Cleaning a Gravestone

The first question should always be, “does this stone truly need cleaning?” Often people mistake the patina of age for “dirt.” They want marble stones, for example, to be as white as when originally purchased – and this is a tragic mistake. Not only does such aggressive cleaning cause irreparable damage, but it destroys the stone’s patina – and history – making it look like the stone was placed in the cemetery only yesterday. Moreover, the cause of much biological growth is the shade created by the dense foliage of trees that usually can’t – or shouldn’t – be removed from the cemetery. Consequently, once you begin a program of washing you find that you must clean the stones every few months. And every cleaning, no matter how gentle, has the potential to cause additional damage to the stone. So, you may decide that a soiled stone is best left in that condition. Some stains in porous stones cannot be removed. Do not expect the stones to appear new after cleaning.

Removal of Organic Materials

There are times when biological growth may be causing deterioration of the stone. In such circumstances it may become necessary to clean the stone. On smooth, stable surfaces, algae, lichen, and fungus may sometimes be easily brushed or scraped off before washing (always use scrapers that are softer than the stone, such as wood popsicle sticks or bamboo skewers). Most surfaces, however, require wetting the growth before gently brushing, prying, or scraping them off the stone. Plants should be gently pulled out of cracks or clipped, and then the soil or debris they were rooted in should be brushed away from the stone. The plant's root system should be removed with the soil and debris. If there is a mass of plant life, don't just yank it from the stone or you'll almost certainly damage the stone. Carefully clip or pull away each section, to prevent pulling away any loose or weakened fragments of stone.

Materials Needed For Cleaning a Gravestone

At the Cemetery

After Cleaning

Keep a record of the cleaning, including date of cleaning, materials used and any change in condition since last cleaning (such as missing parts, graffiti, and other damage). These records should be kept at a central location where the condition of the stone can be monitored over time.

Cleaning Don'ts

REMEMBER: The use of improper cleaning materials and practices can cause serious and irreparable damage to gravestones! Make sure the stone is stable before attempting to clean it - no flaking, delaminating, etc. There are some “cleaning” approaches that should NEVER be used on cemetery markers. Cleaning Gravestones can be a tedious and difficult job. But, with the right knowledge and materials it is possible.

References