Handyman on Call

Should rock salt be used on a wood deck?

Q. I installed new mahogany decking and left it natural as I was told I could do. It was fine for two years, then stained badly where rock salt was applied. I heard too that rock salt should not be used on newly installed cement walkways. Will it be a problem in these cases?

J.C., in Onset

A. Rock salt or any sodium product will stain any wood deck white. After the snow and ice is gone, power wash the deck. Salt, and any sodium product, will also cause concrete of any age to deteriorate. There are other ice melters on the market that won’t spoil concrete, but they are very expensive.


Q. I inadvertently spilled some toilet bowl cleaner on my marble vanity top. I wiped up the cleaner as fast as I could, but it had already started to eat into the clear sealer. I tried resealing the affected area but the top is still not smooth where the cleaner ate into the sealer. How to repair? Someone suggested that I wipe diluted paint thinner on the affected area to smooth out the ridges and then reapply the sealer, but I’m afraid of doing more damage. Help!

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A. I think applying paint thinner (how would you dilute it?) is a good idea, and should dissolve the cleaner. If the sink looks good, seal it.

Q. When we had a large mattress and box spring delivered, a few railing spindles were knocked loose. With continued use of the railing, several more have lifted out of the spindle holes in the stairs. They appear to be fastened with a nail from beneath, which is not accessible. Now about eight spindles have come undone. How can they be secured?



A. If those balusters came right out of their sockets, I think they were too short, or improperly installed. But since they were nailed, you can do that to fix them. Pull those old nails, then drill a small pilot hole at an angle into the low end of the spindle, and drive a long, galvanized finish nail that goes through the spindle and into the tread.

Q. We installed porcelain tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms, but after five years they’re looking quite grungy. So what’s the best way to clean them given the rough top surface (vs. smooth tops of ceramic) of the porcelain tiles? The grout also needs cleaning. Does it make sense to hire someone, rent some cleaning equipment, or just get down on our hands and knees with an electric toothbrush (but I’m too old!)? What’s best?

RICHARD, by e-mail

A. Right on the button: It’s porcelain. If it’s non-shiny, it’s unglazed, or not porcelain, which is the same color all through its thickness. Whatever it is, it’s hard to clean. Try this: Make a strong mix of Spic and Span and water, and add a quarter cup of household bleach. Wet the floor and let it sit there for 15 minutes, then scrub and wipe up the solution. Doing walls this way is not easy, but you have to give the wash time to do its work. Stay off your knees, old timer, except maybe in church.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the Styles Section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton also chats on line about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to Hotton’s e-mail is