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Thursday, June 15, 2006 02:32 pm

Removing yellow stains

When grout gets gross, you’ve got several options

Dear Gene: Some of the grout in my two-year-old ceramic-tile bathroom floor has acquired yellow stains. I haven’t been able to remove the stains with various household cleaners. Can you help? — J.M.
Household cleaners are sometimes strong enough to clean grout and tiles (I’ve had good reports about Simple Green, for example), but for stubborn stains a heavy-duty tile-and-grout cleaner is best. These cleaners are sold under various brand names at most home centers and supermarkets. The container will have specific directions, but in general you should wear rubber gloves and goggles when using these cleaners. Some scrubbing with a stiff brush might be needed to eliminate the stains. Information on special cleaners is also available on the Web. Examples are www.marble-cleaning-products.com (Grout Guard Restorer) and www.oxyboost.com (Oxy-Grout Cleaner). If you are able to get the grout clean, follow up by applying a grout sealer that will help keep it that way. Grout sealers are also sold at most home centers and on the Web. If even a special cleaner fails to remove the stain, another option is a grout whitener to stain all the grout a fresh white color. Whiteners are sold by some tile dealers or can be bought online at www.antiquehardware.com (item 70033817, about $9 for an 8-ounce bottle).
Dear Gene: When I had my asphalt driveway paved four years ago, the installer told me never to seal the driveway. Is that good advice? — J.K.
Most asphalt contractors and trade groups such as the National Pavement Contractors Association (www.pavementpro.org) recommend sealing, although there is disagreement on how soon a new driveway should be sealed and how often it should be sealed as it ages. The best asphalt contractor I know recommends not sealing a new driveway for four or five years. Other contractors have recommend sealing after only six months or a year. I don’t know any contractors who recommend not sealing at all. My advice is to check the condition of the driveway. If you find small cracks or the driveway has faded to a pale gray, a sealer will be beneficial. A sealer containing filler can close the cracks and keep out water, restore a dark color to the asphalt, and seal it against stains from gasoline, oil, and other spills. A variety of sealers are sold at home centers; coal-tar emulsion has been a longtime favorite with homeowners. After the first sealing, wait about three years between subsequent sealings.
Dear Gene: Our stairs are carpeted, and they squeak badly when stepped on. The underside of the stairs is sealed with drywall, and the carpet is securely fastened in place. Is there any way to stop the noise without removing the carpet? — B.P.
It is often difficult to stop creaking in stairs even if there is no carpet and good access from underneath. The only possible solution I know of, without removing the carpet, is to try special screws that can be driven through some carpets without marring them. Screws driven through the treads and into the stairs stringers (the long pieces that support the stairs) could stop or relieve some of the noise. If you want to try this, a source of the special screws is www.improvementscatalog.com (item 110189, $30 for a kit containing 50 screws, instructions, and a special tool to break off the heads of the screws after they are driven).
QUICK TIP — A string trimmer is a fast and easy way to deal with ugly weeds growing through cracks in sidewalks, patios and driveways. A trimmer with a thick, tough string is best because contact with masonry can break or quickly wear thin strings. Goggles are a must. It takes some practice to whack off weeds cleanly, but a quick trim will keep masonry surfaces looking good for several weeks — until the weeds grow back. Another solution, more permanent, is to use weed-killing herbicides, sold at home centers and garden-supply outlets. Many homeowners, especially those with children or pets, hesitate to use these powerful chemicals. A slow but effective method is to pull weeds that can be wrenched loose and to cut and dig out those that remain. A box cutter, which has a sharp, hooked point, is an excellent tool for this. Use a foam kneeling pad to protect your knees.
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