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Advice from the experts about home repair, restoration, more

Experts answer consumers’ questions about repairing, restoring and cleaning cast-iron fixtures, glass cooktops and shower heads.

Question: When we bought our 1927 home in 2000, we were excited to see that the kitchen had a large cast-iron sink. It was badly chipped, so my husband refinished it with epoxy. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long and now it looks quite unsightly, with many chips and imperfections. I’ve called several places to have it redone, but most of them do not recommend refinishing it because they say it won’t last. However, we would really love to keep this sink. What do you recommend?

Answer: An epoxy coating, as you discovered, looks good — at first. It might be suitable for a bathtub that gets occasional use. For a hard-working kitchen sink, though, nothing substitutes for porcelain enamel. One place where you can get a classic cast-iron sink recoated with true porcelain enamel is Custom Ceramic Coatings in Lenzburg, Ill. (618-475-2710;

customceramic.com). The owner, John Ballantyne, will sandblast the sink to remove remnants of your epoxy plus the original lead-based porcelain enamel glass and apply a new porcelain enamel finish that he bakes on in a kiln.

Cullen Hackler, executive vice president of the Porcelain Enamel Institute, a trade group, said that recoated porcelain enamel isn’t quite as thick as what original manufacturers applied, but it is true porcelain enamel and is far more durable than epoxy.

Over the years, Hackler said, he’s shared technical information with several people who were interested in starting businesses focused on recoating classy old sinks and tubs, but he knows of no one who followed through.

There are companies that apply porcelain enamel to signs, motorcycle parts and other objects. But coating cast iron, which can be about a quarter-inch thick, isn’t the same as coating thinner metal, said Chris Howell of KVO Industries in Santa Rosa, Calif. His company makes porcelain enamel signs, but it did receive some requests to recoat sinks and tubs. KVO tried it and discovered that bubbles formed in the finish because they were using materials optimized for use on thinner metals.
To get your sink to Custom Ceramic Coatings, you would need to get on Ballantyne’s waiting list by phoning or emailing him, at jballantyne@
customceramic.com. Once you are near the top of the list, he’ll contact you and you will have to ship the sink to him in a crate. He’s happy to supply instructions for that and suggests that you find a company with a loading dock that’s willing to handle the shipping (and receiving, when your sink is done).

“I’ve had customers use local lumberyards and one used the local Kroger store,” Ballantyne said.

To sandblast an extra-large sink measuring about 66 inches and apply new white porcelain, he would charge about $1,450.

Question: I have a Waterpik shower head that’s accumulated brown and white lime deposits. It’s not only ugly, but it’s clogging some of the holes. I have tried to clean the head with Scrub Free Bathroom Cleaner, with OxiClean and also with Zud powder, but none seems to work. What’s the best way to remove the deposits?

Answer: Many Waterpik shower heads have rubber nozzles. Rubbing them with a fingertip or scrubbing them with an old toothbrush often breaks up the crust so you can rinse it away.

If that doesn’t work, the company recommends soaking the shower head in white vinegar. To treat the shower head in place, partially fill a plastic bag with vinegar, slip it over the shower head and use twist ties, a rubber band or string to hold the bag there for a couple of hours. Or unscrew the shower head and soak it in a bowl filled with vinegar. To do this, slip a rag between the jaws of adjustable pliers and the threaded section of the shower head and turn counterclockwise. Let the shower head soak in vinegar for about two hours, then reinstall it. In either case, finish cleaning by running water through the shower head.

If you’re lucky, the vinegar will have softened the deposits enough so that the water pressure pushes them out of the holes.

Question: Someone who shall remain nameless heated up food wrapped in aluminum foil on the black glass and ceramic cooktop of my new stove. Now there are flecks of foil stuck to the cooktop. How can I remove the foil?

Answer: Ted Wegert, an engineering manager at Schott North America, a leading manufacturer of glass for cooktops, suggests using a cooktop cleaner and a razor scraper, with the blade held as flat as possible to the surface. If that removes much of the foil, with time and additional cleanings you may be able to get even more off.

Asked whether various other remedies suggested in Internet posts might work, Wegert responded by asking a crew at Schott to burn a piece of foil into a piece of cooktop glass and try other methods. Nothing attacked the foil or dissolved it better than the razor scraper and cleaner. “Probably more damage and not suggested for kitchen,” he wrote in a followup email.
If the scraping technique works, count yourself lucky. Wegert said that when foil is left on a very hot cooktop, “it’s generally a catastrophic failure, a 90 percent chance it’s toast.” The soft aluminum rolled into thin foil melts, and if that molten film stays on the glass as it cools, the two materials bond. The bond is stronger than the bonds within the glass, so when you try to scrape off the foil, small pieces of the glass-ceramic come with it.

“You can feel the pits with your fingers,” Wegert said. Foil stuck to a cooktop that didn’t get as hot might come off more easily and without damaging the glass.

Once divots form, there is no way to make the glass slick again. As long as the glass isn’t cracked, you can safely continue to use the cooktop, Wegert said. If you think it’s too ugly, call the manufacturer and ask whether it’s possible to replace just the glass. Or get a beautiful teapot and park it where it covers the damage.

The Washington Post via the Dallas News

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