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Your Place: Dealing with grungy grout and slate flooring

Question: When we had our kitchen remodeled about 11 years ago, we had a ceramic-tile floor installed. The floor is very durable; however, the grout is about one-eighth of an inch below the surface of each tile.

Little did we know that this space would become a trap for collecting spills and debris of all sorts.

Can we fill the remaining area with grout to eliminate this problem and make it level with the surface?

Answer: I would say no. The rule with grout lines is to have them all at a consistent depth of at least halfway down the thickness of the floor tiles installed.

In addition, the old grout cured 11 years ago. The new grout would not adhere to the old grout, and you'd be cleaning broken bits of it off the tile floor instead of cracker crumbs.

I suppose you could remove all the old grout and replace it with new, but that's more work than just regularly cleaning and sealing the tile and the grout lines. You also can damage the tile while removing the grout, and there's no guarantee it will adhere to or even reach the underlayment, which is part of what the existing grout is sticking to.

Have you ever grouted a tile floor? I have done several, and every time the opportunity arises to do another, I go into hiding.

To help prevent gunky grout, vacuum the floor regularly, using the tool that allows you to get into narrow places. To actually remove stains, you can try a household cleaner such as Mr. Clean, Lysol, or baking soda (no chlorine bleach on colored grout) mixed with water, and let it sit for a while to work.

If these cleaners don't work, try OxiClean, which has oxygenated bleach.

Scrub the grout with a brush that is stiffer than a toothbrush but softer than a metal one, and do it periodically. Regular maintenance keeps small problems from getting bigger.

Q: We recently bought a home that has charcoal slate flooring throughout the kitchen, dining room, foyer, and hall areas. The flooring has years of accumulated liquid wax buildup.

The wax has paint splatters and stains that make the floor and grout look dirty, and the buildup around prior furniture placement is evident. Is there a stripping agent or any other way to bring the slate back to its natural, matte finish?

A: Stone flooring websites note that there are safe strippers available, and you might go to a home center or hardware store to ask what their specialists recommend.

Once that is done, use an acrylic-based finish to restore the shine.

Q: How do I remove a pocket door to repair the rolling hangers?

A: You need to first break the paint seal along the stop moldings on the jamb of the door, then take the moldings off carefully with a prybar.

To remove the door, situate it in the middle of the doorway. Then tilt it toward you and remove the rollers.

Q: Does it help to keep the heat-pump fan on manual setting to circulate air or should it be left on automatic?

A: Nothing I've read seems to indicate that one way or the other matters, but if you left the house for a day in the winter on manual setting, it might take a lot to get the heat back up to a comfortable level. The automatic setting would keep the house at a correct level without much sweat.

The HVAC system we have has the air-conditioning set at 76 degrees, and it kicks on when it exceeds that temperature. We don't have to do anything.