Do It Yourself

By Gene Austin
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Saturday, October 18, 2008

Q. Our sliding doors have brass handles. Over the years, the outdoor handles have become pitted and ugly, but the indoor handles remain bright. What can we do about this? -- B. Fleming

A. The first step is to test the handles to see if they are plated or solid brass. Touch a magnet to a handle -- a refrigerator magnet will do. If it clings, the handles are plated brass. It is not unusual for plated brass to deteriorate outdoors, and there is little that can be done to restore it. Metal cleaners won't help.

If the handles are solid brass, start by rubbing the tarnished handle with lacquer thinner to remove any traces of lacquer, which is often used on brass to slow tarnishing. Then go to work with a good metal cleaner such as Flitz, which is sold at some home centers. You should be able to restore much of the brightness to a solid-brass object. When you are satisfied with the appearance, you can coat the handles with lacquer, sold in spray cans at home centers, or leave them uncoated and clean periodically to keep them bright.

Q. Is it possible to dye carpeting? My carpets are about eight years old and they are bleached in places, probably from use of cleaners to remove stains. Is there a product that can be applied to make the color uniform? -- Susan

A. Carpets can be dyed, and there are do-it-yourself kits whose makers claim their dyes can eliminate bleached spots. However, I suggest having the carpet examined by an expert to determine whether dyeing is the best solution.

Even if cleaning won't work at this point, it is possible the carpet can be patched or otherwise repaired without a remedy as drastic as dyeing. Invisible patches can sometimes be made by borrowing pieces of carpet from a closet floor or other hidden area. Check under carpet in your phone book for repair services. If you decide to dye the carpet, I suggest having the work done by an expert. To try the do-it-yourself route, visit for information on kits, which cost about $100 each.

A final tip: If you dye the entire carpet, it is best to use a darker color.

Q. My home has cedar-shingle siding that is grossly discolored with dark stains. It was finished with semi-transparent paint. I want to have it refinished but need to know if semi-transparent paint or solid-color paint is best. -- J. Tansill

A. A semi-transparent finish is actually stain, not paint. The difference is that semi-transparent stain penetrates the wood and allows some of the grain to show through, while paint lies on the surface and conceals the grain.

Stain is considered a superior finish for cedar, which is difficult to paint.

A problem with semi-transparent stains is that they hold up only a few years before they need to be re-applied. Solid-color stains are also available and are generally considered the best finish for cedar siding and fences because they can last considerably longer than semi-transparents. Latex stains are recommended because they are less likely to develop mildew than oil stains.

Cedar can also be painted, but an oil-based primer should be applied first, followed by 100 percent acrylic, mildew-resistant paint.

The stains on your siding are probably mostly mildew. The siding must be thoroughly cleaned before any finish is applied. Many experts advise against pressure washing cedar because it can damage the soft wood. Cleaners such as Mildew Check and Jomax are good choices. These are applied with a garden-type sprayer and rinsed off with a hose. Deck cleaners containing oxalic acid also work on cedar.

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

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