Rubbing out all traces of water stain

September 01, 2001|By Rob Kasper

WHEN THE WIFE is away, the husband will rub the furniture with toothpaste.

Why? As with many complex issues in America today, the answer has to do with gender roles, with a poinsettia plant and with a water stain on the hall table.

I was responsible for the water stain. I was the guy who placed the poinsettia plant on the wood table. I am not a houseplant person. Ordinarily I don't buy them, carry them around or pay much attention to them. But back in December, I won a poinsettia plant at the office Christmas party and, feeling full of holiday cheer, carried it home and plunked it down on the table in hallway.

It looked good there, for a few days. Then when it withered and it was removed from the table, a spot remained. I learned the lesson; you don't put a plant, even one wrapped in festive foil, on bare wood. Plants, it turns out, are like bottles of cold beer. You have to put a coaster underneath them to prevent water spots. Who knew? Not this guy.

Right after the spot appeared, I tried to cover up my mistake by rubbing the table with run-of-the-mill, lemon-smelling aerosol furniture polish. But the stain remained, and so did my guilt.

Then, just this week, I learned about the stain-removing prowess packed in a tube of ordinary, everyday, non-gel toothpaste.

Toothpaste, it turns out, is a gentle abrasive that can restore wood furniture marred by water spots and rings, which are caused by moisture trapped under furniture wax. I read this is in Trade Secrets (Rodale, 1988), a book of tips and hints from the pros written by Gene Schnaser.

On a page outlining home remedies for damaged wood, the toothpaste technique was described. "Simply squeeze the toothpaste onto a wet cotton rag and buff the spotted area," the book advised. It added that stubborn rings might require mixing the toothpaste with an equal amount of baking soda. "Buff until the spot disappears" the book said. "Then with a clean cloth, continue buffing until you can see yourself."

The toothpaste stain-removal method also is endorsed on several Web sites dealing with wood. For example, a site devoted to furniture care and protection and stocked with information from the Hardwood Manufacturers Association - www.homefurnish.com/woodcare.htm - recommended it.

"Often the rings are in the wax, not the finish," said the section dealing with water marks and rings. "Cover the stain with a clean, thick blotter, press down with a warm iron and repeat," it continued. "Or rub with salad oil, mayonnaise or white toothpaste. Wipe dry and wax or polish."

(Speaking of Web sites, in last week's column I gave an incorrect Internet address for a site dispensing tips on pole painting. The correct address is www.mrlongarm.com.)

According to another home repair book, The New York Times Season-By-Season Guide to Home Maintenance (Times Books, 1992), water stains also can be removed by "applying a high quality liquid furniture cleaner specifically formulated to remove dirt and accumulated wax." Apparently the aerosol I had used on the stain was not the right stuff.

I couldn't find any "high quality liquid furniture cleaner" in the house. But I did find a tube of toothpaste: Tom's of Maine spearmint.

Moreover, Labor Day was approaching, and in honor of the holiday I felt the urge to do a small amount of honest, manual labor. How small? Rubbing a tabletop with toothpaste for a few minutes seemed just right.

Yesterday I got my chance to try the toothpaste method. My wife and older son had gone to Boston to get the college boy situated for the coming school year. Since December, when I set that wet plant on the wood table, my wife has not had much confidence in my wood-care skills. I had a hunch she would not approve of me rubbing toothpaste on the furniture. But for a few days the coast was clear and the toothpaste was flowing.

Now not only has the water ring disappeared, the tabletop is bright and shiny, and the hallway smells minty fresh.

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