Q. Our brick chimney is showing signs of age. Some of the mortar between the brick is cracked and crumbling. One side near the foundation is particularly damaged.
I experimented with some new mortar, applying it over the existing mortar in hopes of stopping the crumbling process. This did not work. The new mortar simply came loose with the older layers.
Can you give me any advice on how I might stop this process and repair the present damage?
A. Over the years brick mortar joints become more and more susceptible to damage by the elements.
There is a common, although tedious and painstaking, repair known as "tuck pointing." This involves the removal of cracked or missing mortar between the bricks and replacement with new mortar.
It is important that repair work be done, rather than let the mortar continue to disintegrate. If left unattended, moisture can get behind the bricks and cause major structural damage to the wood framework of your home.
Whether or not this is a do-it-yourself job depends on you, your level of patience as well as skills. This job requires the painstaking, cautious removal of all crumbling and cracking mortar, thorough cleaning, application of new mortar and removal of any excess mortar from the exterior brick.
Consider the magnitude of the job. If large areas need to be repaired and bricks are falling apart or missing, you may be better off calling in a professional, a qualified masonry contractor. However, if the cracks are small and the deterioration minor, you can probably do the repair work yourself if outfitted with the proper tools.
Your best source of the proper equipment is a masonry supply store. You will need a cold chisel no wider than the mortar joint width, a small sledgehammer, a stiff brush similar to a whisk broom, a trowel, a pointing tool for getting the mortar into the joints, a jointing tool that matches the existing mortar joint shape and a stiff-bristle scrub brush for cleaning up any excess mortar you get on the brickwork.
Check with your masonry dealer for these tools and Type N masonry cement and masonry sand. Masonry cement is available in different colors to help you match the existing mortar.
This is a dirty, dusty task. Wear old clothes, eye goggles to protect your eyes and gloves. Use the cold chisel and small sledgehammer to remove all cracked or loose mortar to a depth of one inch, or until you reach sound mortar that does not crumble. Be careful not to chip or damage the bricks.
Using a stiff-bristle brush, clear away all dust and debris. You may also want to use a garden hose to be sure all existing dust has been removed. Some contractors use an air compressor for this job.
Dry-mix the mortar ingredients with a trowel, mixing three parts sand to one part Type N masonry cement. Make sure they are thoroughly mixed before adding water. Add enough water to form a thick paste. The mixture should be stiff enough to retain its shape when formed into a ball.
Let this stand for an hour to 90 minutes. You will need to work quickly after this, as you will only have about 30 minutes to work with the mortar before it becomes too stiff to use. Do not add more water. You will need to mix a new batch if the batch you are working with hardens.
Use the trowel to scoop up the mortar, using the pointing tool to push mortar into the joints. In the deeper joints (three to four inches), you will need to apply the mortar in thin layers (about 1/4 inch), packing each layer tightly and letting it set (until it does not give to pressure applied by your thumb) prior to applying the next layer.
Once the final layer is set, use the jointing tool to smooth the joints to match the existing joints. The joint's final shape is formed by running the end of the jointing tool over the mortar. Brush away any excess mortar from the brick exterior.
Q. I have a feather-finished stainless steel top stove that has been splattered with grease and then baked on. I have been unable to remove these ugly stains. Please advise if you know of a solution.
A. Try Bon Ami with a scratchless scouring pad. If this is not successful, use a soap-filled stainless steel pad.
There are also commercial metal-cleaning products on the market, including a cleaner specifically made for cleaning baked-on grease. Be sure if you select a commercial cleaning product that it specifically recommends the cleaner for stainless steel.
Test any strong cleaner in a small inconspicuous area. Do not use an oven cleaner because it will cause more damage to the top.
Q. I am having problems cleaning the soap residue from glass shower doors and the metal tracks and door trim. Do you have any suggestions on how to make these sparkling clean again?
A. There are some commercial products on the market that can be effective. Lime Away in one. Another is De-Solve-It, manufactured by Orange Sol Inc., Nine N. Roosevelt Ave., Chandler, Ariz. 85244 or call 602-961-0975.
Another effective cleaner is white vinegar applied with a fine grade of steel wool; this is good for the glass, but do not use on fiberglass. Rinse with plenty of clear water.
For shower tracks, pour peroxide full strength into the channels. Let the peroxide set until it quits "boiling" then wipe out. It may take a second application if the buildup has gone too long. No other cleaner should be necessary.
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.