Dear Natural Handyman,
We recently bought a house with a natural rock fireplace. The stones are dark and very sooty. How do we best clean them?
DL from Vista, CA
The first step would be to use a household detergent to remove as much dirt and dust from the stone as possible. Don't use anything with ammonia in it (because of the next step). When thoroughly dry, follow up with a phosphoric acid masonry cleaner, which should work to freshen up the stone and the grout. Cleaning off dirt and oils makes the acid's job easier and more thorough.
Though the phosphoric acid in a masonry mix is not extremely strong or as dangerous as muriatic acid, a primarily exterior masonry cleaner, you should nevertheless be sure to have lots of ventilation, wear eye and skin protection and protect everything from the acid except the surfaces you wish to clean. Follow the instructions on the container and be sure to rinse thoroughly when done.
Here's a tip: use a spray bottle or garden sprayer to apply the acid. This is much easier, more accurate and neater than trying to apply it with a sponge. The acid will not harm most plastic sprayers, but should be thoroughly rinsed out if you plan on reusing the sprayer.
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