QIs there a way to refinish a wood floor without going through the entire stripping-sanding process?

-- D. Hayes

AIt depends on the condition of the floor. If there is only minor damage to the finish, such as scuff marks and surface scratches, you should be able to give the floor a new look with a refinishing system called Renewal. If the damage extends through the finish into the wood itself, it is best to sand down to a fresh, smooth wood surface and then refinish.

Renewal, sold under Rust-Oleum's Varathane brand name (800-323-3584 or www.varathane.com), is available in kit form at some home centers and hardware stores. A kit with enough material to restore about 225 square feet of floor (15 by 15 feet) costs about $65.

Varathane says Renewal can be used on any floor finish, but wax must be removed first with mineral spirits.

Renewal is a three-step process that cleans and smooths the old finish, forms a chemical bond to lock a new finish to the old, and applies the new finish. All products are water-based, and the color of the floor is not affected. The only tools needed besides those in the kit are a threaded broom handle, clean rags, a paint tray and a water bucket.

According to Varathane, most people can restore a 15-by-15-foot floor in three hours or less. The floor can be walked on in 24 hours.

We have a room with knotty pine on the walls. Over the years, the wood has turned very dark. How can we remove the old varnish, and what kind of clear finish should we apply to keep the walls brighter? -- J. Gillespie

Oil-based varnish often darkens with age. That, along with grease and dirt, probably accounts for most of the change in the appearance of the wood.

To remove the old finish, you will need a gel-type paint-and-varnish remover. Work on a section several feet square, applying the remover in a thick layer with an old paintbrush and scraping off the finish when it bubbles and softens. When you have all the old finish removed, clean the wood with mineral spirits, let it dry thoroughly and sand lightly. An electric finishing sander will make the latter step easier.

Vacuum the sanding dust from the wood and refinish with a water-based polyurethane. Water-based varnishes are very clear and resist darkening with age.

How can I clean my foam-backed throw rugs without destroying the backing? Would the backing come off if I put them in the washing machine? -- E. Kledchik

Foam-backed throw rugs can usually be washed many times without damage if the correct procedure is used. Heat is the main cause of damage to the backing.

To reduce the need for washing, shake out or vacuum the rugs frequently to remove loose dirt. When washing is needed, use cold water only. Use a mild detergent, and avoid using bleach.

Tumble-dry the rugs on a low heat setting. Adding a couple of towels to the dryer will help protect the backing. Remove the rugs when they are almost dry, and shake to restore the fluff.

We moved into a 75-year-old house and want to finish off part of the basement for a laundry room. The problem is that the concrete floor has a pretty slope. How can we level it? -- C. Hendrix

The best bet would be to have a concrete contractor install an overlay or a new layer of concrete to make the floor level. An overlay can range from an inch to several inches in thickness and can be installed over old concrete that is in good condition. The contractor will probably clean the old concrete thoroughly, then roughen or texture the surface with a machine to ensure a good bond between the two layers of concrete.

Before undertaking this project, however, you should determine why the existing floor slopes so much. Basement floors are sometimes sloped toward a drain so that water will flow out in case of flooding. If there is a drain at the low point of your floor, you should retain at least some slope to provide for drainage.

Readers' questions and comments are welcome and should be sent to Gene Austin, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Box 861, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to austfixit@aol.com. Questions cannot be answered personally.