How to clean a headstone, cemetery monument?
What is the best way to clean a headstone so that you could read the inscription and maintain its good condition?
Headstones are usually made of granite and stone, and pollutants can dull its natural luster. Worse yet, an accumulation of tree sap, bird droppings, algae and dirt can stain, and even shorten a headstone’s life span. So if you have at least one that you’re responsible for maintaining, you need to know how to properly clean cemetery headstones.
First, you must determine what type of material the headstone is made of.
Grave headstones are usually made from granite and marbles, and also metals (typically bronze) or other long lasting materials.
- Granite Headstone – Since granite headstones are such strong and their surfaces can withstand chemical cleaning agents and wire brushes. Where in fact, the surfaces are best cleaned with simply water and a soft cloth. What some people may not aware of, is that smooth polished monument surfaces can be easily scratched by strong bristles on a brush or permanently stained by chemical cleaners.
- Bronze Marker – The longer bronze is exposed to air and moisture, the duller and more oxidized (greenish) they become. To make your loved one’s grave marker or headstone plaque be clean and shiny, you can clean and polish bronze by using two natural ingredients: lemon or vinegar.
- Marble Monuments – For marble monuments, we highly recommend calling a professional monument cleaner for this type of stone. Marble monuments in particular are very hard to clean safely as they are a softer stone that can easily stain.
Then, another important thing is to inspect the condition of the headstone.
Be sure the stone is stable. If the monument is very old, or if it’s part of a special area of the cemetery grave marker, such as in a military section, then don’t attempt to clean it. Instead, contact the cemetery association to see what can be done. They may be able to recommend a certified conservator who can do the job for you.
Otherwise, if the headstone is in good condition, just proceed on by doing a test run.
After that, select the right tool for cleaning headstones.
Light soil on headstones can be cleaned off with just a light washing and water. To deal with more stubborn grime, you can use a soft-bristled brush and a mild cleaner. Avoid using household cleaners that contain sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, sodium sulfate or ammonium carbonate. These chemicals can create salt deposits on the grave marker. Choose a product that’s biodegradable, non-corrosive and not abrasive. There’re some tools you can select and prepare for tombstone cleaning.
- Clean water
- Soft-bristle brush
- Ammonium hydroxide detergent or household ammonia mixed (1 oz per gallon of water)
- Spray bottle
Now, choosing a low, inconspicuous spot on headstone, scrubbing the spot with the mild cleaner to play the “test run”.
Rinse it well with water, then inspect the spot to make sure the cleaner didn’t discolor, scratch or otherwise harm the surface of the headstone.
If a first application doesn’t completely remove the grime, repeat the process again. Just keep in mind that some grime can actually stain the stone and not be removed by cleaning it. Especially if the stone has never been cleaned, or if has been a long time since it’s last cleaning.
Note: Not only is it important to completely rinse cleaning solutions off of the monument, it’s also important to flush the cleaners away from it too. Because, since a headstone is set directly on the ground, and it’s made of a porous material, it naturally wicks up whatever is in the ground around it -cleaning solutions, herbicides, water – whatever.
If the monument has a nasty accumulation of algae or fungus on it, you may need to mix up a cleaning solution of household ammonia and water.
- Wear proper eye protection before you begin to work with the household ammonia.
- Then, mix together a quarter cup of ammonia in a quart of water.
- Then pour the mixture into a spray bottle to use it.
- Spray and scrub the algae or fungus, then rinse the area with plenty of water.
- Repeat the process if the first application didn’t do the job.