Heritage DIY: How to clean cemetery monuments

By Jason Church

Cemetery care and maintenance is undergoing a surge in popularity that hasn’t been seen since the Victorian era. It’s little wonder. Cemetery gravemarkers are at once memorials to those we’ve loved and pieces of art. Caring for them provides a connection to a world before the internet absorbed all of our attention.

Cleaning these monuments properly is the best thing one can do to ensure that they will last for generations to come. And it’s easily done too!

Cleaning stones should always be done by the gentlest means possible. For chemical cleaning, acceptable products are detergents, solvents, surfactants, biocides, and intermittent water misting.  When choosing a cleaner it should be gentle, non-ionic, and have a neutral pH of 7 or one close to the pH of the stone. For example, the pH for marble is around pH10, thus the cleaner may be a pH of 9-10. Never use bleach or salt laden cleaners nor any strong acids or bases.

Glen Whitener showing  Elizabeth Dickey and Courtney Fint cleaning

Soft bristle brushes are required when cleaning stones. They can have natural or synthetic bristles. Vegetable brushes or soft grooming brushes for large   animals are a few that can be found in chain or farm supply stores. All rough or metal edges must be covered with tape to reduce the chance of scratching the stone. Do not use any harsh mechanical devices such as sand blasting, high-pressure power washers, or power tools such as sanders or drills equipped with a wire brush.

After you have chosen your cleaner, make small test strips to try out the cleaner and make sure we’re not going to damage the stone. Select your preferred cleaner. To make the task easier, it is a good idea to bring it in spray bottles or small containers.

Soak the stone liberally with water before applying the cleaner. Stone is a very porous material and will absorb the cleaner. By soaking it beforehand, the cleaner will stay on the surface of the stone and minimize possible unwanted effects of the cleaner. Spray the cleaner on a manageable area and work from the bottom up in small, circular motions. This will allow the cleaner to get into all the crevices. Working from the bottom up minimizes streaking on the stone surface. If streaking occurs, it would be a good idea to contact a professional.

GMCA conference 088

One scrubbing over the area might not be enough and it may take more repetitions, but remember not to scrub so hard that you damage the surface. You may also want to use different brush sizes for different areas. Keep the stone wet while cleaning. Remember to rinse with clean water after cleaning each area and to thoroughly rinse the stone at the end to make sure that no cleaner is left behind.

Cleaning cemetery monuments doesn’t take a lot of time, but the benefits could last for decades. It’s a great family activity to undertake on a nice day this spring. Pack a picnic lunch, some cleaning supplies and share stories of your ancestors with the next generation.

Related links:

NCPTT Flickr Stream

NCPTT YouTube Channel

Jason Church on Linkedin

D2 Eco-Friendly Cleaner

Prosoco Biowash Cleaner

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