How to Clean Cemetery Headstones and Grave Markers
Before You Begin Cleaning Headstones
Find out who owns/manages the cemetery you have chosen.
Learn what cemetery district you are in and contact your local municipalities to obtain permission to volunteer your time.
Many historic pioneer cemeteries are out of perpetual care funding and are unable to afford to maintain their sites. Your request will likely be greeted with gratitude.
Cemetery maintenance is a time consuming and arduous task. What is most important is that you feel good about what you accomplished and that you had fun doing it. Wear headphones if you like to listen to music while you work. If you don’t have fun, you probably will not continue. It is better to do a little bit of rewarding work each week than to burn yourself out doing in a marathon weekend of drudgery.
Cemetery Headstone Cleaning Precautions
- Choose a reasonable time to work. (Limit yourself to hours of operation.)
- Do not clean near mourners who are visiting or while nearby a funeral taking place.
- Do not leave waste behind.
- Keep away from active dig areas.
- Do not bring pets to roam freely on site while you work.
- Soding & seeding
- Stone cleaning – Headstones, monuments, etc.
- Wear headphones if you like to listen to music while you work.
- Avoid working in areas with pests and wildlife.
- Keep your vehicle on paved paths.
- Do not move or remove fresh flowers or recently placed tributes from gravesites.
Because of age and wear on cemetery headstones, one must take the utmost care when cleaning, mending, or resetting headstones. If a monument is falling apart, appears brittle, or it’s surface seems especially delicate to you, we recommend that you DO NOT handle the artifact as it may be unintentionally damaged in the process. In such cases, it is always best to leave these restorations to professionals.
Supplies for Cleaning Gravestones
- Large bucket
- Natural Bristle Brushes of various sizes
- Colorless Non-ionic soap. (Liquid or paste.)
- A wooden scraper.
- Gardeners pumping water sprayer.
- Dust mask
- Ammonia For cleaning marble or limestone – One tablespoon of ammonia can be mixed into your solution to remove grease and oil.
Safely Cleaning Headstones
- Never use high pressure hoses or abrasive chemicals to clean monuments.
- Never clean a wooden headstone.
- Never use flammable or corrosive materials for cleaning.
- Never use a pressure washer or sand blaster to remove graffiti.
- Do not use bleach to clean as it may stain monuments.
- Do not sand or scrape with files or wire brushes.
- Do not use ammonia to clean metal or bronze surfaces.
How to Clean Headstones and Grave Markers
- Thoroughly wash off the stone with water, keeping it wet throughout the entire cleaning process.
- Mix a bucket of non-ionic soap.
- Using your natural bristle brush, thoroughly wash off all faces of the monument working from the top down. Use lots of water.
- Use a wooden scraper to remove algae/lichens and other harmful growth.
- Note: Keep the stone wet through the entire washing process. Afterward, do not expect every stone to come completely clean. Vigorous scrubbing can damage your artifact as every cleaning removes some surface material from the memorial stone. It is always better to maintain the integrity of the material over achieving an immaculate finish.
- One should not clean a monument more than once annually with the exception of lightly rinsing away dust and bird droppings.
Additional Cemetery Cleaning Tips
Vandalism – Report recent vandalism/graffiti to cemetery management and police department.
Graffiti Restoration – Because the most common tool for removing spray paint from surfaces is a pressure washer with a mixture of sand and water, we do not recommend it for tombstone cleaning. In cases of tagging we recommend you seek the help of a professional.
Spraying for insects – We do not recommend that you take it upon yourself to spray any kind of pesticides while working on site. Always avoid wasps nests and bee hives.
Mausoleum flies and other pests should be dealt with by professionals.
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