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Tips on How to Clean a Tombstone and Keep the Memories Fresh

How to Clean a Tombstone
Cemeteries are the final resting place for our beloved. But over time, the headstones gather dirt, which makes the inscriptions on them illegible. We give you some tips on how to clean a headstone, and keep the memories fresh.
Vijith Menon
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2018
Did You Know?
Bronze grave markers with vases are used to honor veterans or war heroes.
Cemeteries are a place for, not only mourning the dead but a way to keep their memories fresh in our minds. You might honor your loved one with a plaque or a special marker, but there's no point if the tombstone has been defaced by filth, or has eroded away.
Tombstones, or headstones, are made from sandstone, limestone, marble, or granite. Limestone and sandstone grave markers were used primarily because they were easy to carve. But these wear away very easily due to environmental conditions, and spraying it with water results in making the stone brittle. Though granite is impervious to most acidic materials, the rest need special care to avoid losing their sheen. The best way would be to clean it every few years to preserve its beauty.
In the following sections, we give you tips to clean a tombstone.
How to Clean a Tombstone
Equipment Needed:
  • Scraper
  • Bristle brush
  • Toothbrush
  • Sponge
  • Dry cloth
  • Water
  1. Remove any dead leaves or branches around the headstone.
  2. Use a sponge to wet the surface.
  3. Using a circular motion, use the bristle brush to clean the headstone from bottom to top, to avoid any streaking or staining.
  4. Always change the water.
  5. Use the toothbrush to clean decorative patterns.
  6. Rinse with water and wipe it clean.
Marble Tombstone
Equipment Needed:
  • Wooden scraper
  • Bristle brush
  • Soft cloths
  • Non-ionic soap
  • Water
  1. Inspect the tombstone for any cracks, since cleaning weak marble may result in irreparable damage.
  2. Spray with water to make it wet.
  3. Use the wooden scraper to remove any algae or moss.
  4. Mix 1 tablespoon of non-ionic soap in a bucket of water.
  5. Use the brushes to apply the mixture and clean away any dirt.
  6. Once the dirt has been cleared, rinse it with water.
  7. Use the soft cloth to dry the wet areas.
  8. Clean it once every 18 months.
Bronze Headstone
Equipment Needed:
  • Water
  • Bristle brush
  • Sponge
  • Flannel cloth
  • Paste wax
  • Wax applicator brush
  • Towels
  • Non-ionic soap
  1. Add a tablespoon of non-ionic soap to a bucket of water.
  2. Use the brush and soapy water to wash off any dirt that may have collected on the headstone.
  3. Rinse with clean water and wash to remove any dirt.
  4. Dry with a soft towel, and ensure no water is trapped in any nook or cranny.
  5. Allow the surface to dry and let the water evaporate.
  6. Apply a small amount of wax and brush the surface.
  7. Buff the surface with the flannel cloth to restore the shine of the headstone.
Granite Headstone
Equipment Needed:
  • Wooden scraper
  • Bristle brush
  • Toothbrush
  • Water Hose
  • Sponge
  • Non-metallic scrub pads
  • Porcelain Clay
  • Glycerin
  • Dry cloth
  • Non-ionic detergent
  • Masking tape
  • Plastic wrap
  • Water
  1. Use a water hose to rinse it first.
  2. Now use the ionic detergent mixed with water to start cleaning the headstone.
  3. Wet the sponges and scrub the areas that need cleaning.
  4. Make a mixture of porcelain clay and glycerin, and apply it to the surface where the algae and moss buildups are deep.
  5. Cover the area with plastic wrap and tape the edges to keep the area moist.
  6. Remove the plastic wrap and gently scrape the mixture with a wooden scraper.
  7. Rinse with water after scraping the remains to give it a clean look.
  8. You need to clean this type of headstone annually.
The Snail Method
Equipment Needed:
  • Snails
  • Wood
  • Polyethylene
  • Wire/Fabric
  1. Build a miniature greenhouse over the tombstone with wood and polyethylene pieces.
  2. Cover one or two openings with wire/fabric for easy ventilation.
  3. Seal all the exits and place the snails inside the greenhouse.
  4. Allow the snails to feed on the lichens for two weeks.
  5. Remove the greenhouse after two weeks and rinse the tombstone with water.
Do Not
  • Use a sand blaster or pressure washer above 60 psi (pounds per square inch) on older fragile stones.
  • Use any household cleaning solutions like Borax or Spic and Span on the tombstone.
  • Use shaving cream to clean headstones, as the high levels of menthol and alcohol can damage the stone.
  • Repeat the cleaning of any tombstone until a minimum duration of a year has passed.

These are some of the best methods that you can use to clean headstones. Cleaning headstones is also a recent trend that has been started by taphophiles or photographers who love to click pictures of old gravestones or markers.
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Tombstones in the cemetery
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Death Do Us Part
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery World War I, Verdun France
Langemark German Military Cemetery
Austrian Cemetery From World War One