BY SABRINA LEE
As we come into the warmer months, people often take to the local cemeteries to clean up family members’ headstones. Did you know that there are proper products and ways to maintain both modern and historical headstones so they can last for generations to come? All gravestones are exposed to the elements, and when cleaning them, you should not go in with the expectation that they are going to be restored to the way they looked when they were brand new. The weathering of a stone is what gives it its character. Below is a basic “how to” of cleaning cemetery headstones.
Headstones found throughout Utah are sandstone, limestone, marble, granite, and bronze. The number one rule of headstone cleaning and maintenance is DO NO HARM. You do not want to put anything on a headstone that will further deteriorate or accelerate the deterioration of the headstone. These materials are porous, and anything you put on them will soak into the stone. Always check the stability of the stone before you begin cleaning as well. You should always use soft bristle brushes, preferably with natural bristles.
Granite headstones in Utah are often subject to hard water stains from our watering systems. Granite stones should not be cleaned when they are hot or in direct sunlight. Hard water stains on granite stones should be cleaned with Sparks Brick and Tile cleaner. The cleaner will bubble on the calcium deposits. A rock block, which is made of recycled glass, is recommended to clean only granite. It will disintegrate as you use it, but it will not harm the granite.
Biological growth found on all stone types and can be removed with D2 Biological Solution. D2 Biological Solution is the recommended stone cleaner for headstones, buildings, and monuments. It is used at Arlington National Cemetery. It works by soaking into the stone and removes environmental pollution, dirt and staining from biological growth.
First, wet the stone with water. Pressure washers are not recommended, as you could cause damage to the stone. Spray the D2 Biological Solution and allow it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes. If needed, you can reapply a bit of water, and then begin to scrub the stone, rinsing a final time. The D2 solution will work overtime. It is recommended to take before and after photos, as well as taking photos one month and three months later to really see the difference.
Bronze markers are not meant to look brand new after cleaning. Over time bronze takes on patina coloring as it is a metal, so you shouldn’t expect cleaning to restore it to the original shiny state. The best way to preserve these stones is a good wash with a mild soap. The national recommendation is a small amount of Orvus Paste and a very thorough rinse. You can add another layer of protection by waxing the stone. The stone must be completely dry and warm from the sun to help the wax spread. The national recommendation is to use Butchers Wax. It should be applied thinly, and as evenly as possible. For more tips and tricks, we recommend you visit Utah Division of State History website on Gravestone Preservation, history.utah.gov/cemeteries/gravestone-preservation, where you can find links to products, tips and tricks, and other resources for cemetery and headstone preservation.
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