QI am having a difficult time with my cat scratching the arm of my sofa chair and tearing the fabric. It looks pretty bad. I have tried punishment, saying “No! No!” and using the newspaper. What can I do to repair the chair and make my cat stop?

Falls Church

AFirst, accept the fact that you can’t persuade cats not to scratch. Whether they do it to sharpen their nails or just to communicate, it’s part of their nature. Instead of trying to scold your cat, focus on giving it something better to scratch and on making your sofa chair less inviting.

To provide an alternative to your chair, get a scratching post that’s sturdy enough not to wobble and tall enough so the cat can really stretch. Since the chair arm seems like a height your cat likes, try to find a post of a similar height. Sisal, rather than fuzzy carpet, seems to appeal to many cats. Dangling toys or catnip that’s embedded under the scratching material can make a post irresistible. The Felix Tall Cat Scratching Post (felixtreecompany.com) costs $65 but meets all the qualifications. It’s 28 inches high, set on a heavy base 16 inches square and wrapped in sisal with catnip underneath.

A cat-mangled couch leg. (Reader Submitted Photo)

Be sure to set the post near the sofa chair, not in some out-of-the-way place.

To make the chair less tempting, cover the arms with thick plastic. Some people swear by strips of double-stick tape, though that sounds risky for fabric that’s already frayed.

Once your cat is in the habit of using the scratching post, you can gradually move it to a less noticeable place and take the plastic off the chair.

If you decide to re-cover the chair, consider using Sunbrella, an acrylic fabric that’s generally used on outdoor furniture but is soft enough for indoor use. Cats aren’t tempted to put their mark on it.

If re-covering is too pricey for your budget, try draping a shawl over the frayed area.

The brass lockset and mail slot on my front door are very tarnished and dull. Is there a way to clean the metal in place? I don’t want to remove the hardware and take it somewhere because then my door would be unlocked, which would definitely not be the best idea. The hardware is about 50 years old. It’s intact — just tarnished, rather than shiny like new brass.


Brass is a combination of copper, zinc and sometimes other metals. It naturally tarnishes as the metal combines with oxygen in the air. To keep it shiny, manufacturers often apply clear coatings, some of which are more durable than others. If a coating begins to wear off, the metal tarnishes where it gets handled the most. That can look quite blotchy and justify spending time stripping the coating and polishing the brass.

But in the pictures you sent, your hardware looks evenly dull. You might want to just leave it as is. Shiny brass goes in and out of style, and there are plenty of people who are searching for ways to give instant patina to their shiny brass. You already have that. Why not just enjoy it? You can certainly clean the metal, using warm, soapy water or even toothpaste.

However, if you do want to make the brass shine, here’s how to do it: First, make sure you’re dealing with solid brass, not brass-plated steel. Use a magnet. If it sticks, the hardware is plated and you should definitely just leave it alone or replace it. If the magnet didn’t cling, clean the hardware and let the metal and surrounding surfaces dry. Apply painter’s tape alongside the hardware to protect the finish on your door, and cover the floor with newspaper. Wearing gloves, apply brass polish to a small area and rub. If you see no change, the hardware probably has a lacquer coating that you need to remove with paint stripper. Follow the instructions on the container. Once the coating is off, resume using the brass polish. Work on only a small area at a time so the polish doesn’t dry on the metal. Finally, buff well with a soft, clean cloth.

At that point, you have two options: You can repolish the metal as needed to keep it shiny. Or you can brush on clear lacquer to protect the shine — until the coating begins to wear off again. Then you’ll need to repeat the process.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in July, such as pruning shrubs, at washingtonpost.com/home.