Handyman on Call

Restoring hardwood floors

By Peter Hotton
Globe Staff / August 26, 2010

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Q. My hardwood floors were sanded and refinished 10 years ago and had some pretty rough treatment, so now they are dull and dirty. How can I clean them and restore the shine?

KATHY KELZ, Dorset, Vt.

A. If the finish is not actually worn off, or scratched, you can do this. All varnished floors will dull down over the years, and can be restored a little by buffing with a lamb’s wool cover on a buffing machine. But do this only after washing. There is a taboo against using water on a hardwood floor, because Americans are apt to drench their floors with water, and are in a big hurry to scrub and rinse. Then water gets between the boards, swells the wood and ruins the finish and makes everyone miserable.

The right way to do it is to use water sparingly. Make a mix of detergent (TSP Cleaner or Spic and Span) and water, and apply this to the floor, with enough water to wet the floor and stay wet for a few minutes. This allows the detergent to dissolve the dirt, so it can be picked up with a well squeezed sponge mop. If the floor looks good after drying, then buff it.

If you don’t like the way the floor looks, then sand lightly with fine to medium sandpaper, to roughen the finish and make new varnish stick properly, then apply two coats of a polyurethane varnish. I find that oil-based varnish works better than the water-based varnish. The floor will look terrible after sanding, but the new finish coats should make it look good as new.

If the floor is badly scratched and has lots of bare spots where the finish is completely gone, then it’s time for complete sanding and refinishing. And, once this is done, be nice to your floor and put in area rugs.

Q. Two problems. 1) My patio has a roof over it (sides are open); the concrete floor has been painted, and now a lot is coming off. How can I correct that? 2) Rain gushes down a valley in my roof, hurling lots of water on the lawn, digging holes and making a mess. I have put up an extra big gutter, but it does not work during very heavy rains.


A. OK. 1. I have been ranting for years till I am blue in the face against the use of any paint on concrete, indoors or out. It just does not work, although a special epoxy is reported to work well. The reason paint peels is that water vapor is constantly coming up through the concrete, pushing the paint off. So, power wash the concrete or remove as much paint as you can, then use paint stripper for the rest. Then apply one coat of a semitransparent deck stain. It must be semitransparent. You can get nice colors ranging from dark red to brown to all shades of gray.

2. Put a large rain barrel on the ground so that it will catch the water. When it overflows, water will simply drain onto the grass, gently, not causing big puddles.

Q. I asked a duct cleaning company to clean my dryer vent of the lint that tends to build up. They refused, saying that they will do the ducts in my heating system plus the dryer vent. They wouldn’t even consider doing the little vents in my radiator enclosures. Do I have to clean those vents, and can I do the dryer vent myself? It goes from the dryer in the basement up a few feet, then out the side of the wall.

JEANNE, Waltham A. Let’s get things straight. No one will do the heating ducts because you don’t have any in a steam system. Those slots in your radiator enclosure (cabinet) you can clean with the drapery tool of your vacuum cleaner. In fact, you can take off the cabinet and clean the radiator with the vacuum. If you can’t get it off, don’t worry about it; the radiators are not that dirty. It’s too bad the duct cleaners didn’t have the sense to do the dryer vent for you. Many companies are so single-minded that they cannot make adjustments in their services, thereby losing a customer.

And you can do the dryer duct from the outside, with the proper tool. The proper tool is a long wire-handled, flexible brush designed for this purpose. Buy it at the Improvements Catalog, 800-642-2112. Your duct run is probably less than 8 feet so it will be easy to do.

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