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Taking good care of window screens should be part of spring cleaning

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For many of us, spring cleaning includes washing winter dirt and debris off of windows and window screens. Paying extra attention to screens now can end up saving homeowners money, as well as ensuring better views and keeping out bugs.

Here's the lowdown on screens and screen care:

CLEANING IS KEY

The average home has 12 to 15 window screens, usually made of aluminum or fiberglass with a vinyl coating. Experts recommend washing them twice a year, but at least once in the spring to rid them of winter grime.

"We've had the rain and the snow all winter and the dirt builds up on them," says Scott Walker, president and owner of Screenmobile, a mobile window and door screening company with close to 100 locations throughout the country. "If you think of them as a filter, you wouldn't want to breathe all the dust and the dirt that builds up."

The easiest way to start is by marking screens so you'll remember which window they fit, says Colleen Maiura, a spokeswoman with Lowe's Home Improvement stores. You can use a marker or a small piece of tape that's strong enough not to be washed away by the garden hose. She suggests a cleaning solution of 1 cup ammonia, 3 cups of water and a squirt of dish detergent.

Lay the screens on a flat surface, thoroughly wet them with a hose and use a squirt bottle to apply the cleaning mix. Leave it on for about 10 minutes, use a soft-bristled brush to remove stubborn grime, then rinse. Don't scrub aluminum screens too hard; you could dent them.

Maiura suggests shaking screens to remove excess water. If you've got fiberglass ones, you can gently snap them with a towel to send water drops flying and prevent hard water stains.

If you pay someone to wash your windows, it's a good idea to inspect the screens beforehand. That way you won't blame washers for tears already there, and you can ask them to pay for any damages that occur during their work.

REPAIRS FOR A REASON

The point of having window screens is to let you open up your home to fresh air while keeping bugs and debris out. Rips and tears in the mesh, or bent screen frames, defeat that purpose.

Walker says you can do some minor repairs on your own. Inexpensive patch kits available at home improvement stores include small pieces of mesh that grab around holes and close them up. Pieces of household tape can cover up tiny tears. Neither option is attractive, Walker adds, but they can serve as quick fixes in otherwise good screens.

Homeowners can attempt to fix slight bends in aluminum screens, but should know that the frame may crack under the stress.

Spring cleaning is also the time to repaint wooden screen frames if needed. Painting helps seal the wood and keep it from warping.

PREVENTING DAMAGE

Children and pets can be especially tough on screens and screen doors because sometimes they just don't see them. Consider using decorative stickers to remind them that a screen is there. Pet screens can be mounted on sliding screen doors for easy access for pets that enjoy the outdoors.

For those who might have used an elbow to keep a swinging screen door from closing too quickly, there's a better option that won't cost you a repair. Check the top of your door for a piston mechanism that you can turn and increase the pressure, to make the door close more slowly.

To keep window screens and doors sliding smoothly, Walker suggests skipping oil-based lubricants such as WD-40 and instead using a silicone-based lubricant, such as furniture polish.

If you have the storage space, cleaning screens in the fall and then storing them away during the winter can extend their life, experts say.

REPLACE AS NEEDED

If a screen has large or multiple holes, or if its frame is bent or broken, then it's time for a new one.

"Our rule of thumb is that if the frame doesn't seal up against the window, then the bugs can come around there, so you'd need to replace it," Walker says.

Fiberglass screens, which have a vinyl coating, will begin to show white strands, which means "there is virtually no integrity" left in the screen, he adds.

NEW PRODUCTS

Maiura says that if you're switching screens, consider a charcoal colour for better visibility. She and Walker both touted new fine-mesh screens that can block small bugs and improve your view. The screens are made of super-fine strands so homeowners see less screen and more scenery.

"It's almost like an invisible screen," Walker says of his company's BetterVue product.

Other new products include strong pet screens that cats can climb without tearing and retractable screen doors that are mounted on door jams so they're hidden when homeowners don't need them. Walker, who is based in Thousand Palms, Calif., says entire patio enclosures are being built with retractable screens that are motorized for easy use.

Homeowners will also start seeing strong, stainless steel screens on the market that offer some security.

"You get the look of a screen door, but the benefits of a security door," says Walker.

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