Do-it-yourself: How to remove soap scum

Gene Austin
Friday, March 18, 2011; 7:50 PM

Q. I have a fiberglass shower wall and tub that have accumulated a lot of hard-water stains, soap scum and dirt. I have tried all kinds of products, and they just don't clean it. Can you help? ¿ C. Davis

A. Fiberglass surfaces are rather easy to keep clean once you get them that way, but removing existing crud could take a lot of scrubbing.

Don't use abrasive cleaners; they can dull or scratch the surface. One product worth trying is Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Bath Cleaner. This is an oversize version of the regular Mr. Clean Eraser. You will probably need several to remove a lot of accumulated grime.

Another product sometimes recommended is ordinary baking soda. Put a generous amount of baking soda on a soft, white cloth, moisten it and scrub.

Some hard-water stains can be removed by scrubbing with full-strength white vinegar. For tough stains, make a paste of vinegar and baking soda and scrub with that.

Once you get the fiberglass clean, here is how to keep it that way: After every shower or use of the tub, use a squeegee to wipe water from the flat surfaces. Then use your towel to wipe down the walls and tub, leaving them as dry as possible. The wipe-down takes only a minute or so, and it pays off by not giving the hard and soapy water a chance to form stains.

Q. I just moved into a building where the previous occupants must have played indoor baseball. There are several holes in the drywall about the size of a baseball. Is there a fast, easy way to patch these holes? ¿ G. Arnold

A. Holes in drywall aren't difficult to patch, but the job is seldom fast and easy. It is usually necessary to repaint the entire wall after patching.

As for the holes, which are often caused by the bumping of doorknobs or the corners of furniture, there are at least a dozen ways to patch them. Many do-it-yourselfers prefer to use a repair kit, sold at many home centers and on the Internet. Kits generally contain all or most of the materials needed to make the patch. Look for a kit that includes drywall joint compound, which is needed to smooth over the patch.

If you have several holes and don't want to use kits, you can buy the materials separately. Buy "setting type" joint compound, which comes in bags and lets you mix only as much as needed for the job at hand.

The following is my favorite method for patching drywall holes: Make a square pattern from cardboard that covers just the hole and draw an outline of the pattern around the hole. Neatly cut the edges of the drywall around the hole to match the pattern lines, using a sharp utility knife or a fine-toothed keyhole saw. Next, cut a piece of drywall that is about one inch larger on all sides than the pattern; this will be the patch.

Place the cardboard pattern on the back of the patch and draw its outline so that there is a margin on all sides. Cut out only the back of the patch, along the pattern lines, so that the front paper covering is left in place to form four thin flanges.

Test-fit the patch in the hole, then butter the back of the flanges and the edges of the patch with joint compound and press it in place with a six-inch-wide drywall joint knife. The paper flanges should hold the patch in place.

When the compound dries, smooth over the flanges of the patch with more joint compound; three coats are usually needed. Let each coat set up for several minutes, then carefully smooth it with a damp sponge and let it dry. This will reduce the need for sanding. When the patch is smooth and all the compound is dry, prime the patch and repaint the wall.

QUICK TIP: Reader Les Hamilton suggests trying an oscillating multi-tool for power removal of old tile grout. These small, hand-held power tools, sold under a variety of brand names that often include the word "multi," have a very rapid reciprocating action. They can be fitted with a variety of small blades that perform tasks such as sanding, sawing and scraping. Hamilton says his MultiMax tool kit, made by Dremel, includes a blade for grout removal. Dremel MultiMax kits sell for about $100.

If grout removal is one of the main reasons for buying a multi-tool, I recommend checking first to make sure a grout-removal blade is included or is available as an extra accessory. Multi-tools are excellent for working in tight places and are available in corded and battery-powered versions.


Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

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