The Stain Game

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There was that awful period before the puppy was housebroken. Then came the holiday party and the apple cider that dripped onto the sofa. And during some spring cleaning you bumped an oak table into the wall, leaving behind a hideous brown scar.

Sure there are some stains that will haunt your house for as long as you live there, but not every stain has to be a permanent addition to your color scheme. Knowing what to do when the wine glass spills or a broken ballpoint flows will keep your cleaning bills--and headaches--in check.

Here are some stain-removing tips that may help you keep your sanity:

Carpets and Fabrics

Your pet may be your best friend, but it's your carpet's worst enemy.

"As much as we like to have them inside, pets and fine fabrics don't mix," says carpet cleaner Steve McGregor of Fountain Valley. "Besides [depositing] urine and vomit [stains], they track lots of dirt inside. It's not like you can tell them to take off their shoes before they go through the doggy door."

Urine stains are a cleaner's headache because they're often found long after the fact. If urine is left on the carpet for a long time, it can seep into the pad and give the room a permanent odor.

What's the first step you take when you find a wet spot on the carpet?

Get a roll of paper towels and gently blot the area dry. This picks up most of the moisture and prevents dirt from sticking to the surface.

Pet stores carry enzyme products designed to "eat" away pet stains on carpet and upholstery.

Vomit stains should be cleaned with a very wet sponge to help neutralize the acid. Then the enzyme product should be applied.

Enough pet-bashing.

Humans contribute to stains as well.

Spilled juices and soft drinks are a big problem. "The biggest

problem with these types of stains is that they usually have dyes that are left behind after the liquid goes away," McGregor says. "I've learned my lesson. In my house we get dye-free drinks."

Sponge a drink stain as much as possible with warm water. Your goal is to get all the sugar up.

Acids are also a problem here, especially with juices. Keep blotting the liquid until the paper towels are color-free.

Anyone with children can attest to the stains they create, from the crib up through the high school years.

Most baby stains on carpet and fabric are easily treatable if they're caught early--except for the dreaded diaper ointment stain. Usually made with zinc oxide and oils, it can produce a streak that looks permanent.

"I've had good luck getting those out with some rubbing alcohol," says Mark Silverberg of New York Carpets in Anaheim. "You just use a little on a rag and lightly brush it out."

Brushing in might be a better method.

Attack a stain by blotting or brushing from the outside in to avoid spreading it.

Teenagers might be out of the diaper ointment phase but they may be using acne medication. Some of these contain chemicals that act as bleaching agents on the skin--and on the arm of your couch--if they don't wash their hands after using it.

Once they get on the couch and get wet, the bleach is activated and pale spots appear on the fabric.

"Once upholstery or carpet has bleach spots, there's not a lot of hope for it," McGregor says. "You just have to patch the area or cover it with something."

Concrete

Is your driveway beginning to look like a parking garage? As cars get older, they develop leaks--oil, transmission fluid, coolant--and your driveway pays the price.

Old oil stains are tough to remove but can be drawn out somewhat from a porous concrete or masonry surface.

Put some cat-box filler on a hard surface and use a coffee can to roll it and crush it into powder.

Mix this with a little paint thinner to form a paste and apply it to the oil stain then remove it when it dries. If this fails, you can try a strong solvent such as an engine degreaser to the spots, scrub them with a wire brush, then liberally sprinkle the kitty litter powder around the area and sweep it up.

Stains still there?

Check with a janitorial supply store for degreasing solution. Rust or other chemical stains may only be removed with a solution of muriatic acid and water--a combination that can also eat into the driveway surface if not used correctly.

If all else fails, calling in a concrete cleaner may be necessary. They use high pressure water blasters to remove spots, and service calls average $75 to $150.

Marble and Stone

An Orange County tract home wouldn't be the same without a faux or cultured marble bathroom counter top.

For the most part, these are sturdy, and their thin, protective gel coat resists staining.

However, there are times when something gets in the sink and spoils everything.

"There are products like Gel Gloss that will polish and wax a cultured-marble finish," says Frank Eckert of Arrow True Value Hardware in Orange. "You apply it with a damp cloth to the finish, let it dry, then with another damp cloth buff it out."

Natural marble is a different story.

Marble is made up of calcium carbonate that tends to dissolve when it comes in contact with acid. You may not think that's a problem--how many times do you carry a bubbling test tube through the house? But the acids found in juices, carbonated and alcoholic drinks are enough to etch a marble surface.

In kitchens with marble floors, the area in front of the refrigerator is often duller than the rest of the floor.

"That's because an acidic liquid has probably spilled and wasn't cleaned up right away," says Richard Haney of Stonecare in Costa Mesa.

Marble in bathrooms is often damaged by an overzealous cleaning job.

In an effort to get rid of water deposits, which consist of calcium, homeowners will use a deposit cleaner that eats away at the marble as well. Make sure the cleaner you're using specifically says it's safe for marble.

Most stains and scratches in marble can be removed by polishing and refinishing. Marble dealers have kits available that will help you remove minor stains yourself. Larger stains may require chemicals and equipment available only to professionals.

Tile

Ceramic tile is generally stain-proof, except when a strong acidic juice or coffee is left on the surface and forgotten. The acid can eat through the enamel and settle into the tile, making it permanently dull. The only solution is replacement.

While tile is armor-plated against stains, the grout isn't. Usually after the tile has been installed, a sealer is applied to protect the grout color. But after a few months of cleanings, that sealer often rubs away, leaving the porous grout surface vulnerable to staining.

"With badly stained grout, I always recommend using a colorant," says tile installer Guy Crane of Fullerton. "It's basically an enamel paint for the grout, available at most places that sell tile. You color in the lines with a small brush and when it's done, it can really make your tile look like new again."

Walls

Painted walls are supposed to be washable, right? It says so right on the paint can. Try attacking some crayon drawings on a white wall, though, and you'll see just how washable your walls are.

Remember that the paint layer on walls is very thin. Use an abrasive cleaner or the rough side of a sponge on it and you'll remove a good portion of that paint with a few swipes.

"The better quality the paint, the more washable it is," says house painter Tom Killion of Dana Point. "Some plain old dish soap, a soft sponge and warm water is about all you should use. Anything stronger and you risk taking off the finish."

If you find you're dealing with crayon marks, ink, dye or other serious stains, the best advice is probably to just cover it. First use a pigmented shellac on the surface to keep the stain from bleeding through the new top coat.

Woodwork

If you want to remember that last holiday party you gave, you probably just have to take a look at the rings on the coffee table.

Water rings, from glasses or vases, are why people who don't use coasters should be incarcerated. The liquid that condenses or falls from the cup drips down to the wood, softens the sealing surface and gets into the stain. Left long enough, liquid will get into the wood leaving a black ring.

"You may want try to remove the ring with mayonnaise," says Mark Bausman of Bausman & Father Furniture Restoration in Huntington Beach. "The oil in the mayonnaise softens the top coat enough to get down to the wood and color in the spot."

Some stores carry a furniture restoration solvent that will remove rings, but be sure to carefully follow the directions and try the solvent first in a hidden area.

If the ring is black, the clear coat above it must be removed and the area will have to be sanded and/or bleached, before it's stained and refinished again.

The worst type of wood stains?

"Ink," says Bausman. "On a roll-top desk we call ink stains 'character,' they're nearly impossible to remove. They can be bleached to lighten them, but they'll always be there in some form."

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