Floors, Walls, and Other Interior Surfaces


Calcimine Paint

How can calcimine paint be removed from a ceiling?

If you suspect that the peeling problem on your ceiling is caused by an underlying coat of calcimine paint the best bet is to take it all off. Calcimine paint was widely used on ceilings in the past. It consists of whiting, glue and water. It produced a smooth, soft surface that was washed off before a new coat was applied. If it is not covered with a subsequent oil or latex paint it can still be removed by hot water mixed with a strong detergent. If it has been repainted with another type of paint I suggest you try a wall paper steamer working around the edges where you can get beneath the moisture proof top layers. Because the bond between the calcimine and the plaster is relatively weak it will continue to peel until it is all removed. After it is removed wash carefully to remove all traces of the calcimine.  

Caring for Hardwood Floors 

What is the best way to care for hardwood floors?

There are two basic rules for routine care for hardwood floors. First sweep or vacuum regularly. If there is heavy traffic from people and pets consider vacuuming traffic areas daily. Also consider using rugs at entry points to catch dirt from shoes on the way in. Second, use as little water as possible. According to the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association damp mop only when the floor is dirty and then only spot mop. More frequent mopping will cause the finish to deteriorate more quickly. When you do mop use water add vinegar and keep the mop as dry as possible. Avoid cleaning products that leave a residue. They can dull the surface and interfere with future refinishing.

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Carpeting a Basement

Is carpeting a basement floor a good idea?

While carpeting can warm and soften a concrete basement floor it can provide a fertile home for fungi, dust mites and other biological allergens. These organisms can be asthma triggers. Many basements are at least occasionally damp from water leaks or diffusion of water through walls and floors from damp soil in contact with the concrete. Even occasional moisture can provide the environment in which a carpet can become contaminated with fungi. In summer condensation can be another moisture source. There are antimicrobial carpets but they need regular cleaning to maintain their microbe resistance. Dehumidifying the basement or air conditioning the home will help reduce the potential for condensation to occur on the basement floor but may not eliminate it. The safest bet is to avoid permanently installed carpeting and use area rugs that can be removed for cleaning and in warm weather when the potential for condensation is high. Many carpeting dealers are able to bind the edge of carpeting to create area rugs so that the supply of types and sizes of area rugs should not be a problem.

Cracks in Garage Floor 

What should be done with small cracks in a concrete garage floor?

Small cracks are not unusual and not a problem since they are protected from rain and rapid freezing and thawing. If you wish to fill them, fill only those that are large enough to allow you to force material into the crack. Clean cracks carefully and wash them out with water. When they are clean and thoroughly dry apply a caulking meant for use with concrete.

Effectiveness of Alternative Cleaners 

How effective are alternative household cleaners?

A study done at the University of Minnesota looked at the effectiveness of the commonly recommended alternative cleaners in comparison with typical commercial cleaners. The alternative cleaners tested were baking soda, borax, liquid dishwashing soap, ammonia and vinegar.

The results indicate considerable difference in the effectiveness of the various products both in removing soil and in removing the bacteria. Only vinegar was as effective as the tested commercial cleaners in removing bacteria.
Ammonia was the most effective of the alternative products in removing baked on dirt. Baking soda, dish washing liquid, borax and plain water were also quite effective. Vinegar ranked near the bottom in its ability to remove the bathroom and the kitchen soils. 

If the purpose in using alternative cleaning products is to cut costs, another alternative is to limit the number of commercial products you buy. The July 2000 issue of Consumer Reports tested cleaners. They reached the same conclusion with regards to alternative cleaners; in general they found them relatively ineffective. The article also supports the notion that not all cleaners are equally effective for all cleaning tasks. It lists a number of products that are particularly effective for different tasks and gives a rough price comparison.

Ghost Marks

What would cause dark vertical strips on my walls?

Chances are these are what is know as ghost marks. They typically occur on the wall immediately in front of studs. Studs, particularly metal studs, do not provide nearly the insulating value of the insulation that fills the spaces between the studs. According to an article that appeared in the April 1995 edition of Energy Design Update , these marks are explained by a scientific principle known as ‘Brownian Motion.’ According to this principle dust particles are constantly moving in all directions as they absorb energy from each other and the air. However, particles floating near a wall absorb energy from the warm air faster than from the cold wall surface and are therefore propelled toward it. The amount of dust accumulation increases as the temperature difference between the wall and the room air increases. The studs which are cooler will attract more dust. U.S. Steel conducted a series of experiments in the early 1970s to investigate under what conditions ghost marks occur and how they might be prevented. They found that ghost marks occurred whenever the wall temperature varied more than 3.3 degrees F. Severe discoloration occurred when the temperature varied more than 8 degrees F.” Smoke from candles or cigarettes can be a significant contributor to ghost mark formation.

Milk Paint

What is milk paint and what is the best way to remove it?

Milk paint is an historic paint that was used on walls, furniture and woodwork. Milk was substituted for water and binder. Rennet was often added to create casein. This paint is also known as casein paint. Organic coloring agents such as berry juice were often used as coloring agents. It was quite thin and odorless. The paint is still commercially available. According to an article in the May 1986 Old House Journal, milk paint is very hard to remove since it tended to soak in and the organic pigmenting stained the woods. Ammonia appears to be the stripper of choice though it may leave stain from the coloring agents and a hazy surface. Sanding is the only way to remove all traces of the paint. Before removing the paint from furniture think about the fact that removal of the original finish may lower the item’s value.  

Removing Adhesive Residue

How can the adhesive left on a hardwood floor after removing linoleum be removed?

There are a couple of techniques to try. The first is to soak an old blanket or towel in water. Lay it on the floor and cover with plastic to slow evaporation. Let the blanket soak for several hours. This may dissolve the adhesive and make it easier to remove. It doesn’t work on all adhesives but it is worth a try since it is safe and easy. The second technique is to place a piece of dry ice on the adhThere are a couple of techniques to try. The first is to soak an old blanket or towel in water. Lay it on the floor and cover with plastic to slow evaporation. Let the blanket soak for several hours. This may dissolve the adhesive and make it easier to remove. It doesn’t work on all adhesives but it is worth a try since it is safe and easy. The second technique is to place a piece of dry ice on the adhesive. The ice will cause the adhesive to become so brittle that it often can be chipped off in large chunks. If neither of these work, apply a solvent such as cigarette lighter fluid to a cloth and lay it over the adhesive. Cover the cloth with plastic. The time required for the solvent to work will vary so check every fifteen minutes. Soak rags in water when finished to prevent spontaneous combustion.

Removing Ink from Vinyl Floors

How can I remove ink stains from my vinyl floor?

According to the Resilient Floor Covering Institute here are the things to try for ink stains. First, soak the stained area with a liquid floor cleaning detergent for a few minutes then rub with a nylon pad. If this doesn’t work try wetting area with rubbing alcohol and let dry for 30 minutes before rinsing. If the stain remains apply a solution of 1 part household bleach and ten parts water to white tissues and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes before rinsing.

Removing Ink from Wood Furniture

How can ball point pen ink be removed from wooden furniture?

It depends on the surface. Try cleaners on an inconspicuous spot first. If it doesn’t harm surface proceed. The first thing to try is rubbing alcohol. If that doesn’t work dampen a white cloth with hydrogen peroxide and keep the stains damp for 30 minutes by covering the dampened cloth with plastic wrap.

Removing Oil from Concrete

How can motor oil be removed from concrete?

The Portland Cement Association recommends the following method for removing motor oil from concrete: Start by spreading a layer of hydrated lime or some other absorbent material over the stained area to remove liquid material. let this stand for a day, Sweep this up and repeat the process until the absorbent material does not change color. Next make a poultice of one part trisodium phosphate to six parts of water and as much lime as needed to make a thick paste. Spread a quarter inch layer of the paste over the stained areas and leave until it is thoroughly dry. Remove the dried poultice and scrub with clear water.

Removing Rust Stains from Concrete

How can rust stains be removed from a concrete floor?

The procedure recommended by the Portland Cement Association is to dissolve 1 lb. of oxalic acid powder in 1 gallon of water. Liberally soak the stains and allow solution to remain in place for two to three hours. Then, rinse well, scrubbing at the same time with a stiff broom. Oxalic acid is sold as a wood bleach in hardware stores and building supply centers. Follow package directions carefully.

Removing Rust Stains from Nylon Carpeting

How can rust stains be removed from nylon carpeting?

The Carpet and Rug Institute recommends using a 1% solution of oxalic acid. This is available at pharmacies. It may also be available at hardware stores as wood bleach. Try a couple of drops on an inconspicuous area to check for the effect on carpet dyes. Wait several minutes. If there is no color change than blot it up and you are ready to tackle the stained area. Do not apply the acid to the carpet directly but wrap a tissue or a piece of white cloth around a small stick , dampen it with the acid and gently rub the stained area. After a few minutes the stain should lighten. Repeat with additional acid until the stain no longer lightens. Then apply a small amount of water to the stained area and blot with a clean white cloth. This will remove the acid solution with the rust from the carpet.. Blot until no more color is removed and the carpet is as dry as possible. If when the carpet dries there is still rust staining repeat the process. 

Selecting Flooring

How do we decide between the new options in hard wood flooring?

In recent years a number of engineered wood products have also been introduced. Some of these consist of a hardwood veneer glued to a plywood base. The veneer may either be rotary cut, giving it a plywood-like look, or sawn, giving a look similar to solid wood flooring. The thickness of the veneer layer varies; the thicker veneer layers may withstand a sanding or two. This flooring usually comes in panels that are several strips or planks wide and are in random lengths. Some engineered wood flooring comes with finishes that are durable enough to be guaranteed for 25 years.

Since the difference in appearance can be substantial it’s a good idea to insist on seeing a full floor installation before purchasing rather than making your selection based on viewing samples alone.

Treating Smoke Damage

How can the smoke smell and soot be removed after a grease fire in the kitchen?

Professionals are recommended because the residue of smoke is oily soot that is very difficult to remove and it is easy to make things worse. In many cases home owners insurance will pay for the work to be done. The first step with everything is to dry it out if it is also water damaged. Clothing can be washed using a non-building detergent such as ERA and chlorine bleach with warm water. It may take several washes to remove all the soot and odor. Carpeting and upholstery are more difficult. Anything like standard vacuuming that rubs or brushes the surface will drive the dirt deeper into the carpet or upholstery. One source suggests using a strong vacuum but keeping it just off the surface. Another says use a professional cleaning with no exception.

One last suggestion is contact the local fire department. Some of them have information on cleaning up after a fire that they provide.

Yellow Stains on Vinyl Flooring

What would cause a yellow stain on vinyl flooring which had been covered by a rubber-backed rug?

The discoloration is caused by chemicals in the rubber backing and is permanent, according to information from several vinyl flooring manufacturers. Oils from asphalt and driveway coatings also cause permanent yellowing. Consider covering the stained area again, but with a fiber-backed rug. 

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