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"Though the leaves are many, the root is one . . ."  William Butler Yeates

How to Clean a Tombstone

tombstone cleaning
Preserving our heritage through tombstone preservation is a growing concern for many.
A walk through a cemetery will soon reveal
that very few tombstones last more than a
150 years before the words become so worn that they are illegible. And the stone itself will eventually decay and crumble.

If you want to preserve the memory of your loved ones through tombstone preservation, use only the safest and most careful practices when cleaning the stone.

Supplies needed:

--soft bristle white brush
--plastic spatula or   
  wooden popsicle sticks
  to scrape lichen and mold
--elbow grease
--non-ionic liquid (wetting agent), optional
--biocide, optional

DO NOT USE beach or harsh abrasives
Stone is made of a combination of minerals and salts. Therefore, using chemicals of any kind, such as chlorine bleach or even household soap, can cause leaching of the surface of the stone.

  • Collect supplies together.

    You will need lots of water, so fill up as many gallon jugs as you can find. You will also need soft bristle, white brushes. If the stone is in really bad condition, you may want to use a wetting agent--not soap--known as non-ionic soap. The brand called Orvus, which is considered an equine soap, is suitable for cleaning headstones, as is Photo-Flo, used in development of photographs.

    A biocide may used, if you prefer, to prevent the growth of fungi and molds. However, the effectiveness of a biocide usually lasts only a year, and since it is not recommended that stones be cleaned more than every 10 years, the use of a biocide may not be worth it in the long run.

    If the stone is really old and has become encrusted with lichen, you will want to scrape the stone with plastic or wood to remove the lichen. Use water liberally while doing this procedure.
  • Soak the tombstone thoroughly with water.

    Because you don't want to damage the surface of the stone, no matter what its age, you will want to keep the stone lubricated with water at all times while you are cleaning it. If you choose to use a wetting agent, non-ionic soap, you will want to pour the recommended amount into the recommended amount of water and wet the stone. Allow the stone to soak for several minutes.
  • Clean from the bottom up.

    Cleaning from the top down will release acids and pigments from the molds and lichens. These will run down the stone, sitting there until you get to that area; therefore, further stains and damage may occur.
  • Brush lightly.

    White bristle scrubbing brushes and soft toothbrushes are appropriate tools for cleaning tombstones that are soiled or have spots of lichen on them. Gently brush, allowing the water to soak through and soften layers of soil and lichen.

    It is better to leave difficult lichen on the stone than to harshly remove it, exposing a fragile surface underneath.
  • Rinse thoroughly.

    To make certain that all loose soil and lichen are removed, rinse thoroughly with clean water.
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