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How To Clean A Headstone: Marble, Granite & Bronze Care Guide

Cleaning a headstone isn’t an easy task, especially if you’re not sure where to start. It’s important to know how to clean a headstone properly as it takes a lot of work to maintain it, and hiring someone to do it for you can be quite pricey. 

Our guide will help you prepare the materials, go through the actual process of cleaning your loved one’s tombstone, and avoid potentially damaging mistakes.

Assessing The Headstone

Before everything else, you need to assess the headstone that you will be cleaning. 

Tombstones degrade over time due to natural factors such as the weather, so it’s important to check how worn or how weathered the headstone is. Be on the lookout for stains, rusting, and mold, as gravestones that have these are more prone to damage and require more care when cleaning. Pay close attention to any cracks or crumbling as well, as you may damage the stone further if you clean it too roughly.

Knowing what type of headstone it is is important as well, as different kinds of tombstones require different methods of cleaning. Certain types of tombstones may even require particular cleaning supplies, such as a specific cleaning agent or a more delicate brush.

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How To Clean A Bronze Headstone

Bronze headstones require a more specific type of cleaning supplies. You have to use non-ionic soap as non-ionic cleaning agents remove stains in the material easily. It’s also advisable to use a soft-bristled brush rather than steel wool or other abrasive materials, as these can heavily damage bronze. 

Most bronze headstones are protected with a layer of coating to keep the metal from deteriorating, though the coating may fade over time. We recommend using protective coatings on bronze gravestones, such as paste wax, to preserve their shine. 

To clean a bronze headstone:

  1. Remove any debris that is covering the surface using a brush or a cloth. 
  2. Web the headstone with distilled water and do a general cleaning to remove scum. For stains that are tougher to remove, like grease, use a mixture of water and non-ionic soap to remove them.

Always use a brush that isn’t abrasive when cleaning the headstone, and rinse it in between scrubbings. Once the headstone is completely dry, you may apply paste wax as a protective coating to prevent the headstone from oxidizing.

How To Clean A Granite Headstone

Granite is the easiest to clean, which is why it’s one of the most common materials for gravestones. For general cleanup of granite headstones, you need a mild cleaning agent such as dishwashing liquid, clean water, a brush, and some rags. For headstones with intricate engravings or designs, you may need popsicle sticks and a microfibre cloth on hand. A spray bottle can also make the cleaning process easier.

Below are the different ways you can clean a granite headstone:

General Cleaning

  1. Wet the headstone by pouring or spraying water on it. 
  2. Create a non-ionic mixture for stain removal with 1 oz. of cleaner (e.g., D2 or mild soap) for every 4 gallons of water. 
  3. Dip a soft-bristle brush into the mixture and work on the stone for 1 to 2 minutes at time.
  4. Repeat until the gravestone looks clean, rinsing the brush in between cleanings.
  5. Once you’re done cleaning, rinse the stone thoroughly using clean water.

It’s essential to rinse the brush after every cycle of cleaning, as any abrasive particles that get stuck on the brush may scratch the surface of the headstone, damaging and deteriorating it.

Once you’re done cleaning the gravestone, you can buff the headstone with a microfibre cloth. You can also commemorate or pay respects to your loved one by placing a flower or coin on their grave.

Cleaning Water Stains

When granite headstones are exposed to heavy rain, the minerals from the water get absorbed by the granite, causing it to stain and leave mineral deposits. 

Typically, two kinds of water stains can be found in granite: light and hard. Light stains are formed through condensation, while hard stains are formed as a result of the water getting into the pores of the granite.

To remove water stains from tombstones:

  1. Mix 3% hydrogen peroxide and baking soda until a thick paste forms. 
  2. Apply the poultice to the stain, and cover it using plastic wrap and some tape. 
  3. Wait at least 24 hours before removing the wrapping and the poultice. Use something non-abrasive, like a damp cloth, when removing the paste.
  4. Once you’ve wiped the mixture off, rinse the previously stained area thoroughly with clean water. 
  5. Repeat the steps until the stains are gone.

Cleaning Rust Stains

Rust stains require more attention as they cannot simply be scrubbed or rinsed away. To start:

  1. Rinse the stone first using clean water. 
  2. Create a poultice using a mixture of rust remover (e.g., IronOut) and flour. The mixture should have the consistency of yogurt or peanut butter.
  3. Apply the poultice to the stained area, and seal it with plastic wrap and tape to prevent moisture and other debris from entering. 
  4. Let the poultice sit for 24 hours before carefully removing the wrapping. 
  5. Wipe the paste off using a damp cloth.

Cleaning Mold or Lichen Stains

While the presence of lichen or moss on a headstone can appear aesthetic, it’s important to remove these as they can trap moisture within the gravestone, causing further damage. Biological growth such as ivy or algae is acidic and roots can break the stone up, so it’s best to remove them immediately.

To remove these stains, use either a plastic or wooden scraper to scrape pieces of moss or other biological growth off. For headstones with intricate designs, use a popsicle or a barbeque stick to scrape off growth. After the stains have been removed, you do a general cleaning.

How To Clean A Marble Headstone

Unlike granite headstones, it is best to use wooden materials rather than plastic when cleaning marble, as using a plastic scraper can damage the surface of the material. 

Marble headstones are a different material than granite, and therefore require a different kind of cleaner. Non-ionic soaps should be used for general cleanup, while an ammonia mixture is used for tougher stains. It is recommended that you do not use cleaners that have lemon, bleach, or chlorine in their ingredients.

Here’s how to clean a marble headstone, step-by-step:

  1. Mix 1 oz. of ammonium hydroxide with 4 gallons of water. 
  2. Scrape off any lichen or moss covering the stone with a wooden scraper.
  3. Clean the marble from bottom to top, ensuring that the marble is constantly soaked. Use circular motions when scrubbing with the mixture. 

If there are any plaques on the marble, make sure it does not come into contact with the ammonia-water mixture. Some plaques and headstones incorporate meaningful symbols, so it’s best to avoid damaging it.

What To Avoid

While it’s important to know how to clean a tombstone, it’s equally important to know what to avoid. Here are some quick tips:

  • Do not use harsh materials on tombstones, especially if it’s old or damaged already. 
  • Do not use brushes with hard bristles, such as metal or wire, as you can scratch the stone when cleaning. 
  • Do not use a metal scraper to remove moss or ivy stains, as you may accidentally remove the surface of the stone.
  • Do not use high-pressure washers, as the pressure may cause the stone to crumble. 
  • Do not use acidic cleaners like bleach, vinegar, or chlorine, as they may weaken the integrity of the stone when it is absorbed.

Conclusion

It’s important to know how to clean gravestones and maintain their cleanliness, as it can be a way of paying your respects to the dead.

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