Cleaning Headstones

    Cleaning Gravestones can prove to be a tedious and difficult job, however with the right 
    knowledge and materials it is possible. 
    Soft-bristle brush
    Metallic brushes are entirely too harsh, and they also leave particles on the surface 
    of the stone that can rust.  
    Small, soft, slanted paintbrush - To clean debris and critters out of lettering or carvings 
    At least one large sponge 
    You may also want to bring a small spray bottle of water for gently cleaning dirt and 
    debris from the stone. The spray bottle, should contain only water
    and not detergent or chemicals of any kind that would  damage and further erode 
    the stone's material. You might want to use Photo Flo, a neutral PH detergent which  
    is made by Kodak and used in photo developing.  It will clean the stone without 
    affecting the chemical balance of the stone. Mix one capfull per gallon of water. A 2 
    gallon garden spray bottle can normally do several stones if used properly. Wash 
    stone with solution, then rinse stone with clean water. 
    Use brush 
    Towel or old rags
    Used to kneel on or clean polished granite stones. Launder them first, but do NOT 
    use fabric softener. The softener will affect their ability to absorb liquids as well 
    as cutting down on the "magnetism" for dirt and dust. 
    Hand cleaner
    Bring along a sample size of antibacterial waterless hand cleaners or wipes. 
    Cutting Tool - Hand-held grass clippers,  scissors or a retractable razor knife for 
    trimming grass and/or weeds close to the stones. Do NOT use weed whacker type 
    trimmers as these  can scar the stones. For site clearing/cleaning, a pair of pruning 
    shears or hedge clippers is also helpful for brush that is too thick to rip out or cut 
    with grass clippers, but not thick enough to bother with a chain saw. 
    Pencil and Notepad to record information about the stone or cemetery location. 
    In addition, you will want to also look at taking along the following safety items:
    Drinking water - plan to bring at least several quarts of water with you for drinking , 
    apart from the water you use for washing the stones. 
    Gloves - Both work gloves and rubber gloves. 
    Work Boots 
    Long-sleeved shirt 
    Insect repellant  
    First Aid kit 
    Snakebite kit 
    Bee and wasp spray 
    Cellular phone 
    Safety goggles 
    Antibacterial liquid soap and or waterless instant hand sanitizer  
    Protective hand lotion  
    IvyBlock (for poison ivy, oak and sumac) 
    Before you attempt to remove a stain, it is extremely important to know what 
    has caused it. If you don't know, it is highly recommended that you consult 
    a stone specialist Avoid using chemicals of any kind until you know which 
    chemical cleaner to use. Certain chemicals will react with the spilled material, 
    and could make the stain permanent. Removing stains from marble or granite 
    can prove difficult. These stones are porous materials, and  If not thoroughly 
    sealed they we be susceptible to staining. The only way a stain can be removed 
    is to use a safe chemical that will pull it out of the stone and an absorbent material 
    that will soak up the stain. This chemical absorbent-material combination is 
    commonly referred to as a poultice.
    Poultices are commonly powder or cloth materials that can be mixed with a 
    chemical and placed on top of the stain. Refer to the table below for some of 
    the more common poultice materials. Clays and diatomaceous earth are safe 
    and readily available, but do not use whiting or clays containing iron with an acidic 
    chemical; iron will react with the acid, and may cause rust staining. It is best to 
    purchase powders that are designed specifically for stone and tile. Consult a 
    stone restoration specialist or your stone supplier if in doubt.
    Poultice materials:
    Paper towels Cotton balls Gauze pads Clays such as attapulgite, kaolin, fuller's 
    earth Talc Chalk (whiting) Sepiolite Diatomaceous earth Methyl cellulose Flour 
    Saw dust How to apply a poultice
    To apply a poultice, take the following steps:
    1. Clean the stained area with water and stone soap. Remember to blot rather 
    than wipe.
    2. Pre-wet the stained area with a little water. Distilled water is recommended.
    3. Refer to the chart and determine which chemical to use for the stain.
    4. Mix the poultice material with the selected chemical. Mix until a thick p
    eanut-butter paste consistency is obtained.
    5. Apply the paste to the stained area, overlapping the stain by at least ¼ . 
    Do not make the application too thick, or it will take a long time to dry.
    6. Cover the paste with a plastic sandwich bag or food wrap. Tape the plastic 
    using a low-contact tape.
    7. Allow the paste to sit for 12–24 hours.
    8. Remove the plastic cover and check to see if the paste has dried. If it has 
    not, allow it to sit uncovered until thoroughly dry.
    9. Once it is dry, remove the paste by scraping and rinse the area.
    10. Examine the stain. If it still remains, but is somewhat lighter, re-poultice 
    until it is gone. If the stain refuses to disappear completely, it is time to give 
    up, replace the tile or call a stone specialist.
    Stain removal can be very difficult, and care must be taken when using a 
    (The above information from The National Training Center for Stone and 
    Masonry Trades)
    Practice on a rock at home, or check with a local monuments store to see if 
    you can practice on one of their tombstones, before going to the cemetery. 
    In the case of cemeteries located on private property, remember that you are 
    doing rubbings on someone else's property. It is ALWAYS advised to gain 
    permission by attempting to  speak with the property owner, and explain want 
    you want to do,  BEFORE you begin.  If you do not get permission, please 
    respect the wishes of the cemetery and ask if you can take a photograph to 
    record the information and condition of the stone. If you find that a gravestone 
    is severely damaged, please notify the property owner or supervisor of the 
    Before starting, all surfaces of the stone should be checked. If there is any 
    question as to the stone's condition, do not attempt to clean it, as the surface 
    could be irreparably damaged in the process. 
    Start with a test patch of your proposed cleaning technique on an area of the 
    structure that is least visible. 
    The stone surface should be thoroughly pre-soaked with water.  
    Thoroughly wash with plain water the pre-wetted stone with natural, soft bristled 
    (natural or nylon), wooden-handled brushes of various sizes. The use of plastic 
    handles is not recommended, as colors from the handles may leave material 
    on the stone that will be very difficult to remove. 
    Wire brushes, metal instruments and abrasive pads may give you instant 
    satisfaction but, if you clean with anything that is harder than the stone, you 
    risk scratching the face of the stone and causing more damage in the long run. 
    Be thorough. Wash all surfaces. Scrub the stone from the bottom up to avoid 
    further streaking and staining. Always watch carefully to make sure that none 
    of the stone’s surface is eroding as you scrub. Rinse thoroughly, with lots of 
    clean water.    
    Keep the stone wet at all times; really wet. Where a garden hose is not available, 
    be sure to bring plenty of jugs of water and keep dousing the stone as you work 
    and, most importantly, flush the stone well when done.    
    Remove bird droppings, dirt moss, lichen etc. from the stone if possible. This 
    will insure clear and sharp copy. If lichen is a problem, you can scrape with a 
    wooden or plastic scraper. Tongue blades or craft sticks work well. Also, 
    inexpensive plastic putty scrapers from home stores work well. Remember, no 
    metal. If you have any trouble getting any of these materials off the stone, 
    STOP and be sure that you do not cause any damage the stone in your attempt 
    to clean it. 
    If used, do not allow detergent solutions to dry on the stone while cleaning. 
    Some stains in porous stones cannot be removed. Do not expect the stones to 
    appear new after cleaning. 
    Do not clean marble, limestone, or sandstone more than once every 18 months. 
    These types of stone may occasionally be rinsed with clean water to remove bird 
    droppings and other accretions. Granite can be cleaned as needed. 
    Keep a record of the cleaning, including date of cleaning, materials used and any 
    change in condition since last cleaning (such as missing parts, graffiti, and other 
    damage). These records should be kept at a central location where the condition 
    of the stone can be monitored over time. Saving Graves will be happy to store 
    this information as a part of a cemetery protection association listing. 
    To clear up a common misconception, lichens do not eat the rock, rather they 
    naturally grow on stone surfaces that are available to them, whether these surfaces 
    are naturally occurring or are artifacts of human activity. You will not be helping 
    to preserve the stones by removing the lichen. The gray and orange patches 
    formed by lichens on gravestones give a distinctive character to an old cemetery. 
    These attractive "time-stains" not only enhance the appearance of the churchyard 
    but are often of some rarity for which, like many other organisms, the cemetery is 
    a wildlife sanctuary. Many lichens require a particular type of stone on which to 
    live and, in many lowland districts, the cemetery may be the only undisturbed 
    location in the area for many of these types of stones. 
    There are differing views as to whether lichens damage the stone on which they 
    are growing or whether they protect it. There is evidence that the acid substances 
    produced by lichens can attack the stone, but this effect is limited to a very thin 
    layer immediately under the lichen. Any small cracks present or caused by this 
    process will probably be infiltrated by the fine root-like hairs (fungal hyphae) of 
    the lichen and this may cause more damage. It has, however, been argued that 
    any damage caused by these processes is less than would be brought about 
    by the weather if the lichen was not present. The tough, rather thick, lichen can 
    protect the underlying stone from the weathering effects of wind, rain and frost. 
    On some soft stones in exposed sites the lichens may eventually cover raised 
    areas where the surrounding stone has been eroded away by natural weathering. 
    In some circumstances it may be necessary to remove lichens and various 
    methods have been used with success. You'll never get a crustose lichen off a 
    rock and keep the rock's surface intact.  Lichens cause differential weathering 
    on the rock which is visible as stains. On basic rocks the lichens will stain the 
    rocks by their acids. The lichens also shield the rock from radiation which can 
    lead to differences in color even on acidic rocks.  If the purpose is to enable an 
    inscription to be read, other ways of doing this should be tried first before the 
    removal of the lichens. These methods, to increase the clarity of an inscription, 
    include wetting or looking at it in the twilight with a torch shone along the inscription 
    on a gravestone at a low angle. This will enable many worn inscriptions to be read. 
    If it is deemed that cleaning is essential, only the minimum area necessary should 
    be treated. This may be done by physically rubbing the lichens from the surface. 
    Where this is done on a smooth stone the result may be unsightly as it is almost 
    impossible to remove many crusty lichens from the lettering of the inscription. 
    The lichens remaining in the lettering and cracks will probably regrow but rare 
    lichens may have been lost from the surface. Another physical method that
    has been used is to cover the area to be cleaned with black polythene. It may 
    take some months for the lichens to die but they may then be removed with 
    a brush. 
    A homemade poultice an be produced using Dry porcelain clay mixed to a 
    peanut-butter consistency with equal parts of water and glycerin. Small quantities 
    of glycerin are available at most pharmacies; for larger quantities, search the 
    Internet for soap-making supplies, floral supplies, etc. or check your Yellow 
    Pages for "soapmaking supplies"; the large craft stores might carry it as well 
    (Michaels, Hobby Lobby, etc.) Just be sure to stay away from "glycerin 
    melt-and-pour" soap base. You'll need straight glycerin (you'll mostly likely 
    find "vegetable" glycerin). Please be sure NOT to ask for NITRO-GLYCERIN. 
    You will have every law enforcement agency in the country checking your 
    personal history and watching your every move. 
    The Association for Gravestone Studies suggests that Calcium Hypochlorite 
    (e.g., Chlorine, "HTH," "Shock Treatment") is effective for the removal of 
    biological growth. It is a granular product that is not to be confused with "liquid 
    chlorine" or sodium hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite is available from 
    swimming pool suppliers. A suggested cleaning solution is one ounce calcium 
    hypochlorite to one gallon hot water. Please keep in mind that this product 
    should be used only when a waterhose with a good water pressure (e.g., 
    55 psi) is available. Any water pressure over 40 psi has the potential to cause 
    significant damage to a stone, depending on the condition of the stone. 
    We recommend alternatives to this method if at all possible. 
    Whatever method is used care should be taken to treat as small an area as 
    possible and not allow the chemicals to drip onto adjacent parts of the stone 
    or statue. Before commencing try to get an experienced lichenologist to check 
    that there are no rare lichens present. Remember, before you kill them, that 
    these lichens may have been growing on the stone for many years.
    Please note this practice has been regulated or banned in some states and 
    in many cemeteries (particularly in colonial graveyards) due to the damage
    it can cause to the stone. Because old gravestones are an important part of 
    our national heritage, you should be as careful with them as you are when 
    handling other ancient folk art treasures. Many cemeteries now ask for 
    permits before you are allowed to do rubbings. Common courtesy tells us 
    that we should first ask for permission from the cemetery or graveyard 
    superintendent or sexton prior to doing rubbings or taking photographs. 
    We strongly advise to  check this information out in advance, if at all 
    possible.  How can we expect the general public to respect 
    our cemeteries if we ourselves don't abide by the rules and regulations?

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