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posted: 7/21/2013 12:11 AM

Some stain-fighting products can be found in your kitchen

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Q. A few weeks ago, someone wrote to you about a stain in his toilet at the water line. He was having trouble finding a cleaner that would remove the stain. You suggested a product he could use. We have a similar problem. I assumed the product worked for him and would like to give it a try. Would you send me the name of the cleaner? Thanks.

A. There are several products that should remove a calcium ring from a toilet bowl: Lime-A-Way; other commercial toilet bowl cleaners; or a bottle of Coca-Cola, as reported by several readers. White vinegar and citrus-based cleaners are also effective.

Muriatic acid (which needs to be used very carefully, as it is very caustic) is a choice for very stubborn cases. To use muriatic acid, very gently pour about a cup of the acid into the bowl and close the lid. Use the utmost care and wear safety glasses, rubber gloves and old clothing. Avoid splashing at all costs.

After an hour or so, flush the toilet; at the same time, brush the bowl. The ring should be gone. You can buy muriatic acid in hardware stores.

Q. I bought a new house in 2006, and the builder used ground-up trees from the surrounding marsh areas to make mulch for the house. After three years, I noticed a growing accumulation of what is called "artillery fungi," little black dots, all over the siding where the landscaped areas with mulch are located.

A landscaper told me that it was caused by a mold in the mulch, so I removed all the old mulch and put down new, fresh hemlock. But the black dots continued to become more numerous. Apparently, the mold is in the soil, because the landscaped area that is causing most of the problem gets very little sun. I replaced the mulch in that area with river stones over a felt mat to try and keep the mold from throwing more black dots onto my siding. I have had the house professionally power-washed three times and none of the washings have had an effect on the black dots that are there.

Is there any kind of chemical treatment that I can use to remove these unsightly black dots? I have used magic eraser in the past, which can remove the dots one at a time with some serious elbow grease, but I am almost 70 years old and I won't live long enough to clean the literally thousands of dots that are on the siding.

A. The ballpoint-sized black dots on your siding are indeed artillery fungus, which is coming from decomposing mulch next to the foundation. The fungus explodes in the spring or fall when the temperature is ideal for the spores to do so, and can be propelled 20-plus feet into the air, which is where it gets its name. Power-washing is not effective.

It is difficult to remove without causing serious damage to any siding and other surfaces onto which it attaches itself. On wood siding, repair is possible, but not on vinyl, aluminum or steel.

On painted wood siding, a sharp putty knife can be used, and any damage to the wood can be patched with exterior wood putty. Then, the siding can be repainted. Another option is to paint over the dots after a thorough cleaning, but they will still be there as small lumps.

The only way to prevent it in the future is to put new organic mulch over the old every year, remove the old mulch entirely or replace it with rubber mulch, available in garden-supply stores.

Q. What is your opinion of Behr DeckOver?

A. Although I haven't used Behr products myself, I have seen quite a number of failures of their deck products in my inspections. I have also received several questions from readers over the years who had peeling failures using the same products.

These failures may be due to improper preparation of the surfaces or application of the products.

I prefer to use semitransparent coatings instead of solid coatings, as they penetrate the wood and are not susceptible to peeling. My favorite semitransparent coating is the Amteco TWP series,

Q. Our gutter itself is not leaking, but the water is getting between the gutter and the roof edge. I believe the company that built our garage did not extend the shingles enough, and the water is following the drip edge behind the gutter. You mentioned a product that would fix the problem. We are at a loss to figure out how to get the water to go into the gutter and not behind. Thanks for the help every week.

A. The shingles should be hanging about inch to inch beyond the drip edge, so this may be your problem. But you also have an off-the-shelf drip edge; water will follow the drip edge by surface tension and get behind the gutter.

The best solution is to see if you can find a local building supply store that either carries or will order for you lengths of Lamb & Ritchie's Positive "Rite Flow" drip edge, which has an extended leg that delivers water into the gutter. It can be slipped under the last row of shingles and held in place with dabs of roofing cement or polyurethane caulking.

The other solution is to have a contractor make a drip edge with a drop leg that fits into the gutter and can also be slipped under the shingles.

Q. I live in a house built in 1951. The toilet's interior plumbing has been updated some years ago to black PVC pipe. The exterior underground sewage pipe is terra-cotta. My next-door neighbors' maple tree is huge and out of control. Its invasive roots penetrate and clog the terra-cotta pipe, causing backups.

I have to have a plumber come and snake the line via the access port in the PVC pipe and through the connecting iron pipe, which runs through the basement floor and joins up with the terra-cotta pipe.

I would like to keep this line clear. Which type of sewer line root killer -- copper sulfate or dichlobenil -- should I use, placed in the toilet and flushed? Will either chemical do damage to the toilet and the sewer pipes? How often should it be used?

A. Copper sulfate is the most common ingredient in a number of root killers, but it can corrode metal pipes over time. Copper sulfate will need to be reapplied every few months, or perhaps only once a year during the tree's growing season.

You can pour a 4-pound box of rock salt down the toilet after everyone in the house has gone to bed and flush it once down the toilet; do not flush the toilet again for eight hours. Flush the toilet in the morning. Repeat this every month during the tree's growing season.

A more permanent fix is to locate the sewer pipe through your town records or other means available, such as a plumber who has already located it in the past, etc. The trick is to find out how deep the sewer pipe is buried. Using an earth auger, drill a 2-inch diameter hole every six feet to within a few inches of the top of the sewer pipe. Insert a 1-inch PVC pipe into each hole and place a cap on it, barely sticking out above ground in order not to interfere with lawn mowing.

Pour four pounds of copper sulfate crystals, followed by five gallons of hot water down each pipe. This will poison the soil around the sewer pipe for a very long time, eliminating the need for yearly or more frequent treatments through the plumbing. Repeat yearly for a few years.

Replacing the terra-cotta with PVC is another permanent solution.

Dichlobenil is a very toxic herbicide. I have found no recommended use for it to kill tree roots in plumbing systems. It has proved to be cancer-causing in animal experiments. It is also highly toxic in water.

An alternate way to restore a Mannington floor: "A lady wrote in about her vinyl floor that was 6 years old and always looked dirty. I had the same problem with my Mannington floor that was 13 years old. I use Mannington rinse-free floor cleaner to wash it and use a Mr. Clean magic eraser sponge; it comes out looking clean. It still shines. It's much easier than stripping and using a wax on it. Thought you might be interested to know this."

An interesting garden product: Bags of mulch, fertilizer, cement mix, dog food, etc., can be difficult to carry around, but there is a nifty handle to make it easier: the Handy Camel Bag Clip, The clip is snapped at the top of the bags and off you go. It can also be used to pour the bag's contents by snapping it on one of its corners while lifting it from the bottom.

Very handy!

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via email at

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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