Cleaning & Stain Removal

My secret weapon for stain removal

I generally refer to Lift Off from Mostenbockers as my secret weapon for stain removal. The company provides specific stain removers for specific stain problems, stain removal kits, a travel kit, and larger spray containers.

The travel kit contains three chemicals designed for stains on virtually any surface, including auto interiors, fabric, dry marker boards, leather, nylon, plastic and more. Number 1 is intended for food, beverage and protein stains. Number 2 is used for adhesives, grease and oily stains, and tape. Number 3 is used for stains created by ink, markers and graffiti.

Also available are a Number 4 for spray paint and a Number 5 for latex-based stains.

All of these chemicals are packaged with a stain removal guide that helps you decide which chemical to use and how to remove stains from all types of fabric and hard surfaces. The guide also describes the best type of follow-up cleaning to eliminate any trace of the stain.

The kit is great, and the guide is a fantastic. Every household should have a stain removal kit on hand, because we never know when that emergency can happen.

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The secret Mr. Fix-It window washing formula

To make a great formula for washing windows, combine the following:

  • 1/2 cup sudsy ammonia
  • 1 pint 70% isopropyl alcohol
  • 1 Teaspoon dishwashing detergent

Add water to make one gallon.

Tint the solution with food dye and pour it into a spray bottle. Label the container DANGEROUS CHEMICAL.

Use this spray to dampen the windows. Then wipe them with a lint-free cloth. I use old dishcloths or paper towels.

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Cleaning glass doors on a fireplace

Have you ever tried to clean the soot from glass fireplace doors? Tough, isn’t it? Try using a cleaner specifically designed for removing soot and stains from fireplace glass, oven doors, and glass on wood-burning stoves.

Apply the product to the glass, allow it to work for a few minutes, and then wipe with a clean paper towel. To clean really messy glass, you may need to do two applications.

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Keeping a shower clean

Most people don’t exactly relish scrubbing the tub or the shower walls. Here’s my suggestion for doing the job once, th establishing a routine so heavy-duty cleanup won’t be necessary so often.

Meticulously clean the shower and tub with a commercial cleaner. Some of the better cleaners are Tilex and Comet Non-Abrasive Cleaner.

Once the area shower is clean, all you need to do is wipe down the wet surfaces after a shower. Use a squeegee on flat surfaces and a towel on the rest. If water is wiped from the surface, there will be no water stains and no dirt buildup.

For vinyl or acrylic showers and tubs, you also can polish and finish with Gel-Gloss. This is a white, milky cleaner/polish much like automotive wax. With a little rubbing, it will remove most stains and discoloration. After it dries to a light powdery residue, buff with a clean cloth. This leaves a nice glossy protective finish that tends to mask scratches so the surface looks refinished.

Gel-Gloss also leaves a smooth, sealed surface that resists water spotting and stains by causing water to bead up and run off. If hard water stains are not present, dirt and mildew will not build up, and the tub stays clean.

You can also try a product called Clean Shower, which you lightly mist on the shower walls, glass door, curtain and fixtures after a shower. It makes water run off quickly so the shower stays clean. Clean Shower is inexpensive and is available in many stores.

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Cleaning the bathtub and shower

I know there is always a better way to clean a bathtub. So I asked my radio listeners about their favorite products for this job. Here are their best ideas.

  • Mrs. H — I use rubbing alcohol (cheapest will do the job). This cleans glass, tile, and cupboard tops, too.
  • Mary — Why would anyone let an expensive plumbing fixture get so scummy that it takes drastic measures to clean it? Don’t use soap to clean people. Use detergent bars-Olay, Zest, and Dove. They don’t form scum, and drains don’t require cleaning as often as with soap. There’s still toothpaste to clean the tub.
  • Arlene — After trying every product on the grocery store shelves to clean my glass shower doors and ceramic tile shower, I followed the suggestion of the origi nal installer and tried Bruce’s Glass Stain Remover (Racy Enterprises, Fair Oaks, CA.). It is a slightly abrasive paste that removes water stains and lime buildup. They recommend using a scrubbing sponge with a slightly abrasive surface. It worked like a charm to remove buildup. When there is no lime buildup, I use X-14 Soap Scum Remover (Block Drug Co., Inc., Jersey City, NJ) in a spray form. Findi ng the right product is touchy because many shower doors, mine included, have a polished aluminum frame and track. The wrong product can ruin the finish of the metal.
  • Virginia — I use fabric softener to keep my bathtub and tub doors clean. It seems to keep water scum from forming.
  • Frank — Every time we use the shower and tub, we wipe it down with a towel. After 30 years, the tub and tile still look like new and never require drastic cleaning with chemicals.
  • And finally: for rust stains, try Zud. You’ll find it in most grocery stores. It is an abrasive cleaner with oxalic acid, a strong oxidizer that removes rust. Dampen the rust stain and make a paste of Zud and water. Allow it to sit on the stain for several hours. If it dries out, add more water and cover it with plastic to stop evaporation. Zud should remove the rust with little scrubbing.
  • Whink is also an excellent rust stain remover. You can find Whink in grocery stores.

Removing hard water stains from a glass shower door

The most common type of stain on glass shower doors results when hard water scale dries on the surface. The scale attracts dirt, soap scum, and mildew. To remove this buildup, try cleaners made for hard water scale or lime removal. Such cleaners list in their ingredients an acid such as sulfamic, hydroxyacetic, citrus or maleic. Comet, Whink and Zud all have lime and scale removers. Follow the direction for the cleaner you select, and allow time for the cleaner to work. The acid will react with the hard water deposits to remove them. If these cleaners fail, you could try an acid-based toilet bowl cleaner. Remember to follow all safety precautions. These strong cleaners will not harm the glass but may dull or harm the metal trim and gaskets around the shower door and frame. It’s best to maintain a clean shower stall and glass by wiping down the surfaces after the last shower of the day. If water dries on the surface, hard water scale will form.

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Grout-keeping it clean

It can be quite a challenge to keep the grout clean on bathroom walls and floors or kitchen counters. Since grout is porous, stains easily penetrate and can become difficult or even impossible to remove.

For existing grout, apply a sealer. Sealer helps make the grout resistant to stains and will also aid in cleaning. Most sealers are applied to the grout lines and allowed to dry for several days before use.

When installing new tile, help hide future stains by using grout that’s off-white or cement gray-a very forgiving color. Pure white or black grout can create big problems.

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Removing hair spray buildup from bathroom surfaces

Hair spray can leave white spots on bathroom surfaces. To remove them, wet a rough rag with rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol. You may need to soak the areas and rub more than once over several minutes to remove the deposits.

An ammonia-based cleaner will often work, too. Use sudsy ammonia or a similar cleaner.

If alcohol or ammonia cleaners do not do the trick, try Goof-Off, Goo-Gone, or Oops. These are stronger solvent cleaners. They are flammable, so use them only in a well ventilated area away from any source of combustion. Normally, these solvent cleaners will not harm stained and varnished woodwork unless the varnish is soft. Test in an inconspicuous area first. These solvents will not harm hardware.

To remove the deposits from smooth hardware, try simply scraping the deposits with a vinyl scraper or even a fingernail.

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Cleaning old porcelain bathroom fixtures

If your home has old porcelain sinks, toilets and/or bathtubs, ordinary bathroom cleaners may not remove stains from them. You need powerful chemical cleaners to cut dirt, stains and deposits.

Visit a commercial cleaning supply company. Explain your problem, and they can provide strong chemicals. You MUST follow label directions and safety precautions.

For a porcelain toilet and tub, you can use a cleaner with acid content. The acid will cut through the hard water stains that instigate all bathroom cleaning problems. The cleaner will remove dirt and stains along with the hard water deposits.

Strong chemicals available at most grocery stores include Tilex, Scum Cutter, The Works, and Sno Bol.

If abrasive cleansers have roughened the stained areas, they will be almost impossible to keep clean. Once the smooth porcelain surface is roughened, it continues t o attract dirt.

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Cleaning white film from coffeemaker

Over time, a white film can build up in a coffeemaker from hard water deposits (even if you have a water softener). I have found that the coffeemaker cleaners work well. I use a cleaner from Whink that you can find in most grocery stores.

Mix the cleaner with water and fill the reservoir. Brew the solution through the coffeemaker into the decanter. Rinse the coffeemaker twice by cycling clear water through the brew cycle before you use it for coffee.

I also use the chemical brew to clean decanters and worn coffee mugs.

The product uses acids to dissolve hard water deposits, so follow label instructions carefully and avoid skin or eye contact.

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Banish stains around cabinet door handles

If your cabinets are varnished wood, the stains around the door handles are a combination of softened varnish, oil from the skin, and dirt. Tackle them with a product like Goo-Gone or Oops. These strong solvents dissolve the stains and the softened varnish. Mineral spirits may also work.

Use a sm all amount on a coarse cloth, and apply it to the stain. Test the cleaner on an i
nconspicuous area first, because it may affect the color of the wood under the clear finish. As the stain is softened, scrub to wipe it away. Go at the marks slowly, since you are removing a thin layer of softened varnish. Remove as little as possible.

After removing stains, revarnish if needed. Or use an oil finish like Minwax Antique Oil or General Finishes Wipe-On Oil. Both of these work over any finish. They are applied with a rag, are easy to control, and have little odor.

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Restoring Formica countertops

It is impossible to restore the color and eliminate scratches from plastic laminate (brand name: Formica). The same properties that make plastic laminate durable also make it impossible to patch or repair.

However, you can clean and polish laminate with a product like Gel-Gloss. This is a white, milky cleaner/polish much like automotive wax. With a little rubbing, Gel-Gloss will remove most stains and discoloration. After it dries to a l ight powdery residue, buff with a clean cloth. This leaves a nice glossy protective finish that tends to mask scratches so that the plastic laminate looks refinished. It also leaves a smooth, sealed surface that resists water spotting and stains. In the future, when the counter gets dull, just apply more.

Never use bleach or abrasive cleaners on plastic laminates. They can damage the surface.

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Removing Super Glue from a count ertop

If Super Glue or a similar product is spilled on a countertop, the solution is simple. Super Glue remover is available at larger hardware stores.

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Removing marker stains from paint and woodwork

If a youngster armed with an indelible marker has created "artwork" on surfaces in your home, the way to remove the marks depends on the surface.

For a painted surface, any cleaner strong enough to remove the marker stain will also remove the paint. I suggest you prime the area with BIN until the stain is gone or is just a ghost. Then paint with normal latex wall paint. The primer is the key to covering the stain.

For stai ned and varnished wood, try Oops, Goof-Off or Lift Off. These strong solvent cleaners can remove the marker without damaging sturdy varnish. Dampen the stain and gently rub with a rag dampened with the cleaner. Treat until the stain is gone. Follow the safety precautions for these cleaners, provide plenty of ventilation, and do not use them near open flame.

If the cleaner dulls the varnish, renew it with wipe-on oil finish like tung oil or any other type. These will stick to the existing finish, and you can control the application with a rag. Most finishes are gloss or satin; pick the shine to match your existing finish. You can also add extra coats for more depth and gloss.

If the marker stain has penetrated into the wood, you will need to refinish or replace the wood.

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Removing a white ring from a wooden coffee table

A white ring on a wooden coffee table is caused by moisture absorbed into the table’s clear finish. Professional refinishers call this effect "blooming." Most blooming can be removed by rubbing with mild abrasive to remove a thin coat of finish in the white area. Use automobile polishing compound, rottenstone and mineral spirits, 0000 steel wool, or even cigar ashes and mineral spirits.

Carefully rub the area with the abrasive until the white bloom disappears. Be careful, and go slowly. It may take quite a bit of rubbing. Since this removes a fraction of the surface finish, you must re-wax the surface to touch up the gloss. You may even need to touch up the finish if the bloom was deep. Consider using oil finish for a touch-up.

The good news is that a white bloom is usually only in the clear surface finish. A darker stain indicates wood damage below the surface finish. This could require complete refinishing.

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Removing stains from marble

Marble looks tough, but unfortunately it is fairly porous and tends to stain easily. Stain removal may require professional help. Strong cleaners can damage marble.

Stain removal will probably involve using a poultice that combines a cleaning chemical with whiting or talc, forming a thick, plaster-like paste. The stain is drawn into the paste. Different types of stains require different types of chemicals.

After stains are removed, marble can be polished with a marble-polishing powder and buffing pad. This usually requires power equipment.

Sound complicated? It is. Information on marble cleaning, stain removal, polishing and related maintenance products is available from Gawet Marble and Granite or from Renaissance Products.

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Removing masking tape

Have you ever left cheap masking tape on too long until it becomes welded to the surface? When you peel it off, residue remains. On glass, a razor blade can remove this residue, but what can you use on other surfaces?

Try removing "welded" masking tape by heating it with a hair dryer. Warm the tape for a few minutes and use a sharp scraper or razor blade to lift a corner. Continue to heat the tape as you pull it from the surface. Draw the tape back against itself to aid in removal.

You can remove residual adhesive with mineral spirits or waterless hand cleaner (the type auto mechanics use). Spread cleaner on the surface and let it work for a while. Then scrape off the residue.

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Removing old shelf paper

Shelf paper should have never been invented-well, OK, it should never be used. But if it’s on your shelves, how do you get rid of it?

Heat the shelf paper with a hair dryer. Slowly warm the surface and pull up a corner as the adhesive is softened. As you lift, you can also apply warm water and detergent to soften the material.

To remove the adhesive residue, try a solution of Mex cleaner and water, waterless hand cleaner, WD40, or even dry cleaning fluid. If you use a flammable cleaner, follow label directions, use plenty of ventilation, and keep it away from any source of combustion.

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Cleaning and polishing brass-colored metal

Brass can have a beautiful finish, but over time it acquires black stains. Some brass finishes are just a coating and not really brass. If you’d like to restore such a surface, first you have to determine whether the metal is ferrous (iron or steel) or brass. Test it with a magnet. A magnet will stick to iron or steel but not to copper or brass. If it looks like brass but the magnet sticks, it might have been coated, plated or painted.

Assuming you have brass parts, clean the brass with a commercial cleaner. This requires a trip to a good hardware store or to a commercial cleaning supplier. Gillespie, Brasso, Flitz and others make brass cleaners. Most require coating the brass with a strong cleanser, then polishing and rubbing.

After the brass is clean and polished, some cleaning products require a neutralizer. Once the brass is clean, you can also coat i
t with clear lacquer or acrylic to prevent future tarnishing.

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Cleaning a stone fireplace

Lannon stone or any light colored stone or brick fireplaces can get dirty from smoke residue over the years.

I recommend having the fireplace cleaned by a chimney sweep. These professionals use special chemicals to remove soot from brick and stone.

You can also consult contractors that clean acoustical tile. Find them in the Yellow Pages under Acoustical Tile Cleaning. They have special cleaning chemicals that can remove and lighten soot stains.

If you want to try cleaning the stone yourself, use a heavy duty detergent like Mex or TSP substitute and a few ounces of bleach per gallon of warm water. Soak the area with the solution and scrub with a brush. Rinse well.

You must use lots of water to raise the dir t to the surface of the porous stone or brick. Have plenty of dropcloths and towels on hand to catch the dirty water. Wear skin and eye protection. You may have to clean the surface several times.

If stains remain, you can remove them with a poultice of dry laundry detergent and water or heavy duty cleaner, bleach and diatomaceous earth. A poultice is a paste that you apply to a stain and leave in place as the stain is slowly dissolved and absorbed. Bleach may whiten the surface, so use it sparingly.

Finally, you can try using a "dry sponge" to clean the stone. Dry sponges are sold at commercial cleaning-supply stores, lighting stores that sell lampshades, and some wallpaper stores. A dry sponge is essentially a soft spongy eraser. As you rub it on, it absorbs the stain. Dry sponges are often used to remove soot in fire restoration projects. They a lso clean lampshades and wallpaper.

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