Headstone & Cemetery Marker Cleaning

Cemetery preservation can be a round the clock job, and one that is vitally important for the study of history and genealogy. For smaller churches, private, and family cemeteries, this is a job regularly undertaken by volunteers. Simply keeping up with the grounds is task enough, but when it comes to caring for the markers and headstones a few simple tips can help protect their integrity for generations to come.

The first thing to know is what materials a marker is comprised of in combination with its age. A cemetery that is over a century old may have any combination of field stones, marble, granite, sandstone, limestone, and metals present (or other materials) depending on the age range of the markers. Each of these has a particular structure that require different treatments for cleaning and preservation. For instance, an iron marker of the Victorian era may require brushing before treating for rust, while the same brushing on an aged limestone marker might damage the surface and lettering.

Cleaning solvents are sometimes used to remove moss, mold, or even paint from markers. Cleaning solutions should generally be mild, whether natural or chemical, so that the risk to the stone itself is kept to a minimum. Sometimes warm water and light scrubbing with a soft bristle brush is enough to remove stains and soiling. When that treatment does not suffice, be sure to check any chemical solvent for its properties with the specific material before use. Avoid high pressure washing as it creates a major risk of damage to the marker’s surface. Additionally, the pressure can force excess water into cracks and pores which might freeze and cause structural damage to the marker. When in doubt it is advisable to contact an experienced preservationist before any measure is taken.

Volunteers who wish to keep cemeteries safe and clean do so with the best of intentions. In providing such a service, they would never hope to cause damage or deterioration in the process. Seek out training materials from preservation groups online or professionals in your area to ensure that the measures you take are fully beneficial and will not have adverse effects.