Q. While changing the oil in my car, I got a large black oil stain on the driveway. I put an oil absorbent on it and later tried pressure washing, but a large, black stain remains. Can you suggest other methods that might clean the concrete?
A. A number of readers, including a service-station owner who deals with the problem regularly, said they get good results with Oil Eater. This is a liquid cleaner-degreaser that is sprayed on the stain. Some versions need to be diluted before use, so read the directions carefully.
Oil Eater can also be used on asphalt and some other surfaces. It is sold at some auto-parts stores, discount stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club, and is available on the Internet. (Amazon.com offers a 32-ounce spray bottle for $12.)
There are many other treatments for oil stains, including degreaser products that can be bought at auto-parts stores and some supermarkets.
Many people have their own favorite treatments; one reader said he covered a stain with powered laundry detergent, moistened it with water and let it in stand overnight, then rinsed it off to find the stain gone.
I have removed some stains with repeated applications of cat litter (don’t use clumping cat litter, which makes hard-to-remove stains of its own if it gets wet).
You were wise to use an absorbent immediately after making the stain; fresh stains are easier to remove than old ones. Sawdust, sand and even talcum powder can be used as an absorbent in an emergency.
But the best bet is prevention. For example, spread scrap cardboard panels under the front end of the vehicle when changing oil. A large galvanized pan can be bought at auto-parts stores to catch drips, which should be checked and repaired immediately. (It is usually just a loose oil plug or filter).
Also watch out for contractor trucks, which often drip oil; slip cardboard or a drip pan under the front end of trucks parked in your driveway.
Q. Our old brick-front house was once painted. The paint is flaking and peeling and looks terrible. How can we repair this?
A. I think you will need experienced professional help with this. For one thing, you say this is an old house. If it was painted before 1978 the paint probably contains lead and will be hazardous to remove.
Environmental Protection Agency regulations require that, for removal of the old paint and application of any new paint, you must use a painter certified in lead-paint work who will follow safe procedures. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/lead and click on Renovation, Repair and Painting.
Lead paint, of course, is a serious health hazard if dust or small fragments get into the air and are breathed. The painter you choose should test the existing paint for lead and show you the results before any work is done. You can also test it yourself with a lead-paint test kit sold at many home centers and hardware stores.
Even if the paint proves to be lead-free, removal must be done to avoid damaging the bricks or mortar.
Pressure-washing could take off the loose paint, but it should be done by an expert. Once the paint is off, the mortar should be checked to see if it has deteriorated and needs to be repaired or replaced.
Finally, if the bricks are repainted, I recommend an elastomeric paint, which has some flexibility and should last longer than regular paint.
Q. We are planning a kitchen renovation and my wife wants linoleum flooring. I want vinyl because it costs less. What are the pros and cons of these two types of flooring?
A. Linoleum almost disappeared from the flooring market a few decades ago but is making a strong comeback because it is considered environmentally friendly.
Linoleum is made from natural ingredients, basically linseed oil, which comes from flax seeds. Vinyl, of course, is a type of plastic.
You are correct that linoleum is usually more expensive; its price can double that of a good-quality vinyl floor. You’ll get fewer choices of patterns and colors with linoleum, and vinyl generally holds up better in heavy kitchen traffic, wearing better and giving better resistance to kitchen accidents such as dropped cookware.
Vinyl also often offers less maintenance, being easy to clean and usually needing no waxing. But basically, it is a choice between “green” flooring and plastic.
Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.