A reader tried to clean these fireplace bricks but wasn’t satisfied with the result. (Reader photo)

Q: I tried to clean bricks above a fireplace with soap and water, but I got an uneven result. How can I do a better job?


A: If you didn’t saturate the bricks with water before you applied the cleaning solution, that could explain the blotchiness.

The Brick Industry Association, a trade group, recommends starting the cleaning process by saturating the bricks with water, because that stops most of the cleaning solution from being absorbed into the bricks. The cleaner will then stay on the surface, where it can dislodge grime. Dry bricks absorb whatever liquid is applied, and if that’s dirty or soapy water, it can become difficult to rinse away. In the picture you sent, the bricks closest to the fireplace opening appear more streaked than those above them. That could be because they absorbed cleaning solution that dripped from bricks higher up.

Outdoors, saturating bricks is easy: Just turn on a hose and make sure all the bricks get wet. Indoors, even if you mask surrounding surfaces with plastic sheeting, you obviously want to limit how much water you introduce. A masonry sponge, sold at home centers, makes a good tool for transferring water to bricks while minimizing drips. This type of sponge, sold for cleaning grout, holds a lot more water than typical household sponges.

A reader’s new range hood was scratched by builders during a kitchen renovation. (Reader photo)

So what to do now? Start by saturating the brick with water. Scrub with soapy water, using a clear soap or one labeled for use on brick. Scrub with a fiber or plastic-bristle brush, not one with metal bristles. Then rinse several times, using the masonry sponge. Rinse and re-wet the sponge with clear water as you go.

Once the brick dries, check again for stains. If smoke stains remain, the Brick Industry Association recommends using a stiff-bristle brush and scouring powder that contains bleach. Again, rinse the residue thoroughly.

I just had my house renovated and gained a beautiful new kitchen in the process. But the builders badly scratched the range hood when they were installing it. They said they’d fix it, but they don’t know how. It is a Capital stainless-steel ventilation hood. They also scratched the front edge of the range. Do you have any suggestions for how they can fix this before they finish the punch list?


It is possible to remove light scratches on stainless steel by polishing the metal with a maroon Scotch-Brite pad, which is about as abrasive as 360-to-400-grit sandpaper. The technique calls for rubbing only in the direction of the fine lines on the surface, which, from the picture you sent, appear to run horizontally.

But, as you say, these scratches are bad — so deep that they appear to cut through the fine finish lines. Polishing with the pad probably will not remove the deep scratches.

The hood you bought is a single piece, welded at joints, said Bob Waymire, a customer service representative at Capital Cooking Equipment (866-402-4600; capital-cooking.com). So the builder would need to purchase a new hood (without the motor, as that should be fine) or give you enough of a discount to leave you satisfied with whatever scratches remain. The same situation applies to the range.

A hood without a motor costs about $620 (compared with $2,670 for the complete unit). A new door for a 36-inch range runs $300 to $500, depending on the model (compared with $2,500 to $4,500 for the whole range). If the scratches are on the top edge, there is a bull-nose piece there that also can be replaced. Waymire said he would need the model number to cite a price.

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.