A Guide to Cleaning a Headstone

Image of a person cleaning a headstone on Tegeler Monument Company's website

If you have a loved one who has passed away and is buried in a cemetery, they likely have a headstone or type of grave marker at their gravesite as a way to remember and honor them. While headstones are typically made of very durable materials like granite, they don’t always stand the indefinite test of time. With age, gravestones can become worn, discolored, and broken, as well as dirty and covered with natural contaminants and other debris. Here’s our guide to cleaning a headstone, including why it’s important, how to clean one, and what to avoid when cleaning one.

Why Is Cleaning a Headstone Important?

Cemeteries are places where the memory of those who have passed away is preserved and celebrated by those who visit. Left unmaintained, headstone or marker lettering and etchings can become worn, and the headstone can deteriorate. This can make the lettering illegible, and over time the headstone can become even more damaged. Cleaning a headstone helps preserve the past and protects memories of loved ones.

How To Clean a Headstone

Contacting an expert to clean a headstone is the best option. However, there are ways you can do it yourself with special tools and cleaning solutions. Note that headstone materials like sandstone and limestone require extreme caution when cleaning, so you’ll want to plan ahead to ensure you have the proper materials and know how to best care for it.

Materials You Need for Cleaning A Headstone

  • Water: At least five gallons of water for a small marker, but the more you have, the better.
  • Sponge: Have at least one natural or “sea” sponge to help you wet and wipe down the headstone. Avoid the colored sponges because dyes can transfer and stain the stone.
  • Scraping tools: Popsicle sticks, wood or nylon spatulas, bamboo skewers, or scrapers designed for cleaning cast iron can be carefully used to remove moss, lichen, algae, and other organic growths.
  • Soft brush: A toothbrush or scrub brush with soft bristles (made from nylon or natural fibers) can be helpful as well. Make sure they are uncolored, and absolutely do not use a brush with metal bristles.
  • Rags: Towels and other soft rags can help you dry the marker.
  • Rubber gloves
  • Trash bags

Volunteer cleaning up trash in a cemetery.

Step-By-Step Guide to Cleaning A Headstone

  1. Remove loose, dead leaves, old flowers, branches, and large debris around the headstone.
  2. Thoroughly wet the headstone with a sponge and water. Be sure to always keep the surface you’re cleaning wet and to change the water frequently.
  3. Remove dirt with a sponge. Move the sponge in a circular motion and start from the bottom of the headstone.
  4. Rinse the headstone thoroughly with clean water, then give attention to areas with growth or particular dirty spots. Carefully use wet brushes, sponges, and/or scraping tools.
  5. Ensure the headstone is thoroughly rinsed with clean water when you’re finished, and use a towel or rag to dry it.

What To Avoid When Cleaning a Headstone

When cleaning a headstone, you never want to use:

  • Wire bristled brushes
  • Pressure washers
  • Sandblasters
  • Bleach
  • Acidic cleaning agents
  • Household cleaners, including soap and detergent
  • Sealant

Any of these items can cause more damage to the stone or leave a residue on the surface that can attract dirt or deteriorate the headstone faster over time.

Though it can be tempting if they are in need of care, never clean stones you don’t own. If the deceased was not a member of your immediate family, do not attempt any cleaning efforts without the written consent of the owner/immediate family. This can help ensure you don’t get in trouble for unintentional damages.

Do not clean a headstone or marker that exhibits physical damage or instability like chipping, cracking, peeling, etc. to prevent further damage. This includes the stone itself, the lettering, or the base of the stone.

Additionally, do not clean a headstone on a hot or cold day due to the temperature fluctuations impacting your cleaning efforts.

Consult The Experts

If you aren’t sure how to properly clean and maintain your loved one’s headstone, contact the monument experts at Tegeler Monument Company. We can help you identify the best materials to use and what to avoid and provide cleaning tips for the headstone’s specific material and style. Call (410) 788-1318, or fill out our contact form, and a representative will contact you.