BAKING SODA AND VINEGAR SOLUTION SAFE FOR SEPTIC TANKS
Dear Mr. HandyPerson: I have used your suggested vinegar (and baking soda) to help keep drains clear, and it works great. However, we have a septic tank and I wanted to be sure it is safe to use in the drains. Is it? -- Virginia, Grass Valley, Calif.
Dear Virginia: Yes. And though you didn't ask, yes, there is a Santa Claus. (Sorry, Virginia, Mr. HP couldn't help himself there.)
When this subject comes up, people who missed earlier columns explaining how to use this simple and safe method of clearing and deodorizing drains write to ask for details, so here's a quick recap.
Mr. HandyPerson treats every drain in the house about every other month, putting a tablespoon or two of baking soda into drains, a dribble of water to get it down into the drain, followed with about a cup of white vinegar. He leaves the bubbling/foaming solution in the drain until the next time he needs to run water and then flushes the drain with hot water.
You can also use about a quarter cup of baking soda and a cup or two of white vinegar and a toilet brush to clean and deodorize the toilet as needed. The vinegar and baking soda will not harm any kind of plumbing or septic system.
In addition to being safe, environmentally friendly and having dozens of other uses around the house, white vinegar and baking soda are considerably less expensive than most commercial cleaners and deodorizing solutions, especially when purchased in large containers or in bulk (which would be Mr. HP's enthusiastic recommendation to everyone).
Dear Mr. HandyPerson: I am writing for your advice on cleaning a cedar-paneled wall. My mother, who is 85 and has arthritis, has been applying Liquid Gold once a year to the individual squares that make up this wall in her living room. She has been doing this for the last 54 years and it is becoming more of a chore each year. She wants to prevent the wood from cracking and maintain the wall.
Is there some permanent application of something that can seal this wood so she doesn't have to go through this yearly maintenance project? -- Ellen, Norwich, Conn.
Dear Ellen: After 54 years of annual applications of Liquid Gold, Mr. HandyPerson encourages you to encourage (and reassure) your mother that she can put down her polishing rags once and for all. Without being able to examine the wood personally, it's hard for him to say with complete authority, but it sounds like there is a very good chance that your mother is simply polishing the polish.
Unless the cedar paneling is exposed to extremes of temperature, significant direct sunlight, moisture or extreme changes in humidity, it shouldn't require this kind of annual maintenance. Assuming your mother's living room is not the site of such extremes (one would hope!), cedar is a sturdy, durable wood and should only require a bit of vacuuming occasionally if or when it gets dusty.
If the paneling appears over the course of a year to become dull or to lose the luster seen immediately after the annual chore, there's a good chance that it is caused by a build-up of oils from repeated applications over these many years. A little buffing with clean, soft rags might help that.
So, OCCASIONAL vacuuming for dust, as needed, and a LITTLE buffing with clean, soft rags are all that's needed, and they needn't be done all at once or on the same day.
Also, hiring some young and energetic person to do this for your mother a few times a year would certainly make a nice birthday or holiday gift. Mr. HP has this vision of your 85-year-old mother on a stepladder polishing the cedar paneling with arthritic hands, and he doesn't like to think about it, honestly.
P.S. If the surface of the wood is actually tacky or sticky when buffed with soft, clean rags (which would probably mean it is also attracting and holding onto airborne dust or lint), then this is a very different problem. It would call for the application of some kind of stripper or solvent and is not the kind of project that Mr. HP would recommend for your (or anyone's) dear mother.
(Editors: For editorial questions, contact Greg Melvin, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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