Cleaning a headstone can actually be a fairly easy task, even if it hasn’t been cleaned in a very long time…or ever. When using this method, not only will the grave marker look beautiful, but it will stay that way for years. This same process will also work on monuments made of materials other than granite such as marble, limestone, concrete, sandstone, bronze, brass, and stainless steel.

Headstones located in humid environments will likely require a bit more initial effort and follow up maintenance, but it will still be a simple process.

Supplies You’ll Need

  • Water – If there’s no water source at the cemetery, bringing a few gallons of bottled water with you will be adequate for most grave markers.
  • Rubber Gloves – Any will do.
  • Natural Bristle Brush – Don’t use a standard household scrub brush. They’re too harsh! If you don’t have a natural bristle brush, you can get one on Amazon for less than $10: Natural Bristle Brush
  • D/2 Biological Solution – This is the only headstone cleaner we recommend. You can buy a 32 oz spray bottle here.
Additional Needs for Heavier Deposits and Growth
  • Small Plastic Scraper
  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Wooden Skewers

Why Use D/2 Biological Solution

best headstone cleanerThere are several other headstone cleaning solutions available on the market, but D/2 is the ONLY one we recommend, and here’s why:

Most of what you’ll be cleaning isn’t just dirt or dust. It’s going to be pollution build up and organic growth that both will damage a stone over time. D/2 Biological Solution is a biodegradable, easy to use liquid that removes stains from mold, algae, mildew, lichens and air pollutants. It’s effective on any stone or metal surface including monuments, sculpture, and headstones. A contact time of only 10 to 15 minutes followed by scrubbing with a natural bristle brush will loosen most biological and air pollutant staining. Here are some of the main benefits of using D/2:

Won’t Leave Harmful Residues – D/2 was developed by conservators who know the damage that can be done by cleaners containing acid or salts. The product has been specially formulated without these harmful agents. No other solution is more trusted by architectural and monument conservators.

Works on a Variety of Surfaces – D/2 has been successfully used to remove staining from a variety of surfaces including just about any you will find in a cemetery.

Completely Safe – D/2 has been successfully used to clean millions of buildings and monuments. From the White House to Arlington National Cemetery, D/2 has been trusted to work on many priceless structures and surfaces. It’s the product recommended for use on all Federally issued headstones.

Here is a link to a 2004 study conducted by the US Veterans Administration and the US National Park Service to determine the best product for cleaning and maintaining headstones in US National Cemeteries that determined D/2 was the best product available:

Cleaning Process

  1. Gently remove any loose debris or plant life from the stone by hand.
  2.  Spray entire surface of the monument with D/2.
  3. Allow the undiluted D/2 to remain on the surface for 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Apply additional D/2 to maintain a wet surface.
  5. Scrub the surface thoroughly with your natural fiber scrub brush.
  6. Lightly mist with water and continue scrubbing.
  7. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water.

**Heavy biological deposits may require repeating the process to achieve complete cleaning. Alternatively, heavy growth can be detached by manual scraping using wooden or plastic tools immediately after initial cleaning process. Smaller tools, such as bamboo skewers, are great for getting into tight spots, such as engravings.

Follow Up Cleanings/Maintenance

Once you have the stone clean, give it a light respraying with D/2 about once a year. In most cases, that’s all it takes to maintain a clean, stain-free headstone. Again, areas of high humidity may require a bit more.

What NOT to Do When Cleaning a Headstone

Now that you know how to clean a headstone, here are a few things you should NEVER do, regardless of how bad the stone looks:

Never Use Household Cleaning Products – There’s a natural temptation to clean a headstone using the same products you would use to clean your counter tops. Most of these products contain chemicals that should never be used on headstone, as they will cause degradation over time.

Never Clean in Freezing Weather – If freezing temperatures are anticipated within the next 24 hours, hold off on cleaning the headstone until you know temperatures will remain above freezing for a full day.

Never Use Metallic Scrapers or Brushes – Any tool you use to clean the stone should be made of as soft a material as possible…definitely softer than the stone.

Never Use Bleach – Sodium hypochlorite (common bleach) contains salts that damage stone. Stone “cleaned” with bleach, upon careful inspection, reveals erosion and yellowing. Pool bleach (calcium hypochlorite) will cause identical problems. Also be aware that many pool algaecides are very corrosive. Many may also be very damaging to the environment. We do not recommend the use of ANY such products.

Never Use Acid – Acids on marble and limestone dissolve the stone, leaving an inappropriate glossy and crystallized looking surface. This damage cannot be undone and the use of acids is also dangerous to you and surrounding vegetation.

Never Sand Blast – This is far too harsh of a cleaning method that is not only unnecessary, but will ruin the stone.

Never Pressure Wash – Still too harsh and could cause irreversible damage.

Final Thoughts

Algae, lichen, fungi can be hazardous to gravestones because they trap moisture on, and under the surface of, the stone. They also secrete acids that can dissolve limestone, marble, sandstone, concrete, and mortar. Plus they may insert their roots into the pores of the stone. These growths will swell and shrink in response to moisture, leading to cracking and spalling of the stone. Other plant life such as ivy, ferns, and moss, should be gently removed for the same reason.

Follow these instructions, and you will not only have a great looking headstone, but it will survive for many more generations thanks to your care.

Once you have the stone looking great, why not add a personal touch with one of our personalized ceramic photos.