These orange stains keep appearing on a reader’s bathroom fixtures and travertine tiles. (Reader photo)

Q: How can I remove the orange stains that rust in the water left on my bathroom fixtures and travertine tiles? I have used Clorox, Kaboom, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, vinegar, and the Lime-A-Way and Lysol gel toilet bowl cleaners. I’m afraid the toilet bowl cleaners are too harsh. Kaboom (which goes on purple, then turns white), helps but not completely. Any advice?


A: Travertine, like marble and limestone, is a calcium-based stone. And calcium-based stones are easily etched by acidic cleaners. Of the products you’ve tried, only Clorox is alkaline, assuming you mean that brand’s chlorine bleach. All of the others are acidic, some extremely so. On the pH scale, a product that is completely acidic ranks 0, a neutral solution is 7, and one that is completely alkaline is 14. The toilet bowl cleaners you used have a pH less than 1, making them highly acidic.

It’s not surprising that you reached for acidic cleaners, given that most products labeled as rust removers are. One exception is Rust Stain Remover RSR-2000 from Alpha Professional Tools. Regent Stone Products in Virginia Beach (800-624-8210; sells a 14-ounce tube for $48.

Another rust remover recommended for use on travertine is Lithofin Rust-EX, made by a company called Lithofin in Germany. One online source is, where a 500-milliliter bottle sells for $18., which charges about $2 more, is another source.

This lamp won’t turn on, but it’s too cumbersome to take to a repair shop. (Reader photo)

If you want to stick to a product available at most home centers and hardware stores, look for the powder form of Iron Out Rust Stain Remover ($16 at Home Depot). The powder form is only slightly acidic, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Avoid the liquid form, which is as acidic as the toilet bowl cleaners you used.

With any of these, be sure to follow the recommended safety procedures, such as wearing goggles and chemically resistant butyl rubber gloves. Showers are often small and confined, so it’s hard to provide enough ventilation. You may want to wear a respirator with organic-vapor cartridges.

Or just call a professional. Rust, particularly old rust, is among the most stubborn stains to remove, and professional help seems warranted in your case because there is a lot of rust that hasn’t come off through many scrubbings. Professionals have access to some rust removers that aren’t sold to the general public, and they have equipment to resurface stone if a cleaner does eat into the surface. One stone-care company that does residential work in Loudoun County is Rose Restoration in Merrifield, Va. (800-413-9893; Hunter Dasch, the vice president, said that refinishing a residential shower typically costs about $600, provided it isn’t so big that cleaning it takes one person more than a day. The treatment includes removing the rust (Rose uses RSR-2000), honing or polishing the stone, and sealing the surface with a silicone impregnator. That should make the shower easy to clean for at least six months, he said. Then it will need to be resealed.

Iron in drinking water isn’t a health problem, but, as you know, it does leave an ugly residue. To reduce your ongoing maintenance, you might want to install a filtration system that removes the iron. Among the companies that supply these in Loudoun County are Dominion Water (540-338-7228; and Pristine Water in Stafford (571-334-8283;

Roy Hager, who with his sister owns Pristine Water, said the price would depend on how much water is used in your home, the amount of iron, and whether the iron is suspended, dissolved or both. Iron-filtering systems often cost about $2,000, he said, but it can be a little less or quite a bit more.

A spokeswoman at Dominion said its installed systems start at $1,850, but she also cautioned that the cost could be much higher depending on what a water test reveals about the type or types of iron you’re dealing with.

Q: I have a floor lamp that belonged to my late mother. It is mounted on a heavy marble base. Pressing the switch at the base of the poles used to give the options of lighting two, three or all of the bulbs. Recently, one bulb needed to be replaced. I pushed the switch to see whether any others would fail, and sparks flew from the empty socket. Now, nothing works! This fixture is too cumbersome to take to a lamp-repair shop. Any insight into what happened and whether the lamp can be repaired?


A: It’s possible that the switch failed or that removing the failed bulb caused that socket’s insulation layer, which is often just cardboard, to crumble because it was old and brittle. You might have twisted the socket so that it was slightly askew, so that when you switched on the lamp, there was a short circuit that resulted in a burst of sparks and damage to the wiring. A careful inspection, of course, is the only definitive way to assess the problem and figure out what needs to be replaced.

One person who makes house calls to repair lamps is Milton Escobar, owner of Milton’s Chandeliers in Kensington (301-530-3388; He cautioned, though, that he wouldn’t have time to take a look until the end of January.

The curved arms of your lamp could make it especially tricky to repair. To keep them from scraping against each other, one person might need to hold the lamp while another takes it apart. So stick around if Escobar or another lighting expert goes to your home. Your assistance might be needed.

If in-home repair turns out to be impossible, you might consider hiring a moving company to take your lamp to a lamp-repair company. Cyrus Manaf, an owner of Artisan Lamp in Washington (202-244-8900;, said your lamp might just need a new socket, which typically costs about $25 when his shop installs it, or a new switch, which runs about $25 or $30. But he works on lamps only when the owners bring them in. “I don’t make house calls,” he said. “You cannot take an entire shop of tools to someone’s house.”