A reader spilled an air freshener refill on this laundry room sink, damaging the finish, and wants to get rid of the stain. (Reader photo)

Without thinking, I left a Glade air freshener refill on the edge of my laundry room sink. The container leaked and basically destroyed the finish on the sink, leaving it stained. I tried wiping it up as soon as I discovered it, but it was too late. I really don’t want to replace the entire sink, but it looks horrible and I see it every day since it’s in my laundry/mud room. What are my options?

Fairfax Station

Most laundry room sinks aren’t terribly expensive, so replacing it might be the best option.

However, if you use the sink only to rinse items and don’t leave water pooled there for long periods, such as when you are trying to soak out stains, it might be possible to refresh the look of your existing sink simply by painting it.

Krylon Fusion for Plastic and Rust-Oleum Paint for Plastic stick to most hard plastics, so they are likely to work regardless of whether your sink is acrylic, polypropylene, fiberglass composite or any of the other plastics commonly found in laundry sinks these days. A woman who answers technical questions for Krylon said the only plastics that typically don’t bond well are flexible ones such as vinyl and rubber, as well as some polyethylenes that have an oily surface.

A reader wants to clean dark-gray stains off this flatware. (Reader photo)

Krylon and Rust-Oleum sell their plastic paints only in spray cans, so dealing with overspray is critical. You’d need to completely cover surfaces other than the sink where paint droplets might land. Mask off walls, the floor, cabinets, even the drain trim and faucet. Wear a mask and goggles.

A less messy alternative would be to use Rust-Oleum Specialty Plastic Primer, a brush-on paint that bonds to plastic and allows you to use standard paint as a topcoat. (Krylon used to make a brush-on plastic paint but discontinued it.)

Some of my teaspoons have dark-gray stains in the bowls. I am quite sure the stains were caused by washing the flatware in a dishwasher. Tines of forks and blades of knives are also affected. I have tried several products to remove the stains, to no avail. Do you have any suggestions?


There are a couple of reasons why stainless-steel flatware can look stained.

The “stains” could be stubborn oily deposits, perhaps caused by a dishwasher that doesn’t rinse completely, a staff member at the Specialty Steel Industry of North America said in an email after looking at the picture you sent. An acidic cleaner, such as vinegar or lemon juice, would take that off, and it would also remove the mineral deposits left by hard water, though those don’t tend to be dark like the discoloration on your spoons.

Or your spoons could have mild pitting caused by exposure to chlorine or to certain foods, such as tea or salad dressing. Some dishwasher detergents contain chlorine bleach, and chlorine is also in table salt (sodium chloride). Stainless steel contains chromium and other metals that react with oxygen in the air to form a thin surface layer that resists corrosion. But chlorine and long exposure to certain foods can damage the surface layer and leave stainless steel vulnerable to becoming dull, pitted or even rusty. Knife blades, usually made of a harder but more corrosion-prone kind of stainless, are especially vulnerable. Rubbing with a chlorine-free scrub powder, such as baking soda or Bon Ami, should restore the shine.

And there’s a third possibility: If you washed something made of aluminum that was touching your flatware, a galvanic reaction could have moved some of the aluminum onto the stainless steel. A galvanic reaction is how metal gets plated, and it’s what makes batteries work. It occurs when dissimilar metals are in contact and immersed in an electrolyte — a liquid with good electrical conductivity, such as the water and soap in a dishwasher. Bits of one metal, known as the “less noble” metal, move onto the other metal. When the two metals are aluminum and stainless steel, aluminum is the looser. (Ice cream scoops, meat tenderizer mallets and beater attachments for mixers are often aluminum.)

To remove this type of tarnish, use a polish specifically labeled for stainless steel — not silver polish, which will only make the problem worse. Or you might try a home remedy that’s worked for many people: Spread a sheet of aluminum foil in a glass or plastic pan. Place a few pieces of silverware on the foil, and sprinkle with equal amounts of salt and baking soda. Use about a tablespoon of each if you are working in a container the size of a bread pan. Pour boiling water over the flatware just to cover. Wait a half hour, then buff with a soft cloth, rinse and dry.

The stainless steel association staff member said this works because it creates a low-level electrolytic cleaning bath by using two metals with very different electrical potentials and salt to carry a current. “The problem is that aluminum will corrode if you leave this combination sitting too long. That is why they use foil instead of an aluminum pan.”

To keep the tarnish from reappearing, wash and dry the flatware by hand. Or, if you use a dishwasher, at least load the flatware so that individual pieces dry promptly, and avoid placing items made of other metals where they touch the flatware. Use detergent that’s labeled as chlorine-free. Because the knife blades in stainless-steel sets (and even sterling silver sets) are usually more susceptible to corrosion, you might want to wash them by hand.

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.