Do It Yourself

By Gene Austin
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Saturday, October 4, 2008

Q. Our bathroom is damp and has a serious mold problem because of poor ventilation. We could replace a fixed window with one that opens, but it would be expensive. Would a larger vent fan help? Are there any other options? -- M. Norvell

A. A larger and more powerful vent fan should help. You should also be able to get a custom-made sliding or casement window to replace the fixed window without major renovations.

Other options: Depending on the location of the bathroom, it might also be possible to install a ventilating skylight without making major renovations. Simply leaving the bathroom door open after showers or baths and running the vent fan should improve the situation. Use a towel to dry the shower or tub after using them (be sure to remove the wet towels from the room). You might also consider installing a small dehumidifier.

Q. My hardwood floor was given a water-based polyurethane finish about two years ago, but it now has a number of fine scratches. Can we eliminate the scratches without sanding? -- A. Hughes

A. You should be able to restore a smooth finish by using a no-sanding process sold by Varathane ( This will eliminate fine scratches that don't penetrate into the wood. The manufacturer says it will work on previously finished hardwood floors and some factory-finished floors and laminates. The process will not fix deep scratches in the wood and will not work if the finish is flaking, peeling or has worn off to bare wood. It will also not work on floors that have a wax finish or have been waxed to make them shine. You can check for wax by rubbing the floor with your thumb in an inconspicuous area; if the finish smudges, it is waxed.

Renewing the floor is a three-step process that begins with a cleaner that chemically abrades the old finish to eliminate the scratches and improve adhesion of the final finish. Next comes rinsing with soap and water, then applying a fast-drying, water-based finish. Two coats of finish are recommended.

If you try this, you should read all the directions carefully and watch the instructional DVD included in the kit. It is best to have a helper, especially when applying the fast-drying finish.

Q. We have a deck made of composite (wood and plastic) material that has many mildew stains. I tried removing the stains with a pressure washer and deck cleaner but succeeded only in making them lighter. What is the best product for cleaning this deck? -- S. Delaney

A. If pressure washing and a deck cleaner didn't remove the stains, it makes me wonder if they are really mildew. You might try a special cleaner for composite decks that is recommended by some manufacturers of composite-deck materials. The product is called Corte-Clean (, and it is supposed to remove stains caused by mold, mildew, grease, barbecues, rust, red wine, ground-in dirt and more.

Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to Questions cannot be answered personally.

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