight days, so there does seem to be some reproduction going on in your home.  If you think you are doing a good job of keeping the litter box clean and garbage cans covered, then there may be some other breeding site.  For example, a missed bit of pet waste that is in a corner somewhere?  Keep doors and windows closed to exclude any breeding site that's INSIDE your home. 

Also, try to figure out what kind of flies these are.  If they are tiny gnat-like flies they could be fruit flies, also known as drain or sewer flies because they breed off of biofilm in your household drains.  Once you figure out which type of flies you have and find and clean the breeding site, you should be able to eliminate the problem.

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deck stairs

How to Get Rid of Dust

I have a 3 year old home with vinyl windows which are tight. There's weatherstripping around all the doors and I can not figure out how this house gets so dusty within a matter of a couple days. Wondering how to get rid of dust.  How do I find the source of my problem?

Our Answer

Well, we hate to be the first one to tell you but the culprit may not be outside but INSIDE the house!  We all generate a lot more duct than we realize and reducing it starts not on line with cleaning surfaces likes rugs or furniture, bit more importantly by cleaning the air.

We'd suggest that you invest in a good quality electronic air cleaner.  This type of system is installed into the return air side of your heating/cooling system and cleans the air thoroughly each time the system is on.  The best EAC's can even remove virus sized particles.

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Dust in House: How to Reduce or Remove

I have noticed an excessive amount of dust in my home; especially in the master bathroom.  It seems like I can't keep the furniture dusted enough.  When I rinse the tub there is a coating of lint type dust that isn't visible until I rinse the tub by pouring water on the sides of the tub before filling it.

I am wondering if there is a leak in our attic and perhaps the vent fan in the bathroom is allowing air flow from the attic to enter my home.  I haven't had the attic inspected but the house was built in 2003 so didn't think I would have a problem.  It is frustrating to try and keep up with the dusting!  Have you heard of anything like this? What can I do to solve this problem?

Our Answer

While it’s possible that you’re getting some dust from the attic, it’s unlikely. If there are gaps around your ceiling fans, air is probably moving from the house into the attic, not the other way around, due to something called the stack effect. I suggest that you look at a couple of other possible sources of dust first.

When’s the last time you had your clothes dryer vent cleaned? If that vent is obstructed, you could be getting a lot of dryer lint blowing back into the house. Turn on your dryer, then go outside to find the vent opening. You should have a nice, strong flow of warm air coming out of that opening. If you don’t, then have the vent cleaned to remove any build up of lint. It might solve your problem and make your dryer work better at the same time.

Do you have a fireplace or wood stove? If you do, and the inside of your house were to become depressurized, air could move backwards through these flues and carry ash into the house. If this is the case, you’ll need to find out why the house is becoming depressurized. Leaky ductwork in your heating system is often the culprit here.

One other thing to consider is that your heating system’s filter is missing. It’s important for you to clean or change your air filter regularly.

Editor’s Note: Jim Katen is a professional home inspector with Benchmark Inspection Service in Gaston, OR. Jim volunteers as a guest expert in The Money Pit Community. Learn more about Jim’s work through the American Society of Home Inspectors.


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How to Paint Over Concrete

         I just recently purchased a home, and unfortunately the previous homeowners were Michigan State fans. There is all sorts of green and white reminders of that throughout the house. Including the landscaping, white rocks in the landscaping beds, and worse of all the concrete foundation, garage floor and walkways are painted green. I am interested in knowing what the best ways to remove the old green paint from the concrete, but also a safe method for the soil surrounding landscaping beds to not damage the existing & future plants. And also, What are some of the best options for once the paint is removed? For the foundation, garage floor and the walkways as well.

Thank you for your time & I love listening to your podcast while in working in the factory. Keep up the great work.


Our Answer

Go Spartans?  Or more accurately, Go Away Spartans!  So you find yourself in a sea of green?  The best approach isn't to necessarily strip the old paint as this is an almost impossible job when it comes to masonry.  Better yet, you should paint over it.  Here are the steps:

1.  Remove the loose paint.  Use a wire brush to remove as much of the old paint as comes off.  You can't put good paint over bad paint or it will peel.  Now, if you REALLY want to remove the old paint, the best approach is sandblasting but that can damage the masonry if it's not done carefully.

2. Next, apply a masonry primer.  I'd use an oil-based primer from a well known manufacturer like Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams.

3.  The apply two coats of exterior masonry paint over the primer.

The problem with paint is that after you paint you have to eventually repaint.  But following this procedure will give you a finish that will keep that Michegan green from peaking out last as long as possible!

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What’s the Best Cleaner for Wood Kitchen Cabinets?

What product would you recommend for cleaning wood kitchen cabinets? They are a light white oak and are very dirty with grease, hand grime and cigarette smoke residue.  Thank you in advance for your response.

Our Answer

Start with Murphy's Oil Soap.  It's a good, dependable wood cleaner.  The rule of thumb with Murphy's, though, is don't use excessive water when using it.  If you dip a washcloth into the Murphy's and wipe the cabinets down, follow up with a clean sponge to get the soap off and to get it dry.  
Another great product is WD-40.  WD-40 has a ton of household uses; however, use it only on a spot-treatment basis, for tough grease or other stains. Good luck!

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Removing Calcium Deposits From My Water Heater

I have extremely hard water, so every year or two I take time to remove the bottom element on my water heater and suck out the calcium deposits. The first challenge s that I have to rig up a piece of copper pipe on my shop vac and tape it to the heater to accomplish this.  Is there a better tool out there to complete this task?

Secondly, is there something on the market that will liquefy the calcium so that I can just rinse it out? If so, how long does that process take? And my last question: Is there a water heater on the market that provides access to clean out the calcium? Meaning, one that provides more room to get into the water heater with a hand and a vacuum? I appreciate any advice you can offer and I love your show.

Our Answer

I think you're working too hard!  The internal drain valve should be more than sufficient for removing the calcium deposits from your water heater.  By the way, the only thing you gain by removing calcium is a bit more efficiency.  Calcium can act as an insulator between the flame and the water, but it has no effect on corrosion. 

The valve in your water heater has threads on it for a garden hose.  Simply hook up that hose, run it somewhere where the water can run off,  and open the valve. 

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How to Paint a Peeling Basement Floor

I have a basement floor that has been painted at least once, and probably with an oil base.  The current topcoat was a latex paint. 

In preparing to paint the floor with a concrete water-based acrylic floor coating, we are seeing the current floor coating bubble and chip off. This is from damp mopping and we plan to use a TSP cleaner.   Do we need to completely sand all the paint off?  Do we need to scrape the floor and sand it?  Is there a sealer for the floor that will seal the old paint so it won't bubble and then chip and become the base for our new paint? 

The basement is unfinished and I'm simply trying to update the paint on the walls and floors to freshen everything.

Our Answer

The first rule of painting is this: Don't put good paint over bad paint!  You need to first strip off the old.  But before taking the time and trouble to do that, consider alternatives such as laminate flooring.  Laminate flooring is a dream solution in situations like yours: It's inexpensive, extremely durable, and provides a very finished look to a space.  It's also completely damp-proof, and therefore perfectly suited for basements.  By the time you're done stripping and repainting all that old paint, you'll find laminate floor could've been put down in a fraction of the time.  Based on what you described, it really is the best option.

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What’s the Best Way to Clean Carpets?

What is the best method for cleaning carpets?  Chem-dry? Steam? Other?

Our Answer

Cleaning your carpets is a good idea for number of reasons.  It not only makes them smell fresh and eliminates odors, it actually preserves the carpet.  You see, the number one cause of wear and tear on carpets is dirt - specifically, the dirt that grinds in under your feet.  It breaks down carpet fibers from foot traffic, damaging the carpet and the floor beneath it. 
I've only had experience with steam cleaning, which has always been successful.  I'm always surprised by how much dirt it pulls out of the carpet.  I steam clean the carpets in the rental property I own, and many times I thought have to replace carpet - only to have them feel good as new once the steam cleaning was complete.