Q: The cane seats on our dining room chairs have started to stretch out of shape. Is there anything I can apply that would shrink them back?
A: Cane or rush can sometimes be tightened by soaking in water, but this may not be practical if only the seats are cane. However, what sometimes works is covering the cane with wet towels that are kept damp continuously for at least 12 hours, but this won't work if the cane has been varnished or coated with anything. Just be careful you keep the wet towels away from the finished wood framing - they may damage the finish on the wood.
Q: The wooden parquet flooring in our living room and bedroom is scratched in several places, and stained from water and ink in other places. Can you recommend what steps must be taken to make this floor beautiful?
A: When wood floors have as many defects (scratches and stains) as your letter indicates, I am afraid the only way to restore them is to start from scratch - that is, said them down to the raw wood aad refinish as you would a new floor. The floor will have to be sanded at least twice - once with medium grit paper and once with fine - but if the scratches are very deep, three sandings may be required: a coarse one to get the scratches out, then a medium and a fine.
Q: The grout between the ceramic tiles in my bathroom is very dirty, even though I have scrubbed with a detergent solution with bleach added. Is it possible to scrape the mildew off this grout and then regrout?
A: Although you say you have scrubbed with a detergent solution to which bleach has been added, you don't say how strong this solution was or how much was used. I suspect that you did not use enough to remove the mildew.
Try again, but this time use a solution of 1 part fresh liquid laundray bleach to 3 parts water. Scrub on with a stiff brush (a toothbrush works well), let dry for about 10 minutes and rinse off with plenty of water. If this does not remove or considerably lighten the dirty stains, your problem is not mildew; it is dirt. Scraping out the old grout and adding new grout is the best solution. You can buy ready-mixed types that are highly resistant to staining and mildew.
Q: I recently used concrete to cement sockets into the ground for a clothesline pole. The earth was newly filled and now one entire concrete ball is tipping over with the pole. Is there any way to anchor this back upright without starting over?
A: The problem was the freshly filled - ad untamped - earth in which the concrete was poured. You can probably anchor is solidly if you dig a new hole large enough to accept the entire concrete ball. Pour in some gravel and tamp firmly. Set the ball of concrete (with the post socket in it) back into the hole and fill the hole around it in stages, tamping each layer firmly as you go. Use a piece of 4x4 for this.
Q: Can you suggest the simplest way to remove layers of paint from our concrete porch and steps?
A: Other than calling in a professional sandblaster, the simplest way to remove the paint is to use a heavy-bodied or semi-paste chemical remover, available in all paint stores. I recommend a water-wash formulation because this will allow you to wash the softened residue away with water instead of having to scrape or wire-brush it away.
Flow the remover on in thick layers with a minimum of brushing (slap it on with the flat side of the brush), allow it to soak for 10 to 15 minutes, then flush off the softened residue with a hose, after scrubbing with a stiff bristle brush dipped into a detergent solution. Repeat the whole process in areas where all the paint does not come off. Concrete and masonry are very porous, so some paint that has soaked deep into the pores may be hard to remove and may leave some imbedded stains or tinted sections that will be noticeable for a long time after the surface coatings of paint have been removed. CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, By Bethann Thornburgh for The Washington Post