Home Do It: Act quickly to keep engine oil from staining driveway
Q. There are a lot of oil stains on my blacktop driveway from dripping family cars, some recent and some pretty old. I’ve tried a number of cleaners to try and remove the stains, including pressure washing, but many just won’t come off. What’s the answer?
A. Oil stains on driveways can usually be removed or at least partially controlled if quick action is taken. Almost any absorbent material placed on a fresh oil stain will help keep it from penetrating deeply into concrete or asphalt and make final clean-up much easier. Cat litter is a favorite absorbent, but avoid the clumping type because it can cause stains of its own if it gets wet. Other absorbents that can help include sand or sawdust or a layer of paper towels. One reader said she used powdered laundry soap with good results.
Leave any absorbent in place for an hour or so, then sweep or pick it up and apply fresh absorbent if needed. The longer the stains are left untouched, the deeper they will penetrate and the more difficult they will be to remove.
Another good strategy is to keep a jug or spray bottle of a product called Oil Eater on hand, and use it to help clean up stains after absorbents have helped to prevent deep penetration. Oil Eater is a cleaner that is sprayed or poured on the stain, scrubbed and rinsed off; it is sold at some home centers and discount stores and can be bought on the Internet.
If your own vehicles are causing oil stains, you should of course have them checked immediately to correct the problem, which is often just a loose oil filter or a few loose bolts.
Controlling drips from the vehicles of service people and visitors is, of course, not so easy.
I am especially cautious about older service vehicles, and on a couple of occasions have slipped a metal drip pan under the engine area of a service vehicle that looked like a dripper. Drip pans are sold at auto-parts stores or, if you don’t have one, use a piece of cardboard on the driveway under the engine.
Q. Our house has vinyl siding, which I like and which looks reasonably good even after 20 years. However, we live near a busy highway and the siding is dirty and stained in some areas, probably because of all the traffic kicking up dust. How can I restore the siding to its original good looks?
A. If the whole house exterior needs cleaning, pressure washing is the best bet. The washing should be done by an experienced tradesperson, since misdirected streams of water can get behind the siding and cause serious problems in the walls like soaked insulation, rot and mold. To prevent this, the stream of water from a pressure washer should be directed slightly downward or aimed directly at the siding, never in an upward direction.
If only small areas are involved, you can clean them yourself. Vinyl siding is usually rather easy to clean. Use a soft-bristled brush with a long handle.
Cleaners recommended by the Vinyl Siding Institute for general cleaning include Fantastik and Murphy’s Oil Soap. Fantastik will also remove some stains from the siding, but rust stains, which are rather common on siding because of the widespread use of lawn sprinklers, might require stronger cleaners. Some do-it-yourselfers say they get good results with Zud, a rust-stain remover sold at many supermarkets and on the Internet.
Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at firstname.lastname@example.org.