Here’s an anthology of home-grown cleaning remedies and recommended commercial products we’ve discussed over the years on the radio show. If you’ve any to add, please let me know.
• Driveways, sidewalks and garage floors: Oil and grease stains really soak into concrete, so expect a residual stain despite your efforts. Here’s a neat system, though. Scrape off any chunks, then grind in some cheap cat litter and mineral spirits. Let it sit for a couple of days, adding a sprinkle of the mineral spirits from time to time. Then scrub with full-strength dishwashing liquid, like Joy. Rinse well, dry and then sprinkle on some pure powdered cement to blend the stain into its surroundings.
If you’re into a one-step solution, then look for a product called Oil Eater. It’s a biodegradable cleaner/degreaser that has pretty good ratings. And if you have a power washer, Krud Kutter is a liquid additive that has gotten rave reviews from some of my listeners.
Rust stains on exterior concrete usually result from the application of iron-based fertilizers. White vinegar applied full strength works well, as does CLR household cleaner. Keep in mind, though, that the sun will eventually bleach out these stain anyway.
• Masonry: Soot or oily organic stains on brick, marble or stone surfaces can be removed with white vinegar, full strength. Ordinary oven cleaner also works pretty well. I like the Easy Off (blue can) low odor product. Ditto for that sooty glass front on a wood stove or barbecue. Speaking of which, before you run out to purchase new stone briquettes for the cooker, soak them in a bucket of a strong ammonia solution and rinse well.
• Windows: Here’s a homemade recipe a radio listener swears by: 1/2 cup ammonia, 1 pint of isopropyl alcohol and a teaspoon of Joy or Dawn mixed into a gallon of water. Portion it into a spray bottle, apply with a big sponge and wipe it down with sheets of yesterday’s Gazette. I’m not sure there’s scientific evidence to support using newsprint here, but it does seem to leave a streak-free and shiny window.
Exterior glass that has been clouded with pollution or hard water from the sprinkler system can be cleaned with a strong solution of powdered dishwasher soap and water.
• Pet smells and stains: White vinegar and water works pretty well here, too, but there are deodorizer compounds available online. One I’ve used with great results is Urine Off. The secret, though, is to follow up with a seal coat of a good primer/sealer such as Bulls Eye 1-2-3. It dries very quickly, so you’ll be able to spray on two or three coats in about 45 minutes.
• Carpet: Rubbing alcohol, ammonia or ordinary cleaners like Oxi Clean or Fantastik, applied with a wet sponge, can get rid of most spills. Test on a small, hidden area — like under a chair — first. Also, don’t forget the option of delicately snipping or shaving individual carpet fibers to eliminate small stained areas.
• Wood floors: Here, benign neglect is best. Water is tough on wood, and any oily cleaners you use can leave a film, which builds up and makes them hard to re-surface when they wear out. Add a couple drops of ammonia or ¼ cup of white vinegar to a bucket of warm water, apply with a slightly damp sponge mop and rinse the same way.
• Solvents: Two products you need in the workshop or kitchen to clean a plethora of pesky problems are Goof-Off and Goo Gone. In spite of the alliteration, they’re not related; the former will remind you of lighter fluid (if you’re old enough to remember) and dissolves dried material like old paint and grease; the latter is a good remover of residues from labels, crayons, lipstick and the like.
• Cabinets: Really tough blotches from years of built-up fingerprints and food gunk can be removed with a good degreaser like mineral spirits. Buy the “low odor” variety and use rubber gloves and goggles plus plenty of ventilation. If you don’t like the idea of a harsh solvent, then Olde English or Scotts Liquid Gold work well for moderate buildups.
• Weed killer: Combine 2 gallon of white vinegar, a pound of salt and a dozen drops of dishwashing liquid. Add to a spray bottle and spritz on undesirable plants around your foundation, sidewalks and the driveway. Be careful to avoid desirable landscaping elements, because the mixture sterilizes this soil for to up to a year.
• Drain cleaner: Pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain. Add ½ cup white vinegar and cover the drain if possible. Let set for a few minutes, then pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain to flush it. The combination of baking soda and vinegar can break down fatty acids into soap and glycerin, allowing the clog to wash down the drain. One precaution: Do NOT use this concoction after any commercial drain opener has been used or is still present in the standing water!
Dear Ken: When you paint over old semigloss paint, do you need to prime it first? — Dennis
Answer: If the walls are dirty, you need to clean them first. Try a strong detergent, like TSP, or even white vinegar and water. Then you need only break the glaze of the old finish with a light sanding before applying a new semi-gloss paint coat (don’t be too aggressive with the sandpaper, as you can break through the sheet rock paper coat, creating a real mess!).
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com