Cleaning and Preservation of Tombstones, Headstones & Gravestones
Did you recently visit the grave of a loved
one only to discover their tombstone was dirty and in need of cleaning or preservation? Over a period
of time tombstones will accumulate a layer of deposits resulting
from hard water, dust, dirt, or lichens, mold and fungus that usually
grow on a porous stone.
Due to the different types of materials
used as a tombstones, it is first important to understand
how each material needs to be cleaned. This article will serve
as an overview to the general aspects of cleaning tombstones and
will reference other publications for further reading.
Materials Used For Cleaning Tombstones
First let us look at the different materials
used to make tombstones. Natural stone throughout history has
been the top choice for cemetery tombstones. Among the most common
types of stone used as tombstones are sandstone, limestone, marble
Limestone and sandstone represent the
softest stone of the group. These materials have a hardness between
3-4 on the Mohs
hardness scale and were used as tombstones mainly because
of their ease of carving. Marble having a hardness of 4-7 is also
considered soft, but it yields more beauty with it's veining patterns
and finer grain which can support intricate carving details on
tombstones. Granite is the hardest of this group as it shows with
a hardness rating of 7-9. Granite tombstones will withstand a
more thorough cleaning than its counterparts in this group.
In addition to natural stone, bronze has
been gaining in popularity with modern day memorial parks as a
choice for tombstones. Many of today's cemeteries are moving
toward an all bronze memorial park since they make the grounds
easier to maintain.
Headstone Cleaning Tools and Methods
Before cleaning a tombstone you must first get
permission from the lot owner or next of kin, that is if you are
not a relative of the person interred. Also tombstones that are
to be cleaned need to be evaluated to make certain they are in
stable condition with no flaking or risk of further deterioration
from the cleaning process.
Limestone, Sandstone & Marble Tombstones
For cleaning the tombstones made of soft natural
stone in this group, here is a list of generally accepted items to
- Plenty of water
- Natural bristle brushes/tooth brushes
- Non-ionic soaps/detergents
- TLC (tender loving care)
For an additional resource on cleaning
tools for tombstones read "Tools
and Materials for Gravestone Cleaning Projects".
Here are some items you DO NOT want
to use when cleaning tombstones as they may cause irreparable damage
to the tombstone you are trying to preserve:
- Wire bristled brushes or metal instruments
- Acid or acidic cleaners
- Household cleaners - soap (Ivory), detergents
(liquid or powder), Borax, Clorox, TSP, Calgon, Fantastik, Formula
409, Spic and Span (or any other abrasive cleaner)
- Pressure washers
- Sealants of any kind
For a more in depth study on the use of
cleaning materials for tombstones read "Review
and Evaluation of Selected Brand Name Materials for Cleaning Gravestones".
Rather than trying to "reinvent the
wheel" we suggest referring to these articles as they provide
in depth information on cleaning tombstones made from natural
Gravestones, Monuments & Stone Sculptures
Historic Cemeteries - Texas Preservation Guidelines (Specifically
page 9 of this PDF document)
When cleaning granite
tombstones it is best to follow the same prescription for
cleaning limestone, sandstone or marble tombstones. Additionally,
due to granite's durability, it is all right to use a more aggressive
scrubbing technique. You can also use a pressure washer on granite
tombstones as long as it is in stable condition and reveals no
fracturing or cracks.
A word of caution, when using a pressure
washer be careful if the tombstone's carving or engraved areas
have any kind of coloring in it such as black. The pressure washer
can and will strip it out leaving little or no contrast for the
viewer to read the lettering on the tombstone. Taking this into
consideration it is best to use a pressure washer only on granite
tombstones that have no contrasting paint in the engraved areas.
On polished granite tombstones, calcium
deposits from hardened water often leave a hazed coating on the
surface. It is recommended to use a heavy duty non-metallic scouring
pad to remove these calcium deposits. You can also purchase
one from a grocery store. Just make certain it is safe to use
on granite. Using a non-ionic soap or detergent and water you
can scrub the polished surface thoroughly with the scouring pad
to remove the deposits.
Tombstones consist of a bronze
plaque mounted to a base usually of granite or concrete and lay
flat at lawn level. As a result of being mounted flat, bronze
tombstones are more susceptible to standing water and landing
Since bronze tombstones consist of two
components you can utilize the cleaning method for cleaning soft
stone for a concrete base, and the polished granite method for
cleaning the granite base.
The bronze plaque is furnished with a
factory applied lacquer coating to seal and preserve the original
appearance. Over a period of time this finish will eventually
deteriorate and is accelerated through neglect. Proper care will
preserve the finish and prevent the need for restoration.
Here is a good manual titled "Preserving
Bronze Plaques And Memorials". It provides all the instructions
you need as well as a list of supplies. You can also purchase
the preservation kit with the necessary supplies
or just the wax here.
Environmentally Friendly Tombstone Cleaning
For those of you who are interested in a more
environmentally friendly approach to cleaning tombstones, there
is a rather unusual method of using snails. That's right... snails.
Snails are known to consume lichens, mold, fungus and algae. Many
of these growths are what causes tombstones to become 'dirty'
and in need of a cleaning. You can read the full article here: "A
Unique Method For Cleaning Headstones".
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Headstones, Memorials and Mausoleums (book)
on Preserving Historic Cemeteries (page 9)
for Gravestone Studies