Cleaning a freshly cut gravestone in slate using an old milk bottle and some water
People often ask me about cleaning gravestones. My usual answer is "Don't do it unless absolutely necessary!".
I love old weathered gravestones.
The weathering process is part of their charm and beauty. However there are times when a stone might need cleaning. Here I share some tips on cleaning a gravestone
Whenever you clean a headstone, no matter how gently, you will remove a small amount of the stone. If you clean a stone in an old graveyard might it look out of place? Sometimes cleaning a stone can cause more harm than good, so if in doubt I always advise you to leave it, as there is always a risk of damage to the stone. If a stone is in the shade beneath a tree for example, removing the lichen will only result in its reappearance again in a few months time, and to maintain a clean stone you would have to clean the stone more than once a year, which in itself will damage the stone.
Never attempt to clean a gravestone which is flaking, chipped or has loose stone on it.
This means good old fashioned water and a soft brush or even kitchen roll.
Always start with the softest brush possible, and if this does not work, try a slightly harder brush. Take many different sized brushes so that you can get into small spaces. Make sure that any metal or hard surfaces on a brush are covered.
A hose pipe is the best way to keep the stone wet, but otherwise this is easiest if you use a pump instead of a bucket. It is essential to use plenty of clean water and to keep the brush wet at all times. I like using kitchen roll as it is very soft and soaks up lots of water. Remember to keep rinsing and scraping the water away after brushing each time and never leave the stone to dry without thoroughly rinsing.
Always clean the whole surface of the stone once you have begun. It is best to start at the bottom of the stone and to work up so that any dirty water does not then mark the part of the stone you have already cleaned.
There are many cleaning products out there which probably achieve a quick and effective clean, but at the expense of damage to the stone, and these should always be avoided. Always avoid any cleaners containing bleach or acid as well as all household cleaners! These may destroy the composition of the stone, altering the surface which in turn can lead to faster weathering in future making the lettering less readable.
I would never recommend using anything stronger than water. However if you are determined to do so I would try D2, which is widely reported to be quite safe and it kills the lichen beneath the surface of the stone so it will continue to improve in appearance after you have cleaned it. For more information on D2 see their website. It is always a good idea to test a small area of stone and wait several days before tackling the whole stone. Remember to use plenty of water and to wet the stone down first.
Even the gentlest clean will remove a small amount of the stone's surface.
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Fergus created Stoneletters Studio in 2003, after training at the Kindersley Workshop. He is a member of the prestigious Master Carver's Association.