Q: We have an older home with interior walls of drywall. The walls need repainting. They have numerous imperfections, but not deep gouges or holes. What is the best way to prepare these walls and what type of paint should we use to get the best results?

A: As with any paint job, proper preparation is the key. To get a smooth finish, remove any flaking or loose paint with a six-inch putty knife. If you have any popped nails where the panels are fastened, don't remove the nail. Instead, drive a second nail directly beside it so that the new nail head secures the existing nail in place.

Dimple the drywall with a hammer and fill the dimples and any other indentations you find with drywall compound. Use a six-inch drywall knife for application, feathering the compound out to blend with the surrounding surface.

Tape and mend all cracks and open joints, resurfacing with drywall compound. Use drywall patches, available at home centers, for any larger gouges or holes. Apply a thin coat of drywall compound to the area to be patched, set the patch and cover with another thin coat of compound feathering to blend with the surrounding area.

After you have repaired these areas, you can lightly sand the patching compound for a smoother finish. Use 150-grade sandpaper. Be sure to wear a face mask to avoid breathing sand and dust residue. Before repainting, remove all outlet and switch covers, telephone and cable cover plates, etc.

If you want to ensure a really smooth finish, apply a thin layer, or skim coat, of drywall compound across the entire wall (and ceiling if this is part of the project) using a 12-inch drywall knife. Let dry thoroughly. Lightly sand the surface to even out any imperfections. Use 150-grade sandpaper for this initial sanding. Touch up any surface blemishes that remain with compound. Let it dry, then do a final light sanding.

If you have any staining on the walls or ceiling, coat them with a sealer recommended by your paint dealer. If you have heavy smoke staining, paint the entire ceiling with sealer. Sealers are essential when you use latex paints--otherwise stains bleed through to the surface of the new paint.

Be sure to use a primer after you apply a sealer. Primers will help your paint adhere and keep the sheen and color uniform. It is essential to use a primer over sealers and any spackling compound or other patch areas to ensure an even final coat.

Q: How can I clean marble tabletops? There are some light stains and rings from cocktail glasses.

A: Most stains will require the use of a poultice. There are some excellent commercial cleaning products, including those that make into a poultice. Check with a marble dealer. However, you can make your own.

A poultice can be made of white blotting paper, white paper napkins, white cleansing tissue and commercial whiting, or powdered household cleaners. The poultice should be soaked in the proper solution (this depends on the type of stain) and kept from drying out while it is on the marble. It can be covered with a piece of glass or a sheet of plastic. Plastic wrap or a plastic vegetable bag will do. This is to keep the liquid from evaporating while the stain is being drawn out of the marble, a process that could take from one to 48 hours, depending on the stain.

For organic stains (those caused by such substances as tea, coffee, flowers and leached colors from paper or textiles), apply a poultice soaked with hydrogen peroxide (20 percent volume) or household ammonia (full commercial strength).

For oil stains (those caused by butter, milk, cream, salad oils, peanut butter, mustard, hand cream, etc.), apply a poultice soaked in amyl acetate or acetone.

For rust stains (caused by steel wool, flowerpots, some soils, nails, bolts, screws, cans, etc.) apply a poultice soaked in commercial iron rust remover. After the stain has been removed, wet the surface with clear water and sprinkle on polishing powder (tin oxide, available from hardware stores or local marble shops). Rub the powder onto the marble with a damp cloth or a buffing pad attached to a power drill. Continue buffing until any stains or etch marks disappear and the marble surface shines.

These cleaning and polishing instructions are for real marble only, not synthetics.

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