Q. Our home has vinyl siding that is now a dingy gray. Since we recently bought the home, I am not sure what the original siding looked like.

Is it possible to paint vinyl siding and achieve a lasting, durable finish? What would you recommend we do to enhance the exterior of our home?

A. It is likely all your siding needs is a good cleaning. Standard maintenance of vinyl siding should include regular hosing down to rid the exterior of grime and dirt.

If dirt and grime have built up, your vinyl siding will need a more thorough cleaning. Use a car-washing brush with a long handle, available at most auto supply stores, and a solution of one-third cup powdered laundry detergent and two-thirds cup the household cleaner or trisodium phosphate mixed with 1 gallon of water.

Scrub with a soft-bristle brush working from the bottom up to avoid streaking. Rinse with plenty of clear water.

If mildew is a problem in your area, substitute one quart of liquid laundry bleach for one quart of the water.

The Vinyl Siding Institute offers a pamphlet, "The Cleaning of Vinyl Siding," which gives this recommended procedure and advice on how to clean particularly stubborn stains.

This pamphlet is free if you send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the Vinyl Siding Institute, 365 Lexington Ave., New York, N.Y. 10017.

If you want a color change, cleaning will not be the answer. Vinyl siding can be painted with any good exterior paint. Priming will enhance the results and it should be done. Consult your paint dealer for guidance.

Be careful of selecting dark colors, which have a much greater chance of fading when applied to any material. Dark colors also absorb heat.

One disadvantage of painting is that the nearly maintenance-free quality of your vinyl siding will no longer exist. Once the vinyl has been painted it will have to be repainted regularly. The frequency of repainting will depend on the climate as well as the quality of the paint you use.

Q. We have moved into a home previously occupied by a family with children.

Besides marks and stains on the walls, there are numerous scratches and dents in the dry wall. Some of these are rather deep and ugly. I am going to repaint the entire interior, but I am not sure how to repair the wallboard damage.

Is this a do-it-yourself job, or do I have to contact a professional? If I can't do it myself, where can I find a qualified person?

A. Anyone with basic handyman skills, a little patience and the proper tools should be able to repair the damage you describe. Scratches, dents and even small holes will not require taping.

First, roughen the damaged area with medium-grit sandpaper. Then fill the damaged areas with joint compound or spackling putty, available at paint and hardware supply stores, made specifically for small jobs.

Apply the filler using a putty knife with a flexible blade about six inches wide.

Load about half the width of the blade with filler and then draw the blade over the depression to deposit the material. Draw the blade across the surface a second time so the tip of the blade wipes away any excess.

Larger dents may require two applications. Allow the first layer to dry for about 24 hours before applying a second layer.

After the patch is dry, sand the patch flush and remove any frayed paper from the wallboard.

For smooth walls you may have to apply a final thin coating of filler using a 10-inch-wide finishing knife to spread the filler over an even broader surface.

When that is dry, sand it smooth and prime. For a smooth finish you may have to lightly sand after the primer before applying a finish coat.

If the damage is at a joint in the drywall, use a self-adhesive, open-weave drywall tape to support the repair.

First, remove loose material and moisten the inside of the puncture, then press the tape into position and force a layer of compound through it. Let dry and follow with two or three thin layers of compound until you can sand the repair even with the rest of the wall.

A textured paint will be better at hiding repairs than a regular paint. However, if you are careful in applications and sanding you should be able to achieve a smooth enough repair job for any paint covering.

Be sure to use a primer recommended by your paint dealer.

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.