A reader wants to know what to do about this white stain on a laminate countertop. (Reader photo)

Q: About three years ago, we had what I think is a Formica countertop installed in our laundry room. Last year, after guests used the room, I found white stains by the sink. Perhaps it was from spilled bleach or an iron. How can I restore the counter’s look?


A: Pat Roberts, who answers technical questions for Formica (formica.com), looked at the picture you sent and confirmed that your countertop is laminate of some type, although there is no way to know the brand just from a photograph. The white marks are from a chemical spill, he said. It could be bleach, an oxygen-bleach product or even drain cleaner. “Anything strongly acidic or caustic,” Roberts said.

Unfortunately, once this kind of damage happens, there is no solution other than covering the marks (perhaps with a mat or doily), painting the countertop or replacing it. “It’s because of how laminate is made,” Roberts said. Manufacturers fuse a clear cap sheet to a paper layer that has the decorative design. Spills left for a long time can seep through the cap sheet and ruin the decorative layer. But the cap remains mostly intact, so there is no way to touch up the color.

If you want to try paint, options include Daich SpreadStone ($125 at Home Depot for a kit that covers 30 to 40 square feet) and Rust-Oleum Transformations Small Countertop Kit ($148 at Home Depot for 30 square feet).

This old gumball machine releases more than one gumball after a penny is inserted. A reader wants to know where to take it to be repaired. (Reader photo)

However, a painted countertop won’t look exactly the same as a laminate countertop. Laminate is the least expensive countertop option, so you might want to just replace it, especially if the damaged countertop is the only one in the room or if you are able to find replacement laminate that matches, saving you from having to replace several countertops. There is no set time for styles to stay available, Roberts said; that is up to Formica. If you do contact the original installer, you may discover that the product wasn’t actually made by Formica after all. Although many companies make laminates, Formica was an early leader, so the brand name is often used in a generic sense.

Laminate countertops are sold in 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-foot lengths at Home Depot and Lowe’s for $45 to about $190. But to use these, you need to remove the old countertop and install the new one yourself, and you are limited to a handful of color options. For a much bigger selection, order a custom laminate countertop from a store that specializes in kitchen design or even from a big-box store. Home Depot charges $8 a square foot to remove and cart away an old countertop and $29, $31 or $35 a square foot, depending on the style, to fabricate and install a replacement.

I have a gumball machine that was my grandmother’s and I’d very much like to keep it in the family. But it isn’t working. The knob that releases a gumball does not stop at one after a penny is inserted. Where can I go to have this gumball machine restored?


A couple in the District, Ken and Jackie Durham, are longtime collectors and dealers of slot machines, vending machines and more, including gumball machines, through their website, gameroomantiques.com. Ken Durham looked at the picture you sent and identified yours as a 1940s Victor Topper. He does not repair gumball machines, however, and, unlike for some slot machines, he has no repair manual for them.

However, he recommended contacting A1 Gumballs/A1 Vending in North Carolina (919-494-1322; rst12306@msn.com), where owner Scott Tidball has more than 5,000 gumball machines and a huge collection of parts. His collection is reportedly the largest in the world. Tidball said by email that he should be able to fix your machine for less than $50. “We do that all the time,” he wrote.

He suggested sending just the coin mechanism. Search “how to take apart your gumball machine” on YouTube, and you can find a video, although the process might be a little different with yours, depending on the model shown.

The address is 12 Water St., Franklinton, N.C. 27525.

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.