Q. Our home is about 25 years old and has a paneled family room. The paneling is quite dark and I would like to lighten it some way without painting over the paneling.
The trend in furniture is to bleach somehow and add shading. That sounds like an attractive alternative to painting, but I don't know how to find out about this or if it would be possible. -- M.A.G.
A. The first step is to make sure that you have wood paneling, not a vinyl- or plastic-finished paneling. Wood can be refinished, but the plastic finishes cannot.
Vinyl and plastic have a slight sheen and lack the richness in grain of real wood. If you are still unsure, sand a small area. The finish will shred and flake off if it's vinyl or plastic.
If you have real wood paneling, the first step is to remove the finish with a commercial paint and varnish remover, following manufacturer's directions carefully.
The remover can be applied with a paintbrush following the wood grain. Complete removal requires the use of a putty knife for scraping off the residue. Use care not to mar the wood finish when scraping. This is a messy, tedious job. Two coats of varnish remover may be required to thoroughly clean the wood.
Follow with steel wool and a tack cloth, then apply lacquer thinner and wipe with rags while still wet. This will remove residual wax from the pores of the wood. Let the surface thoroughly dry before the bleaching process.
Apply a two-part wood bleach, following manufacturer's directions. Test in an inconspicuous area first. Let the wood surface dry overnight following the bleaching process.
Rub the surface down with fine 000 steel wool and follow with a light surface sanding with medium to fine sandpaper. Finally, rub down with a tack cloth.
You may be satisfied with the natural finish at this stage, or you can use a light stain for the desired color. If a stain is to be put on, it should be given a light coat of shellac or other sealer before applying the final finish.
The natural wood should be finished with a top coat of lacquer or shellac. Another popular finish for wood surfaces today is called "pickling." This is a whitewash finish that often has a tint of color. It is transparent and emphasizes the grain of the wood.
Usually it is top-coated with varnish or polyurethane to protect the finish and make it easier to clean. It isn't difficult, but must be done with care for the best result.
Pickling works best on open-grained woods such as oak, but should also work well on pine. You can use either latex-based or alkyd-based paint. Latex is easier since it can be thinned with water.
Use a flat white paint thinned by one-third of its volume to give good penetration. Apply the paint solution to the wood surface after it has been fully prepared as described above and wiped down with a tack cloth.
Use a brush or pad for paint application. Allow the paint to penetrate for a few minutes for a light tint, 10 minutes or so for more whiteness. Before the solution is dry, rub it off the surface with rags, working with a circular motion or across the grain so that some of the paint is left in the grain depressions.
Since it must be wiped off soon after application, it is best to work in one small area at a time or to have a helper work with you to wipe off the excess paint at the appropriate time.
You may want to test this application on a piece of scrap wood or in an inconspicuous area to achieve the desired results in timing before tackling the wall surface.
You can also add color tints to the white paint to achieve light, transparent pastel shades.
When the application is complete, let the wood dry overnight and sand with fine sandpaper, preferably using an electric finishing sander or pad sander. Remove residue with a tack cloth and apply coat of clear varnish. When the varnish is dry, sand lightly and apply at least one more coat for proper protection.
Q. Our glass shower doors are a mess. Stubborn water stains and soap scum have left spots and a dingy stain on both the glass and the once-shiny metal frames of the doors. I have tried numerous commercial products with no success. Do you have any suggestions? -- L.W.
A. First go over both the glass and the metal frames with dampened baking soda, then scrub with a terry cloth rag rung out in white vinegar. Let this solution stand on the surface for a couple of hours. For particularly stubborn stains, go over the surface with a fine stainless-steel wood pad. Rinse with clear water and polish with a soft cloth.
Another solution you can try, which is a metal cleaner, is to mix one cup of trisodium phosphate with two tablespoons alum. Add enough water to make a paste and apply to the surface. Scrub with a soft cloth, rinse well and polish. If necessary, use a fine steel wool pad to scrub the surface in a second application.
One commercial product that is effective in cleaning hard water stains and soap scum is De-Solv-It, Orange-Sol Inc., 9 N. Roosevelt Ave., Chandler, Ariz. 85244.
If the metal is corroded, nothing will restore it.
Send inquiries to Here's How, Copley News Service, P.O. Box 190, San Diego, Calif. 92112-0190. Only questions of general interest can be answered in the column.