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Handyman Q&A

Try Paint Thinner to Remove Wax Buildup on Floors

May 27, 1999|POPULAR MECHANICS | FOR AP SPECIAL FEATURES

Question: We live in a home built in 1934. The floors have always been cleaned and waxed using an electric polisher. But wax buildup makes the floors look as though they need to be cleaned. What solvent is safe to remove wax buildup?

Answer: Paint thinner--also known as mineral spirits--is sometimes used to remove wax buildup. It is flammable, so it must be used with care. Open windows and doors to keep the area well ventilated when using it.

Also, you should wear rubber gloves and a respirator equipped with filter cartridges for organic vapors. Paint thinner, the respirator and gloves are all commonly available at hardware stores, paint stores and home centers.

For more information on cleaning wood floors, write the Oak Flooring Institute, P.O. Box 3009, Memphis, TN 38173-0009, and request a copy of the Wood Floor Care Guide. This brochure is free, but you must send a self-addressed, No. 10 envelope with 33 cents postage.

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Q: I want to install a new vinyl floor in my bathroom. May I just lay the new floor on top of the old? When is it advisable to first take up the existing flooring?

A: You'll want to take up your existing flooring if there's an obvious problem, such as water damage, dry rot or an uneven floor. Keep in mind, however, that putting down the underlayment is a big job. Not only will you have to scribe all the sheets to fit, you may also need to cut off the bottom of any doors to allow clearance above the now-thicker floor. The cracks between the underlayment panels must be filled, and the depressions caused by the numerous nails required to install the panels must also be filled.

If these problems don't exist, there is no reason why you can't lay your new vinyl directly on top of the old. In fact, there are several good reasons why you might. Many resilient flooring and flooring adhesives installed before the early 1980s contained asbestos. This asbestos is perfectly safe when left in place, but tearing it up will send some of it airborne unless precise Environmental Protection Agency abatement procedures are followed.

One note of caution about installing vinyl over vinyl: You will need to do some pretty exacting surface preparation to make the job last.

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Q: I would appreciate your suggestions on stopping squeaks in hardwood floors in second-floor bedrooms. These floors are not accessible from below, unless we tear out ceilings in the kitchen, living room and dining room.

A: Hardwood floors squeak when someone walks over the floor strips, causing them to rub together or rub on a nail. Another noise source is the subfloor moving against the floor joists. You can tell the difference. If the squeak is in one or two strips, it's probably within the strips. If the floor squeaks when you walk over an area that is 1 or 2 feet wide, it's probably subfloor movement.

Correcting a squeak caused by movement in the subfloor will require that you reattach the subfloor to the joists. This is best done by exposing the floor joists from below and screwing through the joist into the subfloor, but the resulting mess and repairs to the downstairs ceiling makes this unattractive in most situations.

An alternative is to fasten the subfloor to the joists from above. This requires that you drive 2 1/2-inch-long finish nails through the finish floor into the joist. Locating the joists is difficult without a stud finder, and not all of these devices can find a joist through hardwood flooring. One that is designed for this is Zircon's StudSensor Pro 4.0, a $30 instrument sold in home centers and hardware stores.

Once you locate a joist, bore an angled pilot hole through the floor and subfloor and into the joist. Set the nail and putty over it.

When the squeak is caused by movement in the floor itself, the Oak Flooring Institute recommends that you squeeze some liquid wax, talcum powder or powdered graphite between adjacent floor strips where the noise occurs.

If that doesn't work, try driving triangular glazing points between the strips. Angled face nailing with finish fails may stop the squeak, but it's not necessary to drive the nail into the joist.

To submit a question, write to Popular Mechanics, Reader Service Bureau, 224 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

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