Maintaining your family headstones is an important part of ensuring that the stones will be standing for generations to come.
In my genealogy research, tombstones have become an increasingly important part of that research. Sometimes the only evidence that a person ever existed is their headstone. So, it is important to take care of the stones. I am no expert, by any means, but I have cared for several family stones and would like to pass on some of the things I have learned. Here is a quick list of things I have learned:
- Only touch stones of your own relatives or stones you have explicit permission to clean. Please, please, don’t clean a stone unless you have permission.
- Never use any harsh chemicals – no bleach! If you aren’t sure about a product, please don’t use it. I only use water and D2, the biological cleaner used at Arlington National Cemetery.
- Don’t use flour. Please, just don’t. Flour introduces bacteria and leads to irreversible breakdown of the stone.
- Don’t use hard bristled brushes – no wire brushes. These scratch the delicate surface of the stone and lead to irreparable damage over time.
- Never use rough techniques like a power washer or a power grinder or sander. These rough techniques remove the protective covering of the stone and lead to irreparable damage.
- Only wet stones when the weather will be 42 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for the next two weeks.
- Stone monuments are completely different from bronze. Please don’t use the same techniques you would use for stone on bronze.
- Ensure that a stone is stable before touching it. Cracks, settling, and all sort of things can make a stone unstable. If the stone is not stable, leave it alone until that can be remedied.
So, what is the proper way to clean a stone?
Most stones would benefit greatly from a little water and some light brushing with a soft-bristled brush.
If there is discoloration and biological growth that requires more than just a little water, you can use D2 to help clean the stone. Here is how I do it:
- Wet the stone by pouring water over it or by using a gentle spray
- Gently scrub the stone with a soft-bristled brush, keeping the stone wet at all times. If there is lichen growth, you may gently scrape off the growth with a flat plastic putty knife.
- Rinse the stone
- Spray stone with D2 (which can be diluted)
- Gently scrub the stone with a soft-bristled brush
- Rinse stone
- Spray stone with D2
The D2 will continue to work over time. You can repeat the process in a month or two if the stone still needs additional cleaning.
Here are some examples of stones I have cleaned. These are either family members or stones for which I had written permission to clean. These photos were taken prior to cleaning and 6 weeks after cleaning. They actually look even better several months later with no additional cleaning.