Do It Yourself
Q: Can we paint our brick fireplace? The only high-temperature paint we can find is flat black, and we want a brighter color. We plan to continue using the fireplace after painting. -- L. Magee
A: Fireplace surrounds or facades can be painted with latex paint, which can withstand temperatures much higher than typical fireplaces reach on their outer surfaces. The firebox, of course, requires high-temperature paint.
The bricks should be thoroughly cleaned before any painting. Scrub the bricks with a detergent solution, then rinse with clear water. Let the bricks dry well and apply a masonry sealer or primer. The latter will improve adhesion and help keep paint from soaking into the bricks. Use a high-quality latex or acrylic paint for the finish coats. The sealer and first coat of finish paint should be applied with a brush, which will let you work the paint into the pores of the bricks. Subsequent coats can be applied with a roller. Two or three coats are usually needed for good coverage.
Whether brick fireplaces should be painted at all is another question. Over the years, I have received many messages from readers who want to remove paint from brick fireplaces and restore the original appearance -- and paint is much harder to remove than it is to put on. If bricks are dingy and dirty, careful cleaning can often restore them.
Q: We recently moved into a house whose hardwood floor was faded in some areas by the sun. We didn't notice it when we bought because the owner had scattered rugs around. Is there any way we can restore an even color to the floor? -- Jane and Rob
A: I don't know of any satisfactory solution except to sand and refinish the floor or to continue to use area rugs to conceal color differences. Or, if you have a lot of patience, you might try removing all rugs and hope that the floor eventually turns a uniform color. Many floors darken when exposed to light, but some fade in strong light. If you use area rugs, avoid rubber-backed rugs, which can cause fading. Some rugs with very smooth backing can also pose a skidding hazard.
Q: We have recurring rings in all our toilet bowls, even though we have had a water conditioner for years. I have tried many cleaners, but the rings keep coming back. Can you help? -- S. Minisola
A: Your water conditioner obviously isn't doing a very good job of removing minerals from your water. Have it checked by a water-conditioning expert, who may be able to recommend a permanent solution to the rings, which are generally caused by iron or calcium compounds in the water.
Some people say they keep toilet rings away by using a toilet brush daily. Swish the water around and brush at the water line, then flush. Adding a little bowl cleaner should help. This takes less than a minute and can be done anytime.
As for cleaning rings once they occur, there are dozens of solutions, as varied as adding vinegar and denture-cleaning tablets to the water or using powerful chemical cleaners. The most popular treatments appear to be using Zud, a heavy-duty cleaner sold at many supermarkets; pumice sticks; or Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Pumice sticks, also called ring erasers, are sold at some hardware stores and online.
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions cannot be answered personally.