Gay Gordon-Byrne doesn’t think there’s any consumer product the average person can’t fix. She might be a bit biased: Gordon-Byrne is the executive director of the Repair Association, an organization that advocates for legislation that would increase consumer access to parts, tools, and manuals to repair their electronics. Gordon-Byrne is among the supporters of the right-to-repair movement, which proponents say will allow consumers the ability to fix the products they already own or outsource repairs to a professional who is not employed by the item’s manufacturer. Beyond electronics, many products we love and use every day can be mended ourselves, experts say.
Even though our stuff — from clothing to furniture — is made with increasingly cheaper materials and results in items of dubious quality, Gordon-Byrne says it’s worth it to try to fix your damaged item first before rushing out to buy anew. “Basically, you take a thing that’s shitty today and you buy something that’s shittier,” she says. “You’re really making your situation even less long-term because the product that you’re buying, even though it may come with a 90-day warranty, it’s not fundamentally going to last any longer than the one that you’ve already gotten frustrated with.” If the cost to repair, say, a blender is higher than what you would spend for a new one, definitely purchase a new blender; otherwise, consider a fix. Some sentimental items, like a beloved family heirloom quilt, may constitute more time and money, but are not outside the realm of repair.
There are a multitude of reasons why repairing what you’ve already got benefits consumers and the world, says Liz Chamberlain, the director of sustainability for iFixit, an online database of user-generated repair guides. Not only does it save money, but it teaches you about your products. Crucially, by extending the lifespan of your items, you’re keeping them out of landfills and that’s good for the planet. “That’s true for electronics, it’s true for appliances,” Chamberlain says. “It’s true for the vast majority of things that we’re reusing in our daily lives.”
The thought of doing a DIY repair on your vacuum cleaner might be intimidating at first, but there are a wealth of resources available to help guide you through the fix, including guidance on where to buy parts. (iFixit alone has over 400 entries dedicated to vacuums.) Experts in all domains of mending, from furniture to clothing, offer their advice on how to best repair your items — and why it’s worth doing so in the first place.
A word of caution: Not all guides and tutorials are made alike. Any materials provided by the item’s manufacturer will have the most specific instructions for your product. Tutorials created by someone who teaches a specific skill, like sewing, or who works in the field, like furniture making, will have the most trustworthy guidance. If you have the time, interest, and resources, you can enroll in a class in your area or online to learn more skills.
Give your clothes new life with some needle and thread
Can it be fixed? Virtually every article of clothing can be mended except for stretch jeans, according to Erin Lewis-Fitzgerald, author of Modern Mending: How to Minimize Waste and Maximize Style. Worn-out stretchy jeans can start to pucker and bubble in spots “and there’s no way to fix it,” Lewis-Fitzgerald says. “It’s the elastic fibers, like the Lycra or the elastane, in the fabric breaking down at a different rate to the cotton.” But everything else, from socks with holes or sweaters with pills, can be salvaged.
Can you do it yourself? For DIYers armed with some thread and a needle, you can spruce up your clothes at home. “There’s a really low barrier to entry,” Lewis-Fitzgerald says. Lewis-Fitzgerald’s Modern Mending offers step-by-step guidance on a number of mending techniques, from darning to patching. Her Facebook group, Modern Mending Club, is a great place to ask questions and engage with a community of passionate menders. Patagonia has a number of video and written tutorials including how to replace a button and how to darn a hole in a knitted garment. The University of Kentucky’s School of Agriculture offers a guide with tips on aspects of clothing repair, such as darning and hemming. The blog SewGuide.com outlines over a dozen methods for repairing tears in fabric. NPR’s Life Kit’s guide to mending offers tips for beginner “visible menders” — those who repair their clothes in a more artistic manner. The YouTube channel Repair What You Wear is rife with video tutorials, from explaining how to do different kinds of stitches to repairing jeans.
When should you hire a pro? If you don’t have the time or skills to mend a hole in the elbow of your favorite sweater, for example, there’s no shame in handing off the project. Local tailors and dry cleaners can handle most clothing mends. You can also ship your items to Portland and the pros at Hidden Opulence will spruce up your clothing. Little Cliff in St. Louis also accepts mending orders via mail. Pittsburgh-based Old Flame Mending will restore “anything but a broken heart” from customers nationwide. If you’ve got holes in your sweaters, mail them to AlterKnit for a seamless repair. Mail in your outdoor clothing for repair from Rugged Thread.
See if the retailer where you bought the item offers repairs. For example, Uniqlo mends slightly damaged areas on down items, jeans, sweaters, and shirts; Patagonia has a similar program to repair items.
Learn how to replace phone screens and batteries on your own
Can it be fixed? Very few tech products are outside of the realm of repair, Chamberlain says, “but I think a lot of responsibility lies on manufacturers to make it possible to fix things.” For example, the original version of the Microsoft Surface laptop required tinkerers to cut a fabric cover if they wanted to fix the machine. “In order to do any repair on the laptop you had to destroy it,” Chamberlain says. “Microsoft, to their credit, took that feedback and has really improved its line of the Surface laptop. It’s not something you have to destroy to get into anymore.” If you have access to a manual or instructions, replacement parts, and reusable fasteners, you can repair it. Even water damage doesn’t spell the end of your electronics: iFixit has solutions.
Can you do it yourself? With the right instructions, most tech can be fixed, Chamberlain says, but the smaller the device, the more difficult the job may be. “Replacing a smartphone battery isn’t beyond anybody,” she says. “The procedures of it aren’t rocket science. It’s unscrewing some screws and heating up some adhesive and prying things out.” Replace your smartphone battery or busted screen with iFixIt’s thorough and visual guides. iFixIt also has hundreds of other step-by-step tutorials on everything from how to remove the motherboard in a PlayStation 4 Pro to fixing the battery in an iPad Pro 12.9” 4th generation. Some tech companies, like HP and Dell, offer guides to troubleshoot common computer issues, like screen repair. Apple has repair manuals for iPhone, Mac laptops and desktops, and displays for DIYers. YouTube has no shortage of step-by-step videos from creators like Louis Rossmann and Electronics Repair School.
When should you hire a pro? If you’ve read through instructions and can’t grasp how to perform the repair, or if sourcing parts would be difficult, don’t feel ashamed to seek out a professional. For instance, it’s incredibly easy to accidentally damage your phone when replacing a smartphone battery, Chamberlain says. So if you know you don’t have a super steady hand, find a phone repair kiosk in the mall “because the guy behind the counter there has probably done 20 of those battery replacements today,” she says. Check to see if the manufacturer offers a warranty and what it covers — you may be able to get a free repair or replacement. Keep in mind that if you’ve done any other DIY fixes, your warranty may be void.
Help your home appliances work better and last longer
Can it be fixed? It can be difficult to determine whether to repair or replace large home appliances. Consumer Reports offers an interactive tool that factors in the type of appliance, when you purchased it, the original cost, and the repair cost to help you make a decision. “I would say if the repair costs are approaching 50 percent of the original cost of the appliance, then you might want to consider replacing it outright,” says Daniel Wroclawski, a home and appliance writer at Consumer Reports. You may also want to weigh whether the appliance is still under warranty, or partial warranty. “Refrigerators, for example, some brands like Samsung and LG, they may not warranty the entire fridge for five years, but they will warranty the compressor for a longer period of time,” Wroclawski says. “The compressor is the most costly thing in the fridge to repair.”
Can you do it yourself? Common appliance repairs are fairly accessible for most people. Most people who attend local “repair cafes,” community-led restoration clinics, are looking for assistance fixing small appliances, like coffee makers, says Martine Postma, the founder and director of the Repair Cafe International Foundation. If your refrigerator or dishwasher doors are not maintaining a tight seal, the fix might be a new door gasket, Wroclawski says, which is straightforward to do. He recommends RepairClinic.com for help with both diagnosing the problem and sourcing parts for the repair. iFixit also has guides for refrigerator, dishwasher, oven, washing machine, vacuum, and other appliance repairs. Appliancevideo.com gives users the ability to search for DIY videos by specific parts or symptoms.
Manufacturers often have support pages for diagnosing and troubleshooting problem issues, such as noises coming from a Samsung refrigerator or an LG air conditioner not cooling well. Chamberlain is a fan of YouTuber Ben’s Appliances and Junk, where you can find tutorials on how to fix your appliances.
When should you hire a pro? If your appliance is still under warranty, your tinkering with it could void the warranty, Wroclawski says. Always double check your warranty and reach out to the manufacturer for any covered repairs. Again, if the instructions seem beyond what you can accommodate, definitely enlist the help of a local technician. According to HowStuffWorks, if the appliance is made of parts held together with rivets or welds, you’ll need to outsource the repair. “When you get to things that are more complex that involve really opening up the appliance and getting down and dirty, that’s probably when you want to call in a pro,” Wroclawski says.
Reinforce wobbly chairs with basic furniture repair skills
Can it be fixed? Objects of sentimental value may be worth fixing over cheaper items from IKEA or something you picked up for free from a Buy Nothing group in college. However, Scott Bennett has certainly repaired new pieces of furniture that were damaged in the delivery process at his Ontario furniture repair shop Wooden It Be Nice. It comes down to the role the piece plays in your life: You may opt to repair a cheap wobbly chair that’s a part of a discontinued set or a dresser you’ve had since childhood that maybe just needs a new finish. The only material that absolutely can’t be fixed, Bennett says, is particle board, an engineered wood product commonly used in IKEA furniture. “Generally when it breaks, there’s nothing you can do to repair it,” he says. “If a solid piece of wood has a split in it and breaks, it can be glued back together again.”
Can you do it yourself? “These largely mechanical or physical devices that don’t have any software on them, they are vastly more repairable without any help from the manufacturer,” Gordon-Byrne says. But you may need more skills to reupholster a chair than you do to unfasten a few screws on a laptop, so do your research before jumping into any repairs, Bennett says. “I’m literally working on a piece today that has been repaired several different times by people that didn’t know what they were doing,” he says. “I’m now having to spend more time undoing that damage than it is for me to do it properly.”
Most people, Bennett says, can likely repair an unbalanced chair with the right tutorial and a few clamps. Bennett’s YouTube channel, Fixing Furniture, has a video for repairing wobbly chairs, and even new furniture. Bennett also recommends the Thomas Johnson Antique Furniture Restoration channel on YouTube. Watch the video for a project before embarking on your repair to ensure you feel confident enough that you can tackle it.
When should you hire a pro? “The skill and knowledge of furniture repair is hard to come by,” Bennett says. So if you don’t have the proper tools or sense a fix is beyond your reach, take the piece to a professional. Bennett suggests reading Google reviews and only seeking out furniture repair shops with a four-and-a-half star rating or higher.
Make your kid’s day by refurbishing their favorite toys
Can it be fixed? Like furniture, the sentimental value of a child’s toy will determine whether it’s worth salvaging. Your kid’s favorite stuffed animal can usually be repaired, no matter the damage. “Often when things [on toys] fail, it’s not the cheap plastic components,” Chamberlain says. “It’s often that there’s some corrosion on the board that you can scrape off with a toothpick and some rubbing alcohol.”
Can you do it yourself? Giving new life to plush toys is possible, with some help from Martha Stewart. If you’re more of a YouTube learner, there are a few options there, too. FixItClub.com offers tips on a few types of toy repairs. Adhesives brand Loctite has a number of guides about how to fix household items with glue, including how to fix a plastic toy. Learn how to repair children’s toys, from Tickle Me Elmo to a teddy bear, at iFixit. If you have a 3D printer and a Barbie with a missing arm, Toy Rescue has files to download for parts from a variety of toys that you can print and reassemble at home.
When should you hire a pro? For toys that are missing specific parts, a trip to a local toy repair shop may be in order. Again, you’ll want to keep customer reviews in mind as you search for a professional. As always, with many product categories, you can take a toy to a local repair cafe for guided assistance.