Archive for the ‘cleaning’ category

Soot and Sawdust Removal

June 1st, 2010


I think I have soot stain problems in my house after reading about them on your website. I have all-electric house heating, made up of baseboards and storage units. My wife loves her candles as much as I love my woodworking, but both cause dust and soot. Can you suggest a cleaning solution for the ceilings and walls? Also, can you recommend any air filtration solutions to help the problem? Thank you.


The best solution for the soot stains is to stop burning all candles. Well, OK – I do ‘let’ my wife burn a few high quality candles, and she keeps the wicks trimmed to about 1/4″ length. A high quality candle and a short wick will reduce the soot produced. We don’t ever use the nice, smelly candles in a glass jug. They are great soot producers because there is a lack of oxygen in the jug and the scent comes from something released into the air.

Removing the soot is a problem because it is such a fine particle and it tends to stick to surfaces with a magnetic charge. You can try a dry sponge – it’s a large, soft, rubbery sponge that absorbs soot. They are used for fire restoration work and you can find them in larger paint departments. After wiping with a dry sponge, clean the area with a strong detergent using lots of rags and water/detergent changes.

Soot is very hard to remove. When re-painting, prime the surface with BIN to cover the soot. BIN is available in most paint stores and is also used in fire restoration.

There is no filter that will remove soot. For the woodworking dust, I suggest you try to control it at the source. Use a vacuum system with a great filter and seal the woodworking shop from the rest of the house. Seal any heating ductwork in the shop, particularly the return ducts that may suck in the dust from the air. On a forced air furnace, use the best quality paper filter you can find to remove the sawdust.

Improve the Look of Woodwork

May 27th, 2010

I am looking for a product to make our woodwork look better. This includes trim boards, cabinetry (bathroom and kitchen), and the log walls. All I really know about is Scott’s Gold; it looks good short-term, but not long-term. Is there anything better, or maybe different products for different places? Just thinking that I should begin to perk the place up for a spring graduation and a summer wedding.


Scott’s Gold is basically a solvent with a nice smell. It is a wood cleaner. It does not really improve the clear wood finish.

If you really want improve a wood finish, I would consider adding a very light coating of a wipe-on oil finish. I like General Finishes, Royal Finish the best because it sticks to all other finishes, comes in gloss and satin, and goes on with a rag. It is also low odor, dries quickly, and easy to control. Extra coats give you extra depth and shine.

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 5.44.45 PMOther options would be a wipe-on Tung Oil or Minwax Antique Oil Finish. The key here is to select a finish that is compatible with the existing finish, and one that will stick with minimal preparation.

For preparation, you need to make sure the existing finish is clean and free of any sticky or worn finish. You can often clean by scrubbing with a sanding eliminator solvent. Unfortunately these solvents are flammable and have a strong odor. You will need ventilation, and you have to follow all label safety precautions. This type of cleaner will also dull the existing finish – good to make the new top-coat stick.

Light sanding may also be required if the finish is chipped or flaking. Sanding with fine sandpaper will dull the surface and remove damaged finish.

When working with cabinetry, you will need to remove the hardware and carefully clean around all handles. The areas around the handles tend to become sticky and dark as the oil in our skin breaks down the finish overtime. For really sticky, dark areas you may need to use a refinisher chemical like Homer Formby – furniture refinisher. This introduces a new level of preparation work as you scrub with steel wool and basically strip the surface of the damaged finish.

Sorry – no easy fix here. On my website, you will find a complete article about refinishing kitchen cabinets in the Free Articles section. This addresses refinishing without stripping.

Kitchen Cabinets – Replace, Re-Face, Refinish or Paint

Dark, Leaf Stains on Patio

April 29th, 2010


I have some dark leaf stains on my patio from last year that just won’t go away. Should I just let it be, or do you recommend something to remove them? Perhaps bleach?


Eventually, the dark leaf stains will go away. Weather and ultraviolet sunlight will get to the stains, but it takes some time. Bleach can be effective with detergent.

If you want quicker action, try scrubbing with a strong solution of MEX. You will find MEX at the hardware store. It is a strong detergent specifically designed for concrete and masonry surfaces. Mix a strong solution in very hot water, then scrub with a stiff brush. Allow it to soak, then scrub repeating several times.

You could also use a cleaner that contains oxalic acid like Zud, wood bleach or a deck cleaner. This will remove the stains, but may also lighten the concrete surface color. You may need to clean the whole patio once you start with an oxalic acid cleaner.

White Stains on Slate After Flooding

April 27th, 2010

We have slate on the floor under and around a portable fireplace. Last winter we had some flooding in that room, and it seems that the water caused white stains to appear on the slate. We tried Lime-Away to no avail. Do you have any answers how we can remove or cover the white stains?


When white stains appear on stone or masonry surfaces it is usually efflorescence (salt and lime stains). The stain is from salt and lime in the masonry materials (grout, block, or concrete), and the stains come to the surface with water movement.

You could try a stronger cleaner. Scrub the area with a strong solution of MEX and hot water. MEX is a detergent that is also used for cleaning masonry. If the stain remains, test a small area with UGL ETCH. This is an acid cleaner for efflorescence. You need to test an area because it may also discolor the slate. Finally, you could go to a store that deals in tile and slate and find a proprietary cleaner for slate or stains.

Sewer Smell in the Shower

April 15th, 2010

In my master shower, I get a sewer smell. If I pour some bleach down the drain it disappears for a while, but comes back within one to two weeks. Is there a plumbing issue I should be concerned about? Is there some way to get rid of this?


One way to have a sewer smell in the shower is to lose the water seal in the trap. The “trap” is actually a bend in the pipe that holds or traps water. When there is water in the trap, no sewer smell can move out of the piping into your home. If the shower is not used for a few weeks, water could evaporate from the trap and result in a smell as air and sewer gas moves up through the trap. In this case, you just need to add water to the trap every week or so.

If the shower is used routinely, you may have a drainage, waste and venting problem that is allowing water to be drawn from the trap and down the drain system. This can happen when there is heavy drain water flow creating a vacuum in the piping. For this to happen, you may have a blocked vent or a vent installation problem.

Finally, you may just have bunch of “yuck” in the trap; hair, debris and growth. Snake the trap and flush it with very hot water to give it a good cleaning.

Stains on the Roof From an Old TV Antenna

March 26th, 2010

We have two “stains” on our roof from where we had our TV antenna. The antenna was removed about a year ago. Is there any way to remove these stains?


A TV antenna can cause two types of “stains.” Both types of stains will not damage a typical asphalt shingle roof, and don’t need to be removed. They may be ugly, but it’s not a serious maintenance issue.

RISR_WebsiteA rusty colored, black stain is from rusting metal on the antenna or the fasteners. This type of stain will lighten with time as the weather and sun bleaches out the color. You could try a rust removal chemical like Whink Rust and Iron Stain Remover, but I suggest waiting for the stain to disappear.

The other type of “stain” may be a lack of fungus growing below the metal of the antenna. The zinc coating on the metal becomes an oxide with rainwater, and as it runs down the roof, it stops algae growth. If the stain is a light color, the rest of the roof has algae. The algae can be removed with Jomax or a similar product.

I don’t suggest a homeowner should attempt to clean a roof – it’s just too dangerous. A dry roof is dangerous enough. Adding cleaning solutions, water, and chemicals can make a roof slippery and even more dangerous. Leave the cleaning to professionals.

Removing the Smoke Smell After a Small Fire

March 23rd, 2010

We had a small fire due to our fireplace closing by itself. This in turn put a lot of smoke in the house. We need to have professional cleaners come and clean the carpet and furniture. Is there a product we can use on the walls and woodwork to remove the smoke smell?


Why-Fresh-WaveTo remove the smoke smell, you need to remove the soot. This involves washing or cleaning any cloth materials. The hard surfaces should be cleaned with a dry sponge. A dry sponge is specifically used to remove soot from hard surfaces. You will find a dry sponge at big-box stores and professional cleaning suppliers. A dry sponge is like a big soft eraser that is wiped on the surface to absorb the soot.

After the hard surfaces are soot-free, wash the surface with a detergent and water if any smell remains. An ammonia-based cleaner will work well.

I have also found that a product called Fresh Wave works well at removing odors of all types. There are several versions of the product; a spray, a laundry additive, and a gel that is placed in the problem room. You will find this product at most hardware stores.

Shiny Spots on Formica Cabinets

March 8th, 2010

My Formica cabinet doors have some shiny spots that I cannot remove. Someone told me they put a varnish on their doors. Is there a wipe-on type of finish that would just give it a bit of shine to cover the spots? What should I do to prepare the doors? Or, do I just have to live with them?


I would never try to apply a varnish to a plastic laminate. It will not stick well and could discolor over time. Your doors may have shiny spots from wear or from an oily deposit.

I suggest you clean the plastic laminate with a strong detergent grease cleaner. Any strong kitchen or household cleaner will work. Then rub the cabinets down with Gel Gloss. Gel Gloss is a cleaner and polish. Scrubbing with Gel Gloss will remove some stains, and the mild abrasive will also help clean tough stains.

After you scrub, put a thin coat of Gel Gloss on all the surfaces. The Gel Gloss will dry to a white powder, like an automotive wax. Buff off the powder and you should have a reasonable shine. A second coat will add more shine.

Cleaning an Old Cast-Iron Tub? Use a Tub-Liner.

March 2nd, 2010

We have a cast-iron bathtub from about 1948. I cannot keep it looking clean anymore. We heard about tub lining. Is that good? We installed ceramic tile around the tub.


A modern tub liner is a great way to repair a worn cast-iron tub. The liners are a thick acrylic or vinyl that is very durable. They are made in many shapes and sizes to fit all the popular tub sizes. You do need a contractor to measure the tub for the proper fit.

Part of the installation is disconnecting and reconnecting the drain line – this takes some experience. Most folks also update the water control valves and shower assembly. Part of the installation often includes replacing the walls with match panels.

Since you have already done ceramic tile around the tub, you will want to review the options for matching the tub to the tile. You don’t want any water behind the walls or under the liner. Once they are installed, they are very durable and look great. Liners can often be installed in one day, so you only lose use of your tub for 24 hours.

Removing Mildew from a Cedar Deck

January 19th, 2010

How do you remove mildew from new cedar deck boards? Some of them were just installed. I can’t believe mildew would appear that fast! I would like to seal the deck, however I can’t do it until the mildew is removed. Thanks.



You can remove mildew from a wooden deck with any deck cleaner. You can also use a product called JOMAX – it’s a great cleaner that you mix with water and laundry bleach. Spray it on, let it soak for 15 min, then hose it off. Scrub if any residue remains.

The mildew was probably on the lumber when it was installed, and was activated by the exterior moisture. Cleaning will help remove the dirt that the mildew loves to grow on. You do need to seal the deck soon, as it is dry in the spring.