cemetery headstones

How to Clean and Care for a Headstone

Like many people, you may take the time to visit family members and even other loved ones who have passed on at the cemetery where they have been laid to rest. As part of your visitations, you may desire to spend some time cleaning and caring for a headstone as a means of honoring your deceased loved one. If that is the case, there are some tips and tactics you will want to employ as a means of cleaning and caring for a headstone. Cleaning and caring for a headstone necessitates knowing what you should and what you must not do. Indeed, a tremendous amount of what is involved in tending to a headstone is paying attention to what to avoid doing.

Types of Headstones

The first step you need to take when you desire to clean or care for a headstone is to determine what a particular grave marker is made. The vast majority of headstones utilized in the past 100 years in the United States are made of different types of natural stone. With that said, during the past couple of decades, the use of flat markers made from bronze are becoming more commonplace in different memorial parks.

Two types of nature, soft stone have been used historically in the creation of tombstones. These stones are sandstone and limestone. Because these types of stone are soft, extra care must be taken when cleaning a headstone made from these materials.

You also need to be aware that sandstone and limestone headstones wear more quickly than to markers made from other stones, which are discussed in more detail in a moment. Thus, the names and other wording on these types of headstones wear away faster than is the case with markers made from harder material.

In addition, the environment itself takes a much harder toll on these types of headstones. For example, because these stones are soft and more porous, water can more easily accumulate in pockmarks and cracks in the stone. If the water freezes, a headstone can crack further or even begin to break apart.

Sandstone and limestone are not widely utilized as grave markers in this day and age. With that said, because these natural materials were so widely utilized in the past, people who tend to family plots that date back in time are likely to face the prospect of cleaning and caring for tombstones made of sandstone and limestone. Specific cleaning and maintenance techniques for headstones made from these types of stone is discussed in a moment.

Marble has been widely utilized for headstones, particularly in up until the first half of the 20th century. Marble is harder than sandstone or limestone. However, it is important to bear in mind that marble was selected as a medium for the creation of tombstones because it is fairly easy to carve. Scientifically, marble essentially is a recrystallized form of limestone. Thus, while harder than limestone, it is not significantly harder. Thus, attention must be paid to taking considerable care when cleaning or caring for headstones made of marble.

Granite is the hardest type of natural stone utilized in this day and age to create headstones. In fact, granite is the most widely utilized type of natural stone used in gravestones today. Although significantly harder than sandstone, limestone, or marble, cleaning and care for a granite tombstone must be undertaken with care.

Conditions in Which a Tombstone Must Not be Cleaned

There are specific situations in which a tombstone made from one or another of these natural stones must not be cleaned. This prohibition on cleaning applies to headstones made from sandstone, limestone, marble, and even the sturdier granite.

A headstone should not be cleaned or cared for in any manner if there are any evident stability issues. Making contact with a headstone for cleaning or care can result in the market losing its moorings, breaking apart, or even falling over (depending on the size and design). Not only can a headstone be damaged permanently in such a situation, a person could be injured in the process, perhaps seriously.

Do not clean or care for a headstone that has evidence of stone breaking off or flaking. In addition, if evident fractures are found anywhere on a headstone, cleaning and care should not proceed.

Before proceeding with cleaning, the base of the headstone should be tapped lightly. If this results in a hollow sound, cleaning or other types of care should not proceed. In addition, if there is anything else that suggests instability associated with the headstone, nothing should be done by a layperson to clean or care for it.

A wooden headstone, which is very rare in this day and age, should not be cleaned by a layperson. Odds are such a grave marker is very old and the goal now is to properly stave off further deterioration, which necessitates professional intervention.

Permission to Clean

Do keep in mind that different cemeteries have varying rules when it comes to everything from placing flowers at a gravesite to cleaning and tending to a headstone. Thus, you will want to reach out to the cemetery manager to let them know you intend to clean a tombstone of a family member. There should be no issue regarding your desire, provided you follow whatever rules the cemetery or memorial park has established for this endeavor.

There is one issue you need to bear in mind. If you’ve visited a cemetery and noted that a number of tombstones are in need of tender loving care, but they belong to deceased people who are not related to you, do not just dive in and go to work. There are laws in some states, ordinances in some cities and counties, or rules at specific cemeteries that prohibit non-family members from having physical contact with a headstone and a grave or plot. You must garner approval before you dive into such task for a non-family member.

Supplies Needed for Headstone Cleaning

The supplies you need to clean a tombstone are relatively basic. They are:

  • Jugs of distilled water
  • Spray bottle
  • Natural or nylon bristle brushes of varying stiffness and sizes
  • Firm toothbrush
  • Sponges
  • Craft sticks

Headstone Cleaning Process

The first phase of cleaning a headstone is to saturate it thoroughly with water. You can utilize a garden hose, if one is available. If not, that is why you come with jugs of distilled water. Even if a hose is accessible, you may want to forgo using it and stick to distilled water. Using distilled water ensures that chemicals that might be present in municipal water do not impact the headstone in any manner.

You definitely will want to consider using a spray bottle to saturate a headstone with water. This allows you to better regulate the amount of water used in the process. If you use too much water, mold can grow around the base of the headstone and elsewhere.

As an aside, do not pressure watch a headstone. You can end up causing it damage.

Once saturated, you can begin to clean the headstone using the different types of brushes – including the toothbrush – as needs require. The best way to clean a headstone is to use fresh water and brushes, gently scrubbing the stone. Do not use detergents, bleach, or any substance of that nature. Cleaning in this manner requires patience, but it is the ideal way of cleaning a gravestone without causing damage.

Clean the headstone from the bottom and work your way up. Continually douse a tombstone with fresh water as you clean.

Begin the cleaning process using the softest brush you have. You want to avoid using firmer or harder brushes if at all possible as you progress through the cleaning process. A softer brush has much less of a chance of causing damage to a headstone. Progress to firmer brushes if the softer ones do not seem to clean effectively.

Sponges help to mop away residue that is generated by cleaning a headstone with a brush. Again, you want to rinse off a tombstone regularly as you clean.

You likely wondered what the craft sticks are designed to do. In many cases, a headstone may have lichen growth. Craft sticks represent a tool that can prove useful in scrapping off lichen, after a tombstone has been saturated with water.

In the end, by applying these tactics, and maintaining your patience you will succeed. You will be able to improve the look of a loved one’s headstone significantly.