How to repair burned fireplace tiles

Question: We recently bought a house and switched the fireplace from wood to gas. A curved screen stood in front of the fireplace as it burned wood. There are now traces of fire on the hotplates. How can I clean them without damaging the tiles?

– Silver spring

A reader would like to know how to remove the fire damage from these tiles. (Reader photo)

Answer: The stained tiles were likely damaged, said Bill Diskin at the Fireplace Shop in Gaitherburg (301-990-6195; www.washingtonfireplace.com). “It looks like the fire has leaked onto the tiles that have been etched into the glaze,” he said after looking at the pictures you sent.

Muriatic acid, the traditional recommendation for dealing with heavily soiled masonry, would remove the black stains, Diskin said. But he doesn’t recommend doing so because the acid would likely also damage the glaze on nearby tiles and release chemicals into the air that could corrode nearby metal parts.

Instead, he recommends a homemade recipe: in a plastic bucket, mix a gallon of the hottest water your hands can hold, two cups of white vinegar, and two tablespoons of liquid dish soap. Scrub on with a non-metallic brush. Wipe the tiles and wipe off the residue with clean water on a sponge or cloth. Do not use the cleaner on brass or painted surfaces.

Muriatic acid and Diskins cleaners attack stains from the acidic end of the pH scale. At the other end of the scale, alkaline cleaners work too. Products sold as stove cleaners, such as Rutland Fireplace, Glass and Hearth Cleaner (www.rutland.com), and Chimney Rx Hearth & Grill Cleaner (www.chimneyrx.com), are of that type. Hardware stores and fireplace stores, including Diskin’s, sell them in squirt bottles. Review the instructions, but you will likely find that you can spray the cleaner on, wait a few minutes, and wipe it up. You may need to scrub with a non-metallic brush.

Using either the homemade acidic cleaner or a store-bought alkaline cleaner, you may need to repeat the process several times. You’re done when no more stain comes off.

When asked whether an acidic or an alkaline cleaner works best, Diskin said, “It’s half a dozen of one, half a dozen of the other.”

Question: I have an Aiwa handheld tape recorder from the 1980s. I used it pretty much all the time until it just stopped working. The rollers don’t move. There is no visible damage. The battery case is not dirty and the batteries are fresh. I have certain tapes that cannot be transferred to another medium, so I want to have the tape recorder repaired. Do you know anyone who can do that?

– Bethesda

Answer: Over time, the tapes themselves will break, so the first thing you should do is make sure that it is not possible to convert them to CDs. JD Mack, co-owner of Stage 2 A / V Productions in Bethesda (301-913-0203; www.stage2.com), said he would like to see if his equipment is up to the job. If not, they can probably give you the technical specifications so you can call other companies that offer CD conversion to find one that can handle the type of tapes you have. Level 2 conversion fees are based on the length of the recording. For less than 45 minutes, it costs $ 14.95. At 46 to 80 minutes, the maximum that can go on a CD is $ 24.95.

If you just want to get the tape recorder working again, ProTech in Silver Spring (240-450-0308; www.pro-tech.us) may be able to help. The company charges a $ 50 fee to take a look, see if it can be fixed, and give you a quote, a process that can take a week. If it’s repairable and you want to continue, the $ 50 will go towards the cost.

Before trying this avenue, you can try connecting with someone who enjoys making vintage audio equipment as a hobby. After a reader of this column recently wrote about repairing an old radio, several other readers got in touch with suggestions. Among them was George Guma, a retired electrical engineer who graduated as a service manager for a company that was a forerunner of Radio Shack. His main hobby is the restoration of old radios, which, except for parts, he makes free for friends and others. But he knows about other equipment too, and he said he’d love to look at your tape recorder and probably fix it if he’s able to find the parts he needs. His phone number is 703-734-8991.

Other readers suggested seeking help from members of the National Capital Radio & Television Museum in Bowie (301-390-1020; www.ncrtv.org). Repairs arranged through the museum are limited to vacuum tube equipment, but if you go to museum hours you may find someone working on other types. The opening times are Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

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