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Handyman on Call

Don’t steam clean wood floors

By Peter Hotton
Globe Staff / January 27, 2011

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Q. I bought a steam cleaner, and was told it could be used on wood floors. I just had hardwood floors installed in my kitchen. I really am concerned about putting steam on finished hardwood. Should I be concerned?

FLO, from Boston

A. Yes, you should be concerned. Do not steam clean hardwood floors, or any wood floors. Steam has a funny habit of condensing into water, and it is that water that can ruin floors. There’s a taboo against using water on a wood floor, which is valid because Americans tend to go crazy over what they use, and are likely to douse the floor with the resulting seepage of water between the boards and causing lots of misery. So, lay off the steam and consider using a Swiffer. Not the one with a built-in sprayer, just a wet pad that dries out fast enough to keep from soaking the floor. What about sticky things that get stuck on the floor? Swiffer is way ahead of you. Those pads have a green strip, when turned over will abrade those sticky things right off. Even a sponge mop has a little abrasive pad that will do the same thing.

Q. I am planning to put in a hardwood floor in my kitchen, to match the rest of the house. I have seen a lot of promotions for manufactured wood, a veneer glued on a lesser quality wood. Would that be acceptable for a kitchen floor?

DAVE LACEY, Melrose

A. Not in my opinion. I don’t think that veneer can be sanded and refinished. It may be guaranteed for 20 years, but it is not worth the lower cost. The fact that the interior wood is of a lesser quality has nothing to do with the floor’s durability. It is the finish that wears, not the wood. Go for the real thing: solid oak or other hardwood, prefinished, tongue and groove, and 5/8- or 3/4-inch thick. Properly maintained, it will last 200 years and more. My wide pine floors are 243 years old, and have been sanded once by me. Bruce is a popular brand, and it and others are sold in lumber and big box stores.

Q. We have cedar siding on a 15-year-old home. We have an area that encompasses about 7 shingles wide by 5 feet down that is totally black. We had people look at it, and all agree, an egg or eggs were thrown there. No one can give us an answer how to get rid of the stain. One guy was reluctant to power wash it. Do you know how to handle egg stain removal?

MIKE and MEG, by e-mail

A. That sounds like one big spot for eggs. Must have been a lot of them or an ostrich egg. It’s funny, I first learned how to remove egg some 35 years ago. I still have the formula. If it really is egg, brush on a strong solution of a laundry soaker (Biz, Axion, or Shout), brush on liberally. After it stands a while reapply, using a brush for final loosening. This will restore faded colors. Power washing the shingles will not hurt them.

Since the area is black, I am not convinced the trouble is egg, although egg can attract mold. The only other thing that would make shingles black is mold. In this case, apply a solution of 1 part household bleach and 3 parts water. Try a small area first. If the black disappears in just five or so seconds, it is mold, and you can continue. There are other less toxic mold treatments, but I have found them much less effective than the bleach solution.

Cheryl redux

The handyman received several more e-mails on Cheryl’s problem with selling her house.

Several e-mailers were polite and pleasant, but lambasted the Handyman (nicely) for his thoughts that a house does not need updating or beautifying in order to sell it. The Handyman appreciates your candor, honesty, good attitudes, and, in some cases, a sense of humor.

Q. We forgot to turn off the valve to the outside faucet last fall. Can this still be done?

JESSIE, in Hotton’s chat room

A. If the valve is a no-freeze one inside the basement, and there are no frozen pipes (or broken ones), then go ahead. It is best to turn on the outside faucet, then close the inside valve.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton@globe.com) also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to www.boston.com