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Cleaning is the least-expensive home improvement and one you can manage on your own.

Here are some examples.

Marble Marble consists of petrified sea shells (calcium carbonate). It is not stone, but petrified alkali.

Marble can be easily dissolved with a mild acid. Orange juice, grapefruit juice and lemon juice are high in citric acid and can etch marble. It is susceptible to damage from many common foods.

Vinegar contains acetic acid and it also can eat a hole in a marble surface. And alcohol also will dissolve marble. Alcohol is found in hair spray, adult drinks, perfumes and cologne.

Some types of marble are denser than others. Not all react to acid attack.

What do you think the experts say will clean marble faster than anything else? A mild acid. However, it is recommended that the selected acid be used in combination with a mild abrasive, such as salt crystals.

That's why we recommend slicing an orange or grapefruit in half (you can use a lemon, but it's smaller), dip it in a plate of salt and rub it onto the marble. Flood the area with fresh water to rinse. Then, pat dry with a soft towel.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel is one of the hardest metals known to man, and a high-quality stainless-steel sink can outlast most kitchens if properly cared for.

Stainless steel doesn't rust, but many of the elements that attach to it will rust. Cleaning a brushed stainless-steel surface with a metal scrubbing pad can be a mistake. Fibers from the pad can get caught in the stainless surface and rust.

Also, abrasive cleaners should not be used on stainless steel; they can rub a hole in the finish. Abrasive cleaners should not be used on most household surfaces such as glass, tile, plastic laminate, linoleum, porcelain and plastic.

A nonabrasive cleaner is safer to use and will clean just as well.

Copper and brass Copper and brass are very soft metals that easily oxidize, or tarnish.

Because they are soft metal, they are easier to polish to a high sheen. Slightly tarnished copper or brass can be cleaned with any number of household ingredients, such as a paste made from table salt and vinegar or catsup. Just wipe on, then wipe off.

Ceramic, porcelain tile Ceramic and porcelain tile covered in mineral deposits and soap scum can be effectively cleaned with many nonabrasive substances. Never use scouring powder on tile.

Pure lemon oil is our favorite. Use a nylon scrubbing pad soaked in the oil to get the surface clean. The more buildup, the more scrubbing will be required.

Keep in mind that lemonade (the juice) is for drinking, not cleaning tile. Lemon oil (from the skin of the lemon) is what should be used.

Mildew Mildew can be found everywhere — inside or outside. Both chlorine bleach and alcohol work well on mildew. If you try these chemicals and neither works, you might have algae growing where you think mildew exists.

Keep in mind that algae is not affected by alcohol or bleach and can only be eradicated with a proper algaecide (pesticide for algae).

For mildew removal: mix one-third of a cup of powdered laundry detergent and one quart of liquid chlorine bleach into three quarts of warm water. Add the bleach to the water first, and then the detergent.

Although this formula is relatively mild, be sure to wear gloves and eye protection and make sure that there is plenty of ventilation.

Transfer the thoroughly blended concoction into a spray bottle or pump sprayer and soak the affected area. Continue to respray the area, keeping it wet until the black mildew turns white. Then, rinse with fresh water and pat dry with a towel.

Polished metal Polished metal (faucets, shower heads, etc.) never should be scrubbed with an abrasive. Even a nylon scrubbing pad can scratch a polished metal surface.

Instead, soak a rag or towel in pure vinegar. Gently wring out the excess liquid and lay it over the affected surface. Keep the rag wet by covering it with plastic wrap (this prevents evaporation).

In one to eight hours, lime deposits will disappear with a gentle wipe.

Sink drains Sink drains can be a pain. Hair and soap scum can build up and create an unmanageable clog.

Preventing this kind of problem is easy. You will need one cup of old-fashioned table salt, one cup of baking soda (replace the one in the fridge and use the old one for this formula), a cup of vinegar and two or three quarts of boiling water.

Add the dry chemicals to the drain, pouring slowly, and then add the vinegar. Let the mixture fizz for a minute or so, then pour in the boiling water. Do this before bed once a month to keep your most frequently used drains open and running free.

For more home-improvement tips and information visit on the Web at www.onthehouse.com.

To receive a copy of On the House booklets on plumbing, painting, heating/cooling or decks/patios, send a check or money order payable to The Associated Press for $6.95 per booklet and mail to: On the House; P.O. Box 1562; New York, N.Y. 10016-1562, or through these online sites: www.onthehouse.com or apbookstore.com.

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