How to remove a stain from cultured marble

August 21, 2013

QA basket left a stain on my “engineered marble” bathroom counter. The counter was installed in 1974, and the manufacturer no longer exists. I tried, without success, to remove it with a poultice from Home Depot. I also tried a mixture of peroxide (10 percent) and ammonia. Can you suggest anything or anyone who can help?

Potomac

AYour countertop material, often called “cultured marble,” is probably made of a mixture of marble dust and polyester resin. It’s hard to know exactly what caused the basket to stain the countertop, so there’s no way to recommend a solution that’s sure to work.

However, a trade group that represents manufacturers of this and other solid-surface countertop materials, the International Cast Polymer Alliance of the American Composites Manufacturers Association, offers a few ideas you can try. (See icpa-hq.org/ consumers/caretips.cfm.) Be sure to test in a small area before you spread a product over the whole countertop. If the stain is from hard water or mineral deposits, the trade group recommends using a cleaner that removes stains from iron, calcium or other mineral deposits. Be sure to follow the instructions so you don’t damage the gelcoat, the slick surface on the countertop. If that doesn’t work, try turpentine, denatured alcohol or paint thinner — all solvents that should remove hair spray, paint, tar and other “difficult stains.”


A cultured marble counter has a stain from a basket. (Reader submitted photo)

If the stains persist, one option is to hire a company that refinishes cultured marble, such as Miracle Method, which has an office in Kensington (301-571-4200 or 703-738-4801; www.miraclemethod.com). The company sprays on a new finish, which it says should last for 15 years or more. But the price for redoing a vanity with a single built-in sink could come to about $375. You might spend that much to buy a new countertop or even a whole new vanity with countertop and sink included. It would probably make more sense to replace everything unless there’s a compelling reason to keep the existing countertop in place, such as sentimental value or nontraditional plumbing.

I have a large piece that my mother calls a trumeau. It is about 5½ feet tall and has an oil painting on the top and a mirror on the bottom. The frame has a shabby chic look, and the mirror is in excellent condition. But the painting is dark with age, and the canvas is torn. The price of using an art conservator is prohibitive. I would like to patch the painting and clean it myself. Although I am a firm believer in the miraculous properties of duct tape, I am reluctant to use it in this case. Do you have any suggestions about how to repair this? It is the only thing I have from my paternal grandmother, and I would like to keep it.

Bethesda

Even if you can’t afford the services of a conservator now, you might consider leaving it as-is until your finances are better. It’s the only thing you have from that grandmother, so if you ruin it you’ll have nothing. Plus, it might actually be quite valuable, especially if it dates from the 18th century, when manufacturers in France began making these pieces. “Trumeau” is the French word for wall space between windows, and the idea was to adorn the wall (with the painting) as well as to make the room brighter by reflecting some of the window light (with the mirror).

If you haven’t already done so, you might show your piece to a professional restorer. Besides finding out how expensive the services would be, you’re likely to get some useful tips on the best restoration options. The American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works offers a “find a conservator” service on its Web site, www.conservation-us.org. Some conservators offer free consultations.

Among those is Alexandra Tice, a conservator in Chevy Chase (301-986-1296; dctice@verizon.net). She welcomes the opportunity to steer people toward appropriate solutions when they bring pieces to her. “I can tell them what they need to know in the decision-making process. I let them know how a painting was made, what’s happened to it since, what my proposed treatment would be, and what the painting will look like when it is finished.” She can always make a damaged painting look better, but it might not be perfect. She often gives the cost estimate as a range. Having the piece before her is essential, though. “Otherwise it’s like a doctor trying to diagnose over the phone,” she said.

If you do decide to do the repairs yourself, at least use the same materials a pro would use. As you guessed, it’s not duct tape. You might be able to patch the tear, or it might work better to mend the canvas by attaching a lining material to the back, using a special kind of wax as the adhesive. Gainsborough Products (800-227-2186; gainsboroughproducts.com) sells the materials and has free advice on its Web site to help you decide whether to patch or line. The company also sells a $32 booklet, “Gainsborough Complete Manual of Oil Painting Restoration,” which covers cleaning and restoration methods.

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Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in August, such as fixing leaks, at washingtonpost.com/home.

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