Granite is a frequent choice for headstones. It's a beautiful stone, is harder than marble and makes for long-lasting memorials. Over time headstones accumulate lichens, moss, bird droppings or calcium deposits from hard water, usually from the cemetery's lawn-watering system. Periodic cleaning is needed to keep the erosive effects of these materials from permanently damaging the stone. Fortunately granite is hard and can stand up to vigorous cleaning, but you still want to be careful, as improper care can harm your stone.
Inspect the stone for any damage, cracks or flaking. Stones with damaged areas should be washed with particular care to avoid further damage. If you find damage around the base of a new headstone, it may be from the cemetery's lawn care equipment. Document the damage with pictures and contact the cemetery for possible compensation.
Wet the stone thoroughly to start softening any material that is on the stone. The usual method of wetting a stone is with a bucket of water, but a small pump sprayer can save trips back and forth to the water faucet, and gives you a clean supply of water for rinsing.
Start scrubbing with just a soft brush and water. Much of the residue on the headstone can be removed with just water and elbow grease.
Mix the non-ionic soap according to package directions. Use this mixture if you find areas that are not responding to just plain water and a brush. Non-ionic soaps and detergents are pH balanced and will help to keep from damaging the stone. Never use household cleaners or any abrasive detergents, or cleaners containing bleach or ammonia.
You may have heard shaving cream touted as a fantastic headstone cleaner. It is: it will remove almost any debris or stain from the marker instantly. However, the acidic cream leaves behind stone-eroding chemicals that will hasten deterioration of the stone. Avoid the easy method and stick with elbow grease and non-ionic soap.
Stay away from metallic scrubbers as well for removing any organic material or bird droppings. For this part of the cleaning, plastic scrapers are ideal. They are soft and flexible, get the job done and won't damage the marker.
Scrub again after you've applied your cleaning solution. Use the plastic scraper to dislodge any stubborn material. A soft-bristled toothbrush can be used for carvings and lettering.
Conventional wisdom says to start at the bottom of the stone and work towards the top, to avoid discoloring the stone as dirty water drips over the unwashed areas. Unless your stone is very dirty, or the stone dries before you finish cleaning it, this usually isn't necessary.
Rinse frequently as you scrub, and thoroughly when you've finished cleaning the entire marker.
Wipe the headstone with paper towels or soft cloths when you've finished. It will keep the stone from streaking as it dries, and you can tell if you've missed any areas and need to spot-clean them.
Items you will need
Bucket or pump sprayer for water
Non-ionic soap or detergent
Paper towels or soft cloths
Water from faucets at the cemetery may be rusty. Before you fill your cleaning container, allow the water to run for a few minutes to clear the sediment from the water. You can water the plants in the area with the collected water if you don't like to waste any. Try not to clean granite grave markers on hot, sunny days when the stone is hot to the touch. It's not good for the hot stone to have cold water poured on it. Opt for a cloudy, cool day, or clean in the morning or evening. Most headstones need cleaning annually, unless they are in areas under trees and collect either bird droppings or debris from the tree.
While it may seem like a helpful idea to clean a dirty marker next to the one you've come to clean, you'll need permission from a family member or owner of that lot before you can clean it. Older granite stones may need specialized care.
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