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Ammonia, mineral spirits can work as degreasers

Q. A great deal of grease has accumulated on the ceramic-tile walls and wood cabinets near our kitchen stove. I tried several household cleaners, with poor results. Can you help?

A. There are a number of special cleaners, called degreasers, that should cut through your grease accumulation. Some of these cleaners are sold at supermarkets, home centers and auto parts stores. Look for the word “degreaser” on the label.

However, you could already have two excellent grease cleaners: ammonia and mineral spirits.

Both ammonia and mineral spirits (paint thinner) have strong odors and should be used only in well-ventilated areas. In addition, paint thinner is flammable and the odor can linger for awhile, but it is a fine grease cleaner for finished wood such as cabinets.

A little paint thinner on a rag will easily remove the greasy smudges that often accumulate around cabinet handles. Extinguish any flames and avoid smoking or sparks.

If you want to try ammonia on the tiles, mix a cup of it in a gallon of hot water and add a couple of tablespoons of dishwashing detergent. Soak a clean cloth in the solution and scrub the tiles, changing cloths frequently.

(Caution: Do not mix any detergent or cleaner containing chlorine bleach with ammonia; a toxic gas will be formed.)

To clean the wood, moisten a clean cloth with paint thinner and scrub gently with the grain of the wood, again changing cloths frequently.

When you have removed the grease, restore a shine to the wood with a cleaner-polish such as Pledge.

Once you have the grease removed, periodic cleaning of the tiles with household cleaners or a wood cleaner-polish on the cabinets should keep the grease away. Also, a range hood and/or vent fan can expel some of the greasy fumes.

Q. We have a favorite room in our house with many older windows. It is heated almost all winter by the sun, and cooled in summer just by opening the windows.

We would like to get new energy-efficient windows in the room and take advantage of the federal tax credit for new windows, but have learned that eligible windows would actually block much of the sun’s heat. Any suggestions?

A. Energy-efficient windows that meet the federal standards for tax credits have coatings that do reduce so-called solar heat gain (technically called Solar Heat Gain Coefficient or SHGC), but also reduce heat loss through the windows.

The overall effect of new windows should be that you might pick up less solar heat (improving cooling efficiency), but what heat you do get (plus any other heat produced by heaters) will stay in the room longer, improving heating efficiency.

Windows approved for the federal tax credit (30 percent of the cost to a maximum of $1,500) must have an SHGC of .30 or less.

If you choose certified windows near the allowed limit, you will still get some solar heat gain and also get all the other good features of energy-efficient windows, including less heat loss, easy cleaning and low maintenance.

I think it is a personal choice that boils down to this: If you are happy with the existing windows, keep them.

If you want the advantages of energy-efficiency and can afford 70 percent of the cost, go for new windows.

You can find more information on qualifying windows and the tax credit at

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.