Home Repairs, Cleaning and Improvement: Your Toolbox

Home Repairs, Cleaning and Improvement: Your Toolbox

I don’t know about you, but I often find the DIY stuff that’s out there on blogs, tv, and Pinterest fairly intimidating. And I think I’m pretty handy! I have the basics down, but admit I still find working with power tools nerve-wracking until I get my groove on in a project.

It probably comes from being a bit of a perfectionist. The fear of ruining something is still very real for me. (Case in point – it took me about a year to be comfortable with the idea of cutting into fabric to begin sewing. I somehow felt I was “ruining” it by cutting it into the pattern pieces.) There are people in this world who can pull apart and reassemble with abandon. I am not one of them.

I have a lot of basic skills to cover in the coming weeks, but I first want to make sure that you have essential items in your toolbox. This toolbox section will be broken into two areas – hardware supplies and cleaning supplies. Prepare yourselves – this is a long one!

Hardware Supplies

The basics:

  • A toolbox. Yes, a real one. You might find a cheap tool or tackle box at a dollar store if you don’t have a lot of money and don’t have many supplies to put in it. If you are a DIY pro-in-training though, get the real deal from the hardware store. There’s nothing more frustrating than hunting down your hammer in the garage or bedroom or kitchen or wherever you or your family members last left it lying around. With that said – remember to actually use your toolbox and put your tools back in it. (Hah! Then you can lose everything all at once!) 😉
  • A hammer. Get a hammer with a little heft to it. Skip the tack hammers – they’re pretty much useless. You’ll spend a lot of time tap-tappity-tapping away with it, when two swings of a real hammer would have done the same job much more effectively. They do sell different weights, so visit the store and swing them around a little bit to see what feels comfortable to you. You’ll want something you can hold upright without your wrist hurting.
  • multi-bit screwdriverA interchangeable screwdriver kit. Yes, you could buy a set of screwdrivers and have a bunch of them lying around. If you already have a set like this, then that’s perfectly fine. If you’re buying from scratch, find one of the basic interchangeable kits. You have one screwdriver with different sized screwdriver bits that you can change out to fit the job. It saves room, though you do have to keep track of the little bits. (Remember to use your toolbox!)
    There are many different types of screwdriver heads, so make sure your kit at least includes the Phillips (looks like a + sign if you look at the end of it) and the flathead/slotted (looks like a – if you look at the end of it) types. There are also square, hex, star, and other specialized bits, but the Phillips and slotted ones will get you through most of your projects.
  • tape measureA metal tape measure. These are made of a thin metal and are rolled up inside a plastic or metal case. There’s a button you slide to hold it in place, and when it’s released the tape retracts by itself. You’ll want one that is at least 25′ long so it’s useful for most projects.
  • A box of assorted screws and a box of assorted nails. There’s nothing more frustrating than needing a nail to hang a picture or a screw to quickly repair something – and then having to drop everything to run to the hardware store to get what you need. They usually have a set of large size and a set of small size for each – the small set will likely be more useful for most around-the-house items if you’re not planning on doing major carpentry work.
  • A pencil or pen. Handy for marking where you’re getting ready to put your nail or screw. Or to write down measurements when you’re taking them. Or mark wood when you’re getting ready to cut. Keep it in your toolbox so you don’t ever have to hunt one down when you need it. (Remember to put it back in the toolbox when you’re done!)

Extra credit:

  • A power screwdriver/drill. This also has interchangeable bits, so you can use the same tool for drilling holes and inserting/removing screws. Most will come with a basic set of screwdriver and drill bits that should be sufficient for the normal person. I would aim for a mid-level one where power is concerned if you are looking to save money. The really cheap ones don’t have the driving power, so if you have a particularly hard substance you are trying to put a screw into, you’ll end up stripping the screw, find yourself frustrated and then end up having to buy a better one anyway.
  • Command strips. Do you have an aversion to nail holes? Buy a set of command strips and hang away! They have a stretch backing, so when you are ready to remove them, pull down slowly on the tab so the backing stretches away from the wall without removing the paint. I find that I like the velcro kind the best, because if I accidentally hang something slightly off-level, I can pull apart the velcro pieces and shift it a bit.

All that being said, I have been known to use a stapler or a rock as a hammer, a nail as a way of making a pilot hole for a screw, and other such somewhat-successful substitutions. Some work better than others. (The stapler isn’t always the best substitute – at least not the cheap plastic ones!) And my tape measure is pretty much always missing in action. My toolbox is in my office at work since no one else seems to have any tools for the office. I may need to take my own advice and buy a toolbox for home – or at least claim a drawer in my husband’s giant roll-y tool thing if nothing else.

Cleaning Supplies

I do make some of my own cleaners and try to use supplies that can be re-used. I try to keep my cleaning supplies to minimum, as I don’t want to feel like I need a wheeled cart to tote everything around the house when I’m cleaning. I mentioned before that cleaning is not my most favorite thing, so I try to make it as easy as possible.

The basics:

  • Spray bottles. You’ll want at least 3 if you don’t mind carrying them around. Otherwise, get 6 and leave 3 of them in either the kitchen or the bathroom (wherever you seem to use them most) and have 3 to carry around. One will have the vinegar mixture, one the diluted Krud Kutter, and the other the full-strength Krud Kutter. I personally only have 5 as I only use the full-strength Krud Kutter in the kitchen.
  • White vinegar and baking soda. With these two items and some water, you can make an all-purpose cleaner that cleans pretty much anything. If the smell of vinegar reminds you too much of pickles, you can add about 10 drops of essential oil – I love lavender – and that will help cover the smell.
    The basic all-purpose cleaner recipe is 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 Tbsp baking soda, 1/4 gallon (1 liter) hot water, and a few drops of essential oil. Combine the ingredients in a bucket, stir, and let the mixture cool for a few minutes before pouring into a spray bottle. Or, like me (who is lazy and doesn’t usually have an empty bucket laying around), you can put the baking soda in the spray bottle, add the vinegar, let the bubbles die down a bit, then add hot water from the tap. I let it cool with the lid off, then add the essential oil and put the top on.
  • Krud Kutter. This is the only other spray product that I tend to use regularly. It cleans up anything that is greasy, so it’s great for the kitchen where you get that greasy dust that seems to permanently adhere to things. You can also use it on painted woodwork to remove fingerprints and other marks. Generally you’ll use it diluted 5 parts water to 1 part Krud Kutter (when diluting, put the water in first, then the Krud Kutter. Otherwise you get massive amounts of bubbles). You can use it full strength, though, to get rid of the aforementioned grease-dust.
  • Soft scrub with bleach. I use this for sinks and toilets. It does the job just fine for me.
  • White terry cloth towels. You can buy these in a pack at Sam’s Club or Costco and then have plenty to use without having to wash halfway through cleaning the house. The nubby texture is great for scrubbing.
  • Microfiber cloths. These are great for smooth surfaces that have a bit of sheen – use with the vinegar mixture. They’re also great for dusting surfaces and wood floors – no liquid needed! The microfiber loops grab and hold on to dust.
  • Swiffer duster. I’m short, so I love the 360 duster with the extension handle. I can dust the ceiling fan and the bookcases without hauling around a stepladder. I have feather dusters too, but must admit I’m a convert – the Swiffer duster really holds on to the dust. This really is the one disposable product that I use, though I will take the duster outside and give it a good shake to get the dust out. If it’s not too dirty, I keep using it until it is.
  • Vacuum cleaner. Yes. You need one if you have carpet or large area rugs. Believe me – I’ve seen the results of carpets that have not been vacuumed in years, and it’s not pretty.

Extra credit:

  • Clorox wipes. I admit, I prefer to use these to wipe the toilet seat and lid. I suppose I could use the other products without issue, but what can I say?
  • A container to put it all in. It’s nice not to have to juggle everything while you’re moving from room to room.
  • A serving tray. Yes, you read that right. I bought a melamine serving tray from Target. I think it was about $5. It’s fabulous when you want to move things off of a surface to clean – say for example, removing your bathroom countertop items so you can clean corner to corner in one fell swoop without shuffling things around. It’s also a great place to put items that need to go to another room. When you’re done cleaning, just take the tray around and put everything away. Yes, you could use a basket for this, but the tray is pretty thin so it takes less room when I’m not using it.

Whew! You made it to the end!

What tool or cleaning supply is your essential one? What is your oddest tool substitution that you’ve ever used? (Stapler for a hammer anyone?)


Sewist, knitter, reader, dancer. Wife. Lover of things vintage and retro.


  1. […] Home Repairs, Cleaning and Improvement: Your Toolbox October 2, 2014 […]

  2. My favorite cleaning supply is a good absorbent rag. They are harder to find than I would have expected getting started in the homekeeping thing!

    The other thing I wanted to say was maybe consider having a 4 bit screwdriver and hammer with a small pack of picture-hanging nails on every floor – we have a really nice toolbox downstairs with the drill, hammer, etc, but it’s the upstairs hammer that gets pressed into service regularly doing quick things (just the other day I had to replace a coat hook that fell down). We keep ours in a “junk drawer” with 3m strips, tape measure, and scissors. My mom kept her upstairs set in a fake end table thing, and then the kitchen set in a decorative box that everyone assumed was empty! The downstairs sets were, of course, in a toolbox.

    • What a great idea! That helps to eliminate the procrastination factor, too. I usually keep a generic-sized hand screwdriver in the house for that reason – quick repairs and projects.

  3. Best cleaning tool is a Magic Eraser. Those things are amazing!

    • Yes! They’re great for getting off scuff marks and that fine gritty stuff on our kitchen countertops that makes it feel not quite clean. Though I’ve found that a microfiber rag and Krud Kutter also got some scuff marks off that I didn’t think would budge – I thought they were scratches until I rubbed at them a little bit. I figured I was going to have to paint the door, but now it looks good as new!

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