Losing a loved one is one of the most heartbreaking experiences one could ever go through. We always look for ways to honor the loved ones who passed away and ensure they will never be forgotten. The past of the person we love and the special memories we share with them are preserved by headstones, reminding us of the beauty of souls after bodies no longer exist.
Unfortunately, headstones can wear with time (just like most stones) if not properly cared for. Cleaning gravestones and monuments have gained a lot of support from both groups and individuals. Groups sometimes do it as a part of reading cemeteries to enhance a cemetery’s aesthetics. Otherwise, one of the warmest and most honest ways to convey your feelings to your loved one after their passing is to ensure their gravestone is in a good state.
So, if you’re keen to learn about the best way to clean the gravestone of your loved one, as well as the best maintenance routine, keep reading.
1. How To Clean a Gravestone Properly
Cleaning gravestones do not have to be a pain in the neck. It’s surprisingly easy and does not take as much hard work as some might think. Here’s how to quickly and easily clean the gravestone of your loved one in only seven steps:
Step 1: Remove Any Stains and Biological Growth
First, you need to clean the gravestone to ensure it’s free of any stains or biological growth. All gravestones develop patinas, a thin layer that may appear on the surface of brass, copper, bronze, wooden furniture, stones, or any other surface that has been exposed to natural elements over time. Algae, fungi, and lichen are examples of biological growth that should be removed because they’re acidic and can trap moisture, damaging the gravestone.
You also want to clean ivy, moss, or ferns if you notice them growing over stone. The roots of these plants can break up the gravestone since they tend to trap moisture.
- Pro tip: You don’t want to clean the stone if the weather is extremely hot or cold—you want to do so when the weather is mild to prevent the gravestone from cracking while cleaning it.
Step 2: Check it for Cracks, Chipping, or Flaking
It’s important to ensure that the stone has no cracks, chipping, or flaking. If you hear a hollow sound tapping the stone’s surface, it means the stone’s inside is weak and not ready for cleaning. Gravestones that are already cracked or seem fragile should not be cleaned.
- Important: Never clean a fragile gravestone in a cemetery because it may fall over and harm visitors.
Step 3: Soak it with Water
One of the best ways to properly clean a gravestone is by pouring water over it. However, accessing water in cemeteries is usually difficult, so you want to bring a minimum of 5 gallons of water to clean one gravestone. But if you want to clean more than one stone, you’ll need to bring the same amount of water for each one you intend to clean. Big jugs can be extremely useful in storing such huge amounts of water.
Also, remember that gravestones should never be cleaned with an electric pressure washer since they will have their surface blasted off.
Step 4: Scrap off Moss, Fungi, and Lichen
Use a plastic scraper to remove moss, fungi, and lichen off the gravestone’s surface. From top to bottom, carefully scrape the surface of the stone. It shouldn’t take much effort to remove all of this biological growth—pressing gently using the scraper should do the job. You also want to use a bamboo skewer or wooden popsicle stick to scrape the moss or lichen from the carved letters on the gravestone.
Don’t be tempted to use metal tools since these are too harsh and can cause permanent damage to the stone. And don’t be tempted to pull out any plants or vines growing over the stone as this could also result in permanent damages that you can hardly fix—just cut them down to the ground, and they will die in a few weeks. Then you can simply remove the dried plants.
Step 5: Gently Scrub the Surface
You can also clean the gravestone by gently scrubbing its surface using a soft bristle brush. You want to use a super soft sponge if you’re cleaning limestone or marble. To remove the dirt, carefully scrub the area around the bottom of the stone after dipping the brush in water.
Avoid pressing too hard while cleaning the stone, especially if you’re dealing with marble and limestone—working in a circular motion is the best way to clean the gravestone without damaging it. You want to clean each side separately from bottom to top, which helps reduce limescale and prevent it from accumulating.
Step 6: Get a Good Non-ionic Cleanser
Use a non-ionic cleanser, such as D/2, to eliminate stubborn stains. It’s a great way to completely and safely remove the grime as this cleanser does not have any harsh salts that can cause damage to the stone. Allow the cleanser to sit for five to ten minutes before reapplying for quick results. Now, you should lightly brush the gravestone and rinse it with water.
The great part about non-ionic cleaners is that they keep working even after applying them—spray the gravestone, let it air dry, and come back after a few weeks to enjoy the impressive results.
Step 7: Rinse it Off
Use plain water to rinse the stone after scrubbing the surface and using a non-ionic cleanser. After pouring water over the entire gravestone, all the dirt and debris will be completely rinsed off. You don’t have to get perfect results here—you do your best to clean the gravestone of your loved one and prevent any future damage that might occur, and that’s all that matters.
2. The No-no’s
Gravestones can be easily damaged if not cleaned with care, especially if the stone is old and fragile. The following are some items you should avoid when cleaning a gravestone:
- Acidic cleansers like vinegar.
- Dish soap or detergents.
- Chlorine or Bleach.
- Pressure washers or sandblasters.
- Metal tools, abrasive pads, or wire scrub brushes.
3. Best Gravestone Maintenance Routine
When it comes to cleaning gravestones, less is better. Unlike what many people might think, gravestones surprisingly require little maintenance. You may be surprised to learn that gravestones don’t need to be cleaned frequently to look good and pristine. They should be cleaned every 4-6 years to prevent dirt from accumulating. Any well-intended, excessive cleaning can cause more harm than good and weaken the stone.
Given the long period you should wait between cleanings, it’s easy to forget the last time you cleaned the gravestone. So it’s a good idea to note the day you clean the stone.
You also want to keep the ground around the stone clear by using a weed eater or loppers to cut back vines and trees growing over it. While lilacs, roses, and hardwood trees look attractive in a cemetery, their roots can cause damage to gravestones if they’re too close to them. Additionally, you want to eliminate plants that hinder workers from mowing around the gravestone. But before you rush to remove any plants, you want to get permission from the cemetery first.
And finally, one of the best ways to honor your loved one is to leave a flower, candle, or any memorial token, especially on birthdays, holidays, or anniversaries.
Now that you know everything about cleaning and maintaining the gravestone of your loved one, you can follow these steps to ensure that their stone always looks good and pristine. Remember, maintenance is as important as cleaning, so ensure you never skip this part of taking care of the stone.
Again, don’t feel guilty if the results are not perfect—cleaning and maintaining your loved one’s gravestone has sentimental value that should not be affected by the results. Doing your best is more than enough to ensure that the soul of your loved one rests in peace while you look after their stone for them.
Finally, cleaning and maintaining the stone is much easier if it’s a polished granite headstone. However, you can still clean and maintain any type of stone by following the abovementioned steps without any problem.