Q. My deck boards are made of recycled plastic that won’t splinter or rot, but they have developed a number of dark stains that I assume are mildew. I want to clean the deck but there are many plants around it that might be harmed by some deck cleaners. How can I clean it up without killing my plants? – K. Scott

There are several ways to clean your deck without harming the plants. One is to use a pressure washer pumping plain water, which will flush off dirt and mildew quickly and easily.

Another option is to use a plant-safe deck cleaner. A number of these are available. Most contain an oxygen-type bleach instead of chlorine bleach or oxalic acid. An example is Wolman DeckBrite, which is sold at some home centers and hardware stores or can be bought on line. If you use a cleaner of any type, follow directions on the container carefully and test the cleaner first in an inconspicuous area to make sure it doesn’t harm the deck material.

A third method that appears to work well is to soak the plants and the soil around them thoroughly with water before cleaning. Cover the plants with a plastic tarp if possible as an extra precaution. After cleaning, rinse the plants and soil again with water. With this method, you should be able to use most regular deck cleaners.

Q. We have a swirled-finish ceiling that has developed a sizable crack. Is there some way I can repair this without making it look worse? – M. Condron

A number of do-it-yourself products are available for repairing minor damage to textured and popcorn ceilings and walls. Some come in spray cans, some in tubes, and some are applied with a putty knife. Check local paint stores and home centers for products that might fit your need, or view a variety of products at www.hardwareandtools.com; type Texture Ceiling Patch into the search space.

It is unlikely you will be able to make an invisible repair, and the repair will probably be only temporary since ceiling cracks have a nasty way of reappearing.

Q. I replaced my stove but not the exhaust hood, which is dark brown. The stove is white and black. Can I paint the hood white or black? – Mary

You should be able to paint the hood with an epoxy appliance paint, sold at many paint stores and home centers. The biggest problem will be getting the hood free of accumulated kitchen grease so the paint will adhere well. Scrub the hood inside and out with a good kitchen degreaser, sold at most supermarkets. You might also need to sand the brown finish to remove any gloss that can interfere with adhesion.

Choose a paint with high resistance to heat, although it is unlikely the hood will get hot enough for heat to be a problem.

Q. Our house was built about 20 years ago and some of the thermal windows have developed cloudy areas due to moisture getting between the two panes of glass. Can the glass be replaced without replacing the entire frame, which is wood inside and would have to be refinished? – D. Nolan

A. It is possible to replace just the damaged unit in many types of windows. For example, if these are double-hung windows with two sliding sashes and only the bottom sash is marred, just the bottom sash can be replaced, leaving the upper sash and main frame of the window in place. If you know who made these windows, you should contact the manufacturer for help. If you don’t know the manufacturer, check the windows for stickers or labels that supply some information. Some thermal windows have long-term warranties against leaking seals (which result in the fogging). If you can’t identify the manufacturers, the home builder or an experienced window installer should be able to help.

Quick tip

To help keep plastic lawn furniture clean and make it more resistant to stains, apply a thin coat of automotive wax to the surface. Buff the wax with a coarse cloth to eliminate smears.

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at [email protected] Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.

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