Q: We had a one-piece floor installed in our kitchen three years ago, and since then large black spots have appeared on it, particularly in the high traffic areas. We're planning to replace the floor, but how can we prevent this from happening again?
M.O.,Mission Viejo *
A: That's not an uncommon problem, and there are two causes for black spots, says Becky Gonzalez of Anaheim Centsible Tile. In some cases, it's mold that is appearing up from the subfloor. It's appearing in areas where you walk the most because those areas get pushed down into the mold. To prevent this, all mold has to be removed from the subfloor and a mildewcide applied. It could also be caused by what's called "cut back adhesive." This happens when the old cement that adhered to previous floors is black and is showing through the new floor. If the problem is traced to the old adhesive, an underlayment is generally applied before the new floor is installed.
Q: I'd like to find out about how to dry flowers and greenery for arrangements. I've heard that the flowers must be soaked in water prior to drying; is that true?
A: Drying flowers is fairly easy, says Vivian Moreno of Ben Franklin Crafts in Fountain Valley. Hang the flowers and plants you want to use upside down in a dry place. After they've completely dried, you can lay them in a silica gel, which is available at most craft supply stores. The silica will preserve them so they can be used in arrangements.
Q: I want to paint my anodized aluminum window frames and screen frames. What should I use, and how are they prepared?
J.U.,Mission Viejo *
A: The problem with painting galvanized or anodized aluminum is that it's hard to get the paint to adhere, says Andrew Carter of Sinclair Paint in Costa Mesa. First you'll have to etch the surface. There are commercial products available at most paint stores that can etch smooth aluminum, but you can also try rubbing plain vinegar on the surface. After the surface has been prepared, use a good metal primer. A red oxide primer is good for metal that's exposed to moisture, such as that in a bathroom. Then apply your finish coats, sanding with light paper in between each coat.
Q: We're considering putting wood floors in our entryway and living room. We're concerned by all of the scratches that can occur on the floor because it's near the front door, and people will be tracking pebbles and grit from their shoes. Even homes I've seen with a mat inside the door have lots of scratches. What kind of floor will prevent this?
D.D., Brea *
A: Wood floors are vulnerable to scratches, so no floor is safe from pebbles and grit, says Gidon Adlan of Bob's Shades & Linoleum in Orange. Your best defense is to have good mats both outside and inside the door. You also may want to consider a floor that has beveled edges. This will create a groove between each plank where grit can collect, which keeps it from being scraped across the floor. Take care to clean it frequently so that grit and pebbles don't collect.
Q: We had a ceramic tile floor put down in one of our bathrooms last year, and, although grout sealer was applied, there are several areas where the grout has been stained. I've tried cleaning it but haven't had any luck. What's the key to cleaning it and resealing it so that it won't stain again?
F.E.,Huntington Beach *
A: Bathroom floors are generally tough on grout because they are subject to a lot of moisture, says Gloria Richey of Tile Importers in Anaheim. Use a good quality commercial grout cleaner. If your grout is white, there are special white grout cleaners that may be more effective. After it's completely dried out, apply two or three coats of a sealer, and make sure that you reapply the sealer every six months to prevent future staining.
If you have a question about your home or garden, A Helping Hand will help you find the answer. Send questions to: John Morell, Home Design, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.