A reader would like to remove the oil that has built up on this leather desk mat. (Reader photo)

Q: I have a leather desk mat next to my computer. Oils from my hand and forearm build up on the leather. Do you have any suggestions for removing these unwanted marks?

Silver Spring

A: Use Chamberlain’s Straight Cleaner No. 2, suggests Vanessa Shropshire, a spokeswoman for Saddleback Leather in Fort Worth (210-858-5210; saddlebackleather.com), which sells leather items, including desk mats. This cleaner, also labeled as Chamberlain’s Leather Milk, sells for $12 for a six-ounce bottle on the Saddleback website and the manufacturer’s website, leathermilk.com.

This product contains alcohol, which lifts the oils but can also dry out leather. So it’s recommended that you follow up with a leather conditioner, such as Chamberlain’s Leather Care Liniment No. 1 ($17 for six ounces).

Instructions for using the cleaner say to “massage” a small amount into the leather, using a terry-cloth applicator that’s included with the product. But you might want it to be a gentle massage, because another company that sells leather desk mats, JKS Marketing in Unionville, Ontario (905-475-7451; jksmarketing-deskpads.com), warns against rubbing when you clean. “Sponge gently until all grime and stains are absorbed,” according to the company’s website. It says to use a “gentle cleaner” but makes no recommendation about which one.

These garden ornaments have rusted over the years. (Reader photo)

Q: Several years ago, we bought some garden ornaments at two salvage/antique stores. I think the pieces were made of brass. They had a lovely verdigris finish, but it has rusted over the years. Is there any way to mitigate the rust, bring back the finish and then use some sort of preservative to keep this from happening again? Or if we can’t restore the finish, is there something we should be doing to prevent the ornaments from deteriorating further?


A: There’s one sure thing: If these pieces are rusting, they are not brass. They are steel, probably with a sprayed-on metallic finish. The verdigris might have been a clever bit of faux paint. But if it was good enough to fool you, it probably resulted from using a special kind of metallic paint that contains actual copper, which was then aged by applying an acidic solution.

Luckily, you can refinish your garden ornaments using just that process. Modern Masters (modernmasters.com), owned by the same company (RPM) that makes Rust-Oleum, Zinsser and Varathane finishes, has the suite of products you need. The store finder on the company’s website shows 10 retailers in the Washington area that carry the products, including the Color Wheel in McLean (703-356-8477; mycolorwheel.com).

With a wire brush or steel wool, scrub away any loose rust or old paint. Then brush on Modern Masters’ Metal Effects Primer ($18 for a 16-ounce bottle if you buy via the company’s website). Standard primer won’t work, the company warns, because it won’t keep acids in the patina solution from reaching the metal and causing it to rust.

Let the primer dry for at least 12 hours. Then brush on the first coat of metallic paint. Modern Masters makes many colors that create a shiny, metallic look thanks to mica in the formulas. But for your project, you need a color with the words “oxidizing” and “reactive metallic paint” on the label, which leaves you with three options: iron (for projects in which you’d want a rusted look), copper and bronze. A 16-ounce jar of the copper paint costs $29; bronze is $26.

When the first coat is dry to the touch, after about half an hour, apply a second coat and then immediately spritz it with the patina solution. You can choose green or blue Patina Aging Solution ($6 for four ounces or $16 for 16 ounces), or you can apply a little of each using the spritzer cap ($1). If you want to see some of the untarnished copper or bronze, avoid saturating the surface. You can also adjust the final look by using a small sponge to wipe off the patina solution or to dab on copper or bronze paint over the patina layer.

Once you get the look you want, allow the surface to dry thoroughly. Then brush on a clear protective finish. Modern Masters suggests its MasterClear Supreme, available in semigloss, satin, matte and gloss ($44 for 32 ounces). But if you have leftover clear, water-based finish from another project, it would probably work, too.

No paint lasts forever outdoors, so you might eventually see rust again. But next time, you’ll know just what to do.