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Thursday, June 8, 2006 05:19 pm

Getting rid of odors

The first thing to do: get a moisture meter

A hygrometer monitors humidity
Dear Gene: I own a condominium that has a musty mold or mildew odor and also gets sticky residue on some surfaces. What can I do about this? — N.M.
These symptoms, which are especially common in basements, are almost always caused by moisture resulting from poor ventilation and excessive humidity. Air conditioners, which also act as dehumidifiers, help control the problem in some homes, but it is sometimes necessary to use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture. The first thing you should do is obtain a hygrometer, also called a moisture meter, to measure the humidity level in the rooms. These instruments are often sold in combination with thermometers at some home centers and garden-supply outlets. A relative humidity of 40 to 45 percent, as measured by the hygrometer, is considered healthy and is not likely to produce musty odors. If the humidity in your condo exceeds this level, a portable dehumidifier can help reduce it. A standard dehumidifier will do in most warm climates, but in areas where temperatures can dip below about 65 degrees, it is best to buy a dehumidifier that will operate at low temperatures (Whirlpool makes dehumidifiers that will operate at temperatures as low as 38 degrees Fahrenheit; these are especially useful in basements). Your condo should also be equipped with vent fans that can help expel moist air from moisture-prone areas such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. For additional tips on controlling moisture and mold in homes, go to the Web site of the Environmental Protection Agency at Click on “Mold” in the index.
Dear Gene: How do I touch up my laminate kitchen cabinets? — A.R.

Touching up usually means refinishing small spots. However, unless the paint matches the existing finish perfectly, you will probably have to completely refinish the cabinets. A special paint intended for laminate and melamine (plastic) surfaces would be a good choice. It is called Cabinet Rescue and is sold at some home centers or on the Web at Click on “Product Search” and type “Cabinet Rescue paint” in the search box. A foam roller is the best application tool to get a smooth finish. Use a narrow brush for tight spots. No primer is needed with this paint.
Dear Gene: How can I remove yellow stains from the floors in my bathroom and kitchen caused by rubber-backed throw rugs? — E.J.
I don’t know of any practical way to remove these stains, which appear on some vinyl floors when rubber-backed area rugs are used. You can hide the stains, of course, simply by using rugs of the same or larger size over them. If these are tile floors and you can find matching tiles, another option is to remove the stained tiles and replace them. Use a heat gun or gun-type hairdryer to warm the tiles so they can be peeled and scraped off. Jute-backed area rugs won’t cause the stains, although they can be slippery on some floors and must be used with caution.
Dear Gene: My concrete patio accumulates water at the side where it joins the house, apparently because it is not sloped to drain properly. How can I correct this? — M.S.
If you can find a contractor in your area who does concrete leveling or slabjacking, it might be possible to correct the slope by this process. A contractor would have to examine the patio to determine whether this is feasible. Look for a slabjacking contractor under “Concrete” in your Yellow Pages. You can also check with A1 Concrete Leveling and Foundation Repair (, a franchise firm, to see whether there is a franchise in your area. If slabjacking is ruled out, another option is an overlay or additional layer of concrete to correct the slope. This is also a job for a contractor.
Gene Austin says he became a do-it-yourselfer by necessity some 40 years ago when he bought his first house, a fixer-upper that needed a lot of work. Over the last 20 years, he has helped thousands of other weekend warriors through his home-improvement column.
Send questions and comments to Gene Austin at or 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422. Distributed by Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
© Gene Austin 2006