How to Clean Grout Lines

My favorite new trick and it is too good to keep to myself!

How To, ,

If I could have one “do over” with our bathroom it would be to have gone with a light gray grout color on the marble floors instead of bright white. I am finding it very challenging to keep the grout clean! My mom has light gray grout on her bathroom floor and it is holding up beautifully. Live and learn.

How can my beautiful floors looks so gross, disgusting, and yucky!?

So, I was super excited when I saw a tip for cleaning grout lines on Pinterest. It is so easy. Here it is: You take a Clorox bleach pen and run it over the grout lines, let it set for at least 4 hours (I left it over night) and then wipe it up with warm water and a sponge or old wash cloth. That’s it!

Using the Clorox pen makes it really easy to follow the grout lines. You just kind-of get into a groove. I did the whole floor in 10 minutes…one of the benefits of having a small bathroom. I put the bleach on pretty thick and used a whole pen on our floor.

The next morning my floors looked new again. The bottom line…

this is one tip that really works!

Comments { 16 } January 30, 2012

One Step Closer

Removing wallpaper from plaster walls

How To, Restoration Diary, ,

Let the restoration begin! Stripping layers of wallpaper from the plaster is more difficult since the wallpaper has been painted several times. The Dummies series has a very helpful article on removing wallpaper.

Here is another approach for removing wallpaper from Yahoo! Answers:

“Go to any store where they sell wallpaper supplies, etc. Home Depot will do, too. Buy the tool to score the wallpaper. It looks like a mini pizza cutter but with spikes on it. Run this up and down and all around the wall. Then take windshield washer fluid, the blue kind (which is unbelievable cheaper than wallpaper removal liquid sold commercially). Put it in a spray bottle and spray the wall in sections. Once a section has been sprayed, slowly peel off the wallpaper.”

I intend to give windshield washer fluid a try!


Comments { 12 } February 16, 2011

How To Remove Paint Residue From Cement, Stone or Brick

Using something that you probably already have in your cupboard

How To, Removing Paint,

After you have stripped paint off of a stone fireplace, you know how you are usually left with a fine film of paint residue? And it just won’t quite go away no matter how much paint stripper you use? Plain, white vinegar, any brand, will instantly remove the paint residue and brighten your masonry.


Comments { 19 } July 15, 2010

Clearing a Drain the Organic Way

A trick for unclogging your drain without using harsh chemicals

How To

I’ve been ignoring the fact that our bathtub drain has been draining slower and slower each day. I blame it on all the expensive bath oils, bath salts, organic soaps, lotions, hair masks, hair conditioners, and hair shampoos that Heather uses. (Ok, ok. I admit it. I use those products too.)

My first inclination was to just buy some industrial strength drain clearing liquid and pour it down the drain. That is, until Heather said “I don’t want you to use those harsh chemicals because it will ruin our pipes”. So harsh chemicals were not an option.

Instead, I jumped on the internet and searched for an organic way to clear a drain (yes organic. I don’t know why, other than the fact that “organic” is the hot buzzword in LA). Luckily I found a very easy, natural and safe way to clear a clogged drain:

1. Pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain.
2. Pour 2 cups of boiling water down the drain.

The boiling water changes the chemical properties of the baking soda to make it more alkaline, and the fizzing action of the baking soda helps to loosen debris.

I did this process three times and now the drain works perfectly. Nice!

If this process doesn’t work for you, check out some of the other methods on the Care2 Greenliving website.

Comments { 6 } May 15, 2007

Get More Bling For Your Buck

Where to save and where to spend on your house restoration

How To

House bling. Antique doorknob and lockset.
House bling. Antique doorknob and lockset.

It is so easy to spend money, more money than you ever intended, when restoring an old house. I recently faced this fact yet again while looking for period ball tip door hinges. I found them for $28 a piece at an antique hardware store. Considering that we needed 9 hinges, that would have set us back $252.00 plus tax for DOOR HINGES.

I found the same hinges for around $20 a hinge at a salvage yard. I love historical accuracy as much as the next restoration buff, but there is no way I can justify dropping that kind of dough on a door hinge. Reproduction hinges would have cost around $150 plus shipping and handling.

eBay is usually a great resource for finding old house parts at reasonable prices, but doesn’t always work well when you are looking for larger quanities (such as 9 matching hinges).

What to do, what to do? Hot foot it over to our local big box store and drop $48 for modern hinges. We could have purchased them for half that price except that I insisted on the more expensive bronze finish.

Is it period perfect? No. Will anyone even notice the difference? Other than every member of the local historical society, I doubt it.

I subscribe to the more bling for your buck restoration philosophy: Keep expenses down where possible and invest in one special item that has “wow” factor.

With all the money we saved on the door hinges, we had enough money left over to buy an antique doorknob and lockset for the French doors. Double wow!

Comments { 6 } November 6, 2006

Removing Linoleum Adhesive

Just add hot water and soak to dissolve linoleum’s adhesive backing

How To

Black linoleum adhesive paper covers the porch floor
Black linoleum adhesive paper covers the porch floor

As part of the great Porch Rebuilding Project of last summer we pulled up 4 inches of cement from our porch floor. Underneath that we found chicken wire and rusty nails covering the original wood floor, except in the area in front of door. This area was covered in what had to be the world’s most difficult to remove linoleum. It must have been stuck down with a 1940′s version of super glue.

After getting the linoleum up, we decided to ignore the black tar paper and adhesive still covering the wood until…well, until today! It didn’t look all that bad, honest.

I discovered that water loosens the adhesive and tar paper in an upstairs linoleum removal project. So, armed with a garden hose turned on high, I sprayed down the porch.

The adhesive and black tar-like paper started to come up.


After spraying the porch for around 15 minutes (no scraping).

Tonight I intend to spray the porch down, cover it with newspaper and give it another good soaking from the garden hose. After it sits like this overnight I’ll remove the newspaper and spray the porch down one more time. Any glue and tar paper that is left will come right up with a scraper.

The adhesive comes up with very little effort
The adhesive comes up with very little effort

Comments { 14 } July 27, 2004

Darkening Fireplace Brick

Use 50% boiled linseed oil and 50% mineral spirits to darken faded bricks

How To, ,

The brick on our fireplace was faded out from the paint stripping process and we weren’t sure how to darken it. I posted the question to the knowledgeable folks over at American Bungalow magazine’s online forum.

Fireplace before

Fireplace before

Someone had stained their brick with wood stain to bring back the color. Another poster suggested trying concrete stain. One poster who has orange bricks like ours used a mixture of 50% boiled linseed oil and 50% mineral spirits to bring back the color to his bricks. We decided to try this approach first.

I tested a brick on the side of the fireplace near the bottom. If it didn’t work, this area wouldn’t be all that visible. But, it did work. You can see the difference between the faded brick and the brick treated with boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits.

Applying boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits mixture

Applying boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits mixture

I applied it with a small cotton rag and we let it sit on the brick for about 5 minutes. David followed behind me with a clean cotton rag and wiped any excess off.

The grout really stood out so we went back in and covered the grout as well. It darkened it only slightly but created a more uniform look.

Fireplace after

Fireplace after

Comments { 18 } February 13, 2004

Stripping Paint and Refinishing Woodwork

Foolproof way to remove paint and stain wood

How To, Removing Paint, Stain, Woodwork

Dining Room Woodwork, Before + After
Dining Room Woodwork, Before + After

We have been asked a lot of questions about the process used to refinish our Douglas fir woodwork and have finally wised up enough to write it down!

Paint Removal
We tried many different methods to strip paint off the woodwork, everything from off the shelf Home Depot chemical strippers to the Silent Paint Remover.

Although we really liked The Silent Paint Remover, it was too bulky to fit into small corners and I had difficulty using it on surfaces that weren’t flat. In the end, a chemical paint stripper called Master Strip, Formula A Remover sold in 5 gallon drums from the McBride company (Los Angeles, CA 818.507.8900) was the weapon of choice. Be sure to wear a respirator and to have good ventilation because this stuff is toxic.

The stripper was brushed on with a paint brush, allowed to sit until it started to work and scrapped off with a wide putty knife. This process is repeated until all the paint was removed.

Here is a trick to remove any paint residue left on the wood. Brush on the paint stripper and use steel wool to wipe it off. This will also help to sand down any of the wood grain that was raised by the chemical paint stripper.

It is difficult to remove paint from cracks or crevices. People with the patience of Saints use dental tools to go in and chip out all the particles of paint. That didn’t happen at our house. A good effort was made to remove all visible paint but the paint in cracks and crevices was dealt with after the wood was stained and I’ll explain the way that was handled once we get through the staining process.

Any cracks, holes or gouges in the wood were filled in with *gasp* Bondo Body Filler, which is normally used in car repair. Bondo has several things going for it. It’s cheaper and more pliable than wood fillers and putties. It is also a brown-red color that blends in well and is barely notable once the wood is stained.

Finally, lightly sand the wood with a handheld sander.

Wood That Was Originally Painted (instead of stained)
If the woodwork you are stripping was originally painted, the wood will need heavy sanding prior to staining.

To bleach or not to bleach…ah, that is the question.

This step is not necessary in many cases. It really depends on your situation and the type of look you are after.

The original finish on our woodwork was very dark, almost black. If our woodwork had never been touched and was in original pristine condition, I would have learned to live with the dark wood, although it’s not my taste. But our woodwork had been touched, many times. We decided to refinish the wood in a lighter tone more to our liking.

Perhaps because our woodwork was originally so dark the grain of the wood stood out and was considerably darker after stain was applied. We wanted a more uniform finish so a bleaching product was applied. This allowed the wood to accept the stain evenly.

Woodwork that has been bleached
Woodwork that has been bleached

A word of caution, be sure to tape off the edges of the floor with several layers of painter’s tape because the bleach will run off the baseboards and onto the floor. We found this out the hard way.

A furniture wood bleach product was used. It comes in a bag and you follow the directions on the bag regarding mixing the product and the amount of time to leave it on. You will need to wear a respirator, goggles to protect your eyes and gloves to protect your skin.

The bleach is brushed on and left per the manufacturer’s instructions. Bleach was left on our wood for a few hours. The bleach is washed off with water soaked rags and a bucket of water. You will need to change the water bucket often and to rinse the wood several times to be sure all the bleach is removed.

Let the wood dry overnight.

Wood That Was Originally Painted
The bleaching step was skipped for our upstairs woodwork which was originally painted. Bleach was not necessary to get an even stain coverage.

Select several stain colors that you think you will like and apply the colors to your woodwork. Apply a large enough portion so that you can get a clear idea of what the different stains will look like. It is also good to view the stains at different times of the day because the color will shift depending on the light. Another thing to keep in mind is that the stain will get slightly darker after varnish is applied.

Don’t be afraid to mix different stains together to achieve just the right color. Be sure to write your formula down, especially if you are planning on doing another room in the future. Another lesson learned the hard way.

We have used Watco brand Danish oils and also a mixture of several Minwax stains with great success. I don’t see any benefit of using one over the other.

Woodwork after a few applications of wood stain
Woodwork after a few applications of wood stain. Several more coats were applied to achieve the desired look.

Apply a light coat of stain with a soft, clean rag. Let it sit on the wood for a little bit, then very lightly wipe it off with a clean rag. A cotton tee shirt type of material works well. After that coat dries, keep adding coats and letting them dry until you achieve the desired color.

The dining room which was done earlier is actually a slightly different color than the rest of the wood in the house. Another thing to keep in mind is that the color will get a little darker after the varnish is applied.

Here are the 2 “recipes” that were used in our house:
Dining Room:
Watco Danish Oils – 3 parts Dark Walnut to 1 part Cherry

Living Room, Den and Back Porch woodwork:
Minwax Stains – 2 parts Special Walnut, 1.5 parts Cherry, .5 Red Oak

Just mix all the colors up in a big bucket.

Touch Up
Now is the time to touch up any tiny places and specs where the paint wasn’t removed. The stain will make these areas stand out so they will be easy to see. Mix some paint until it is the color of the stain. With a small brush carefully paint over all the little spots where the paint wasn’t removed. Allow to dry.

The varnish was a mixture of 2 parts clear coat, one part semi gloss. This can be applied several ways. It can be lightly brushed on but you can end up with visible brush strokes. A better and faster way to get a smooth finish is to spray on the varnish using a paint sprayer.

Either approach will require 3 to 4 light coats of varnish. Allow the varnish to dry between coats.

After the final coat of varnish has dried overnight, lightly sand all the woodwork with a very fine grade of steel wool.

A lot of people have had good luck sealing their woodwork with shellac or Linseed oil instead of varnish.

Dining room woodwork after restoration
Dining room woodwork after restoration

It is best to strip off all the paint first. If you have layers of painted wallpaper covering your walls like we did, now is a good time to remove it and patch the walls. If you wait to work on the walls until after refinishing the wood, you risk damaging the finish on the woodwork.

After the wallpaper has been removed you can see if repair work is needed on your plaster walls. Once you have addressed your walls you can begin bleaching and/or staining your woodwork.

After the varnish has been applied and is dried, you can tape off the woodwork with painters tape, and prime and paint your ceiling and walls.

Comments { 56 } February 8, 2004

Cutting Down on Fumes From Paint and Varnish

How To

Somewhere online I read that chopped onions in water helps to absorb fumes from paint and varnish. So I decided to try it.

It didn’t completely eliminate the fumes, but it did help since the house didn’t smell as bad as it did last time we did varnishing. Maybe we needed more onions?

Comments { 2 } January 14, 2004