Headstones serve as permanent memorials to the people we love and the memories we share with them. You can prevent grime and decay and keep your loved one’s headstone looking new and untarnished by cleaning it once a year or once every two years, depending on the headstone material.
This article discusses how to clean a headstone and what to use to clean headstones.
How to Clean Headstones: The Steps to Follow
Here are the things to do before you start cleaning gravestones.
Step 1. Obtain Permission
Cleaning gravestones of your loved ones or ancestors is a great thing to do. However, you have to first ask your other family members for permission to do it.
On the other hand, if you are motivated to clear stones for historical or humanitarian reasons, then ensure you have permission from the deceased’s heirs.
If you can’t reach them, get permission from the cemetery superintendent or the municipal person in charge of the cemetery. Keep in mind that seeing an unskilled person washing the headstones may make these people uncomfortable.
Step 2. Check to see if it actually needs to be cleaned.
No matter how delicately you clean a headstone, you will remove a small amount of the stone. Is it possible that cleaning a stone in an antique cemetery will make it look out of place? Cleaning a stone can sometimes do more harm than good, so if in doubt, leave it alone, as there is always the chance of damaging the stone. If a stone is in the shadow beneath a tree, removing the lichen will just result in the lichen reappearing after a few months, and to keep the stone clean, you would have to clean it more than once a year, which will damage the stone.
Step 3: Check the Temperature Outside
Touch the gravestone’s surface with your bare hand. Is the stone warm when you touch it? If that’s the case, don’t use cold water to clean it. This could cause cracks.
Cover the stone with a blanket until the temperature drops. If this isn’t possible, you could clean it with warm water.
Also, don’t clean a stone if there’s freezing weather in the forecast. Because water expands as it freezes, it might get inside the stone’s small cracks and grow.
Step 4: Search for Plants Clinging to the Stones
Your natural reaction may be to remove any plants from a stone as soon as you notice them, but headstone cleaners advise against it.
Instead, cut the plants, especially ivy, at the root and along the vine at regular intervals. Stones can be damaged by suckers on some plants. You can remove the suckers now, but it’s preferable to wait until the plant is dead before doing so.
Step 5: Double-check the stone’s stability.
First and foremost, examine the headstone’s condition. Is it flaking, crumbling, or cracking? After hundreds of years, the foundations of old gravestones may become unstable. Check to see if the marker you’re using is secure and won’t fall. Keep in mind that you want to stay safe throughout the process.
If a marble headstone is in good condition, it should merely be cleaned. If there is too much cracking or severe degradation, cleaning it could create more irreversible damage.
Here’s what to look for on the stone:
• Layered stones: If you notice that the layers of the stone are starting to split, don’t clean it. This is a job for a specialist.
• Hollow sounds: When you lightly tap on the stone, do you hear a hollow sound? If this is the case, do not attempt to clean it.
• Large cracks: Do not attempt to clean a stone that has been cracked by an intruding tree root or another source. The delicate stone is prone to chipping and should be repaired before cleaning.
These may be signs that you need to enlist the help of a stone preservationist to clean the monument.
The Headstone Cleaning Process
Materials you’ll need:
There are the essential materials you would need on hand to clean a headstone properly:
You will need to carry your own water supply because you will most likely not have access to a water source or hose while at the cemetery. If you’re cleaning a normal-sized headstone, carry at least 5 gallons of water with you, and more if you’re cleaning a family plot or companion headstone.
You’ll need a sponge to cover the headstone with water and keep it damp during the washing process. Use a sponge free of dye, as the dye could accidentally stain the monument. Also, sponges with a rough side should be avoided since they may be too harsh for the headstone.
Consider packing a variety of brushes in various sizes. You’ll need the brush to rid the headstone of dirt and algae. A toothbrush can be used to clean tiny spaces. A soft bristled brush will suffice for larger dirt spots. Any brushes you use should have soft, natural, and non-dyed bristles.
You’ll need mild instruments such as wood picks, plastic scrapers, and popsicle sticks to remove dirt that has settled deep into crevices or is sitting in hard-to-reach locations within the headstone. Avoid using metal equipment.
A couple of large towels should be enough to finish drying the stone.
Steps To Clean A Headstone
- Step 1: Always begin by eliminating as much debris or build-up as possible before starting any form of scrubbing.
- Step 2: Carefully pick away any dirt, trash, moss, grass, leaves, or other build-ups with the soft bristle brush and scrapers you brought. Make sure you don’t scratch the headstone while doing so.
- Step 3: Wet the headstone with a sponge or gently dump water on it once you’ve removed as much dirt/build-up as possible. Ensure there’s access to fresh water at all times; gently scrub it to remove any dirt or build-up on the headstone from the bottom up. Cleaning from bottom to top is important because you don’t want unclean water from the top of the gravestone to drip down onto the rest of the monument, obstructing your efforts. Continue to rinse your sponge and remove debris with your clean water supply until you are sure that you have cleansed the headstone as thoroughly as possible.
- Step 4: Give the headstone the last rinse with fresh water. After that, check whether there’s any more dirt that can be cleaned with a soft bristle brush or scraper.
- Step 5: When you’re satisfied with your headstone’s appearance, blot it dry with clean towels.
Special Considerations when cleaning a granite headstone and other headstone materials.
Most gravestones can be cleaned following the recommendations above. However, unique directions for specific materials should be considered, including the following.
How to Clean Granite Headstones.
A granite headstone can become quite hot in the summer, which can make cleaning it difficult. When water evaporates so quickly, it will be challenging to keep the surface wet. It’s also possible that the monument will take on a streaky appearance.
A granite headstone will typically maintain its general appearance for a long period of time, and maintenance is usually confined to a soft polishing cloth and/or soft bristled brush. There are special refinishing kits for cleaning granite headstones with severely weathered bronze finish, which is normal as the marker gets older.
If you must use a kit, it’s essential to handle all of the products in the kit with extreme caution and to follow the directions and information provided before you start the refinishing process.
How to Clean a Marble Headstone.
When you use cleaning products on marble, it makes it vulnerable to harm. Apply caution when cleaning the surface of a marble headstone. Sparingly use wire brushes and abrasive scrubbing methods.
How to Clean Bronze headstones.
Cleaning bronze is unlike cleaning a granite headstone, marble headstones, or other stones. When cleaning a bronze grave marker, use the same instructions as before, but add an extra step at the end.
According to some experts, a newly cleaned bronze grave marker may benefit from a protective coating. A thin layer of wax paste is suggested on certain websites. Once the surface has dried, buff it to a smooth finish.
How to Clean Slate Headstones
When cleaning slate gravestones, stay away from vinegar solutions. However, the procedure outlined in the preceding phases is appropriate when working with this natural stone.
How to Clean a Sandstone Headstone
Sandstone is both soft and durable, allowing it to be carved and last for millennia. The issue with using sandstone is that it is prone to delamination and crumbles when moisture penetrates the layers. Exercise extreme caution when working with sandstone headstones.
What To Keep In Mind When Working On A Headstone
1. Don’t use shaving cream on headstones.
There are several claims that cleaning headstones with shaving cream have astounding outcomes. There are numerous articles about how to clean a granite headstone that claims shaving cream works almost like magic if you rub it around the letters and gently scrub it with a cloth towel.
Many of the “before” and “after” photographs are pretty convincing. The issue, on the other hand, is long-term. Contrary to popular belief, the acidic, headstone-killing compounds included in shaving cream are harsh.
Worse, they tend to penetrate into the pores of the headstone, weakening it over time.
Some of the compounds in shaving cream are similar to those found in acid rain, which may wreak havoc on a burial monument over decades.
So, while the immediate effect of applying shaving cream to rescue a gravemarker may appear magical, the cream really causes considerable harm over time, even if it is washed away completely after washing. The acid penetrates the headstone so quickly; that it’s challenging to remove it even after being applied.
2. Don’t just use any cleaning product.
Typical household cleaners, such as soap can be harmful to a grave marker. In fact, all you need is fresh water and a little elbow grease to get the best results. Most professional monument preservationists only use water.
Professionals occasionally use a very specialized cleanser to clean very filthy headstones. However, any cleaning product must be absolutely free of any harsh chemicals and acid content and any content that has acidic reaction to avoid causing harm to your headstone. This last criterion is taken into account when making shaving cream.
Many people read the contents list on a can of shaving cream and assume it’s safe because there’s no acid in it. However, once the shaving cream is applied, the interactions of the non-acidic compounds in the cream usually turn slightly acidic.
This is challenging because the acidity of cleaning chemicals is what causes them to clean in the first place. However, there are a few non-acidic cleaning solutions that can help you clean your marker – although, they will be poor cleaners by nature. Most may not be better than plain water.
Don’t use bleach: For years, people have used bleach to clean gravestones. In reality, several websites still promote utilizing this common home item to clean marble gravestones and other stones. This is a mistake because bleach deposits salt on headstones, which can erode the stone’s surface and cause it to crumble.
3. Don’t clean a headstone with hard metal tools.
A decent rule of thumb for using solid materials to clean your monument is that if the “hardness” rating of a metal is 5 or higher (you can check this on various website that deals with chemical makeup of metals), it should not be used on your headstone. The majority of granite headstones’ hardness rating is within 4 to 7. Higher-rated materials will scratch or damage tombstones made from lower-rated materials. Most cleaning metals like steel have a grade of at least 6. As such, using them to clean most headstones will result in damages.
While this rule of thumb not binding, it is unquestionably a strong start. If you want to ignore the guideline, be sure you know the hardness ratings of both your headstone and the cleaning item. Otherwise, the safest technique is to use a soft bristle brush and apply it softly.
Don’t use brushes made of wire.Wire brushes should be avoided. A wire brush will remove algae from a stone and remove portions of the stone.
4. Avoid powerful instruments
Avoid using any power tools to clean a gravestone. Some companies employ nylon wheels coupled to a drill to clean the surfaces of stones. This causes irreversible harm to the stones and may leave them exposed to the elements.
When cleaning a gravestone, most people have good intentions. Simply ensure that your good intentions do not result in more harm than good.
Gravestones should not be cleaned using washing machines with high pressure. Power washers can remove impurities from stone surfaces, but they can also damage headstones.
5. Don’t worry about your fading bronze headstones.
Bronze markers on granite headstone bases have raised lettering and can last for far longer—and with less care than granite headstones. The trick to keeping bronze markers in good condition is to do very little. All you need is a little elbow grease and a little water every now and then. Just keep in mind that, depending on the hardness of the water, avoid leaving water standing on the marker if possible. Some people obsess over the natural fading that all markers experience over time. This should not be done. Bronze naturally darkens. Make no attempt to halt the process. Using a cleaning solution with harsh chemicals on bronze with the goal of cleaning it will simply weaken it and make it more susceptible to the elements.
How to clean a headstone: What More?
Seek advice from a professional.
It is a good idea to consult an expert if you have any worries about the condition of the gravestone or if don’t know how to clean gravestones. An expert, for example, will be able to estimate the age of your stone. They’ll also be able to identify the material type with certainty. Ask the cemetery whether they can refer you to someone who can help you.
You might also contact a local museum. The employees will very certainly be able to refer you to an expert. Also, inquire about the best cleaning method and frequency for your specific stone.
Take note of everything.
Gravestones do not need to be cleaned regularly. Although it may seem natural to want to clean the stone regularly, resist the desire. Rather, you should clean the stone every 18 to 24 months. Cleanings will be required even less frequently in some cases.
Each time you polish the stone, make a note of the date. This will keep you from cleaning too much.
Make the space look nice.
Besides keeping the gravestone in good repair, there are various other ways to honor your loved one. Consider putting flowers on the gravesite. This can help you feel closer to the deceased.
Flowers can be placed near the headstone. This is particularly pleasant on special occasions such as holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. You can also leave tiny souvenirs at the burial site. A baseball, for example, for a sports lover. Request a list of rules from the cemetery as it’s possible that some materials may not be allowed.
So this article explains how to clean a grave marker of a loved one. But keep in mind that tombstones rarely appear brand new again, no matter how hard you try. It is also recommended that marble headstones, limestone headstones, and sandstone headstones, be cleaned no more than once every ten years because each cleaning removes a small layer of the stone.
It’s also critical to involve children and help them realize the necessity of maintaining the burial places of loved ones; after all, they will be the generation to maintain yours.