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Handyman on Call

Dishwasher owner in a lather over green detergents

By Peter Hotton
Globe Correspondent / May 22, 2011

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Q. It seems that quite a few of us are experiencing a lot of suds (detergent, not beer) remaining in the dishwasher after a complete run. I called various detergent and dishwasher manufacturers, and it apparently is a result of going “green.’’ Seems phosphates are being taken out of detergents. One person suggests I add some salad oil to the washer on each cycle. A Kitchen Aid person suggested vinegar. Can you suggest a preventive action?

LINDA, from Lynnfield

A. Great question. For the suds, you can always change the detergent, I use the big blue capsules called Finish Gelpacs and so far no problem with suds. At least the dishes and glassware are clean. Vinegar is one of the most powerful suds, soap, and detergent busters that I know of, so you can put a half-cup of vinegar in the sump (bottom) of the dishwasher with each cycle. White or red, it is a mild acid and is unlikely to hurt anything being washed or the dishwasher.

Q. I plan to buy my late cousin’s house, but he was a smoker and the house stinks. How can I remove that stench?

SMELLS NICOTINE

A. There may be deodorants out there, but they simply mask the odor. There are also odor-removing companies, but they usually do what you can do: wash everything in sight (walls, ceilings, woodwork, floors, rugs, and furniture). Keep washing and ventilate, ventilate, and ventilate some more. Put an exhaust fan in a window on each floor, and the more you wash and ventilate, the less odor you will smell.

If walls and ceiling are drywall, they will be difficult to wash because the material is softer than, say, plaster. If that is the case, wash anyway, then paint the walls and ceilings. If you can see nicotine stains, even after washing, paint the walls with Kilz to prevent the stain from bleeding through. Then paint.

Q. I have a small patch of moss on a tar-and-gravel roof. Should I take it off or leave it? Will leaving it cause problems, such as decay? Is there some kind of moss killer?

NANCY FORREST, Bedford

A. Moss grows in earth, and it might be fairly common on a shingled or tar-and-gravel roof. Decay is more likely to occur on a shingled roof, but on a tar-and-gravel roof it will take longer to start to decay. If the patch is small, you can kill it with vinegar, although there are a few more expensive packaged moss killers at garden centers. So, rake off the moss with a bamboo or steel grass rake so you won’t disturb the gravel. Doing it now will prevent doing a bigger chore on a bigger area in the future.

Q. I treated my chimney last year with a masonry sealer. This year I am getting small chips of brick popping off the brick. What’s wrong?

JACK, in Halifax

A. It’s called spalling, when water gets trapped in the brick, freezes (usually near the outside surface), expands, and pops off shards. It was caused by using a masonry sealer, which waterproofs the bricks and prevents water inside from going outside. That’s OK with wood, but not masonry. Paint will do the same thing. To fix it, power wash the sealer off or wait a year or so for it to wear off, then apply a sealer called Chimney Saver. This stuff, usually applied by chimney sweeps, seals the bricks but allows water vapor to escape.

Q. I have some pretty grimy and sticky kitchen pulls and handles, and also sticky areas on the frames, around the handles. What can I use to take the sticky stuff off? How about a sticky salad bowl?

CURIOUS

A. Good old paint thinner, a good solvent for a lot of things. Wipe it on with a cloth, let it sit a minute or so, then rub vigorously. Repeat. For the salad bowl, I think it remains sticky because too much oil was left in the bowl, and not enough rubbing was done to force it into the wood. Try this: remove that excess oil by wiping it off if you can, clean with detergent and water or ethane (ethyl alcohol, the intoxicating part of liquor). Methane is poisonous. Once the oil is removed, you can treat with salad bowl oil or mineral oil. Apply it sparingly, rub it with fingers and palms, wait 15 minutes, rub some more, then wipe off all oil that you can remove with a dry cloth. You can repeat this process.

Q. I used Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser on some water ring marks on my Silestone countertop. It left a whiter haze on the top. I called the Silestone people, who suggested I use lacquer thinner. What do you suggest?

PAULA CARAVELLA, Plymouth

A. Lacquer thinner may be a very good solvent for a lot of things, but it is one of the most volatile solvents that I know of. It can burst into flames. Try paint thinner first. That too is volatile, but much less than the lacquer thinner. Use lots of ventilation when working with either solvent, or any solvent. Paint thinner is the working man’s mineral spirits, which is the same as paint thinner but may be pricier.

Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. 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. To participate, go to www.Boston.com.