Despite being made from extremely hard materials, Gravestones (or headstonesà still need maintenance from time to time to ensure that they last as long as possible.
Cleaning and restoring a gravestone can be possible with both do-it-yourself methods and professional help. While cleaning can be done by anyone with relative ease, it is advised that any big restorations jobs be kept in the hands of professionals though.
Restoring a gravestone can be taken on as a DIY project for anyone who has the right materials. For simple cleaning, grab a bucket, bristle brush, stone-specific cleanser, and a few microfiber cloths. When looking into large restorations such as resetting, it is best to consult a professional.
Unfortunately, gravestones do wear over the years from weather and debris, just as anything does that is kept outside for extended periods of time.
If you are to avoid huge fees, total replacements of headstones and just creating an unsightly legacy for your deceased loved one, you’ll need to keep on top of things.
For a complete guide on how to restore gravestones and when to consult a professional continue reading below.
Why Restore a Gravestone?
Even the most well-made and cared for gravestone will undergo wear and tear as the years go by. Gravestones are made from minerals and salts (ok let’s just call it stone) and then placed into the earth.
Whether made from granite, marble, or bronze, the gravestone will slowly absorb water from the ground, which will cause damage to the stone over time. Wind, rain, natural disasters, and vandalism are also all reasons as to why a stone may need to be restored.
Cleaning a Gravestone
Before you dive into a restoration project, it is important to know exactly the type of restoration that needs to be done. By being knowledgeable before starting, you lessen the chance of doing damage to the gravestone or other memorials surrounding the site.
If you are concerned about damaging the site or stone, then it is best to consult a professional about the work that needs to be done.
Cleaning is one of the most common restorations that headstones need. As long as you are careful, you should be able to clean a headstone without damaging it. Before you dive in, check the stone for any signs of physical wear and tear, including cracks or flaking of the exterior.
If a stone is cracked in any way (which is more likely with marble headstones), the cleaning solution may do long-term damage to the stone. It is always better to ere on the safe side, so if you are not sure if the stone is in mint physical condition, talk to a professional before cleaning yourself.
To preserve the stone while also giving it a nice clean, look for cleaners that are labeled as non-ionic. Non-ionic solutions are good for limestone, sandstone, and marble gravestones. These cleaners can be easily found online.
Recommended stone cleaners
Stone Care International Granite Cleaner
See the latest prices on Amazon
Simple Green 13005CT
Although more heavy-duty, this can be ideal in some cases. Check out the latest price on Amazon.
StoneTech Revitalizer Cleaner & Protector
This is a good option for harder stones such as granite. You can also find this easily on Amazon.
FILA Heavy Duty Cleaner
Another heavy-duty option but ideal for acid-sensitive stones. See all the details about prices and delivery times on Amazon
Granite Gold Stone and Tile Floor Cleaner
Although labelled as a floor cleaner, this will still work well on granite gravestones. Pick up a bottle over right now on Amazon
If you have a mold or mildew problem and have a wireless drill, these little beauties will save you a lot of time and effort. Check out the options and prices over on Amazon.
Wet & Forget No Scrub Outdoor Cleaner
Of course, you’ll need some effective cleaner for those mold problems, so check out this cleaner on Amazon.
How to clean a gravestone successfully
The stone needs to be wet before the cleaner is applied. Do not use any harsh surfaces to clean the stone such as a rough brush. It is best to use a cotton material and a soft toothbrush for cleaning.
A gentle rub will prevent the stone material from being damaged. Scrub in gentle circles from the bottom to the top of the stone to prevent any streaking. After scrubbing is complete, be sure to rinse the stone with water.
It is important to get all of the cleaning solution off the stone. If any cleaner dries on the stone, the stone will be damaged.
If there is a particularly hard stain to remove on the headstone, you can use a diluted ammonia solution. The solution should be at least four parts of water per one part of ammonia.
If any lichens have grown on the headstone, this ammonia solution will solve the issue immediately. If there are growths other than lichens such as black algae, then a calcium hypochlorite solution should be used instead.
What not to use on a gravestone!
It is important to use the correct cleaner when working with gravestones. Bleach should be avoided at all costs when cleaning. While bleach might make a white stone look pristine immediately, the bleach will cause damage to the surface of the stone.
Once the surface of the stone is damaged, the interior is susceptible to decay. In addition to the decay, bleach will leave behind a residue that will not be able to be cleaned off the stone. Other cleaners to avoid are any acid-based cleaners, such as muriatic acid and Lime Away.
Materials Needed to Clean Gravestones Based On Stone Type
While the process is similar for all gravestones, the materials needed to clean them depend on what the gravestone is made of. The most popular materials for gravestones are granite, marble, and bronze.
- a bucket
- dishwashing liquid
- baking soda
- hydrogen peroxide
- poultice (various types)
- soft brush
- protective gloves
- plastic wrap
- masking tape
For granite gravestones, you will need a few materials for general cleaning. Bring a cleaned bucket, a gentle dishwashing liquid that does not contain ammonia or vinegar, water, Q-tips for the cleaning of engravings, cloths, and a couple of nicer cloths for buffing the headstone. A microfiber cloth works nicely for buffing.
If there are water stains on the gravestone, you can bring a mixture of baking soda and dish soap called a poultice. The poultice should be made with 1 cup of baking soda, 5 tablespoons of dish soap, and hydrogen peroxide.
The solution should be the consistency of yogurt. Once applying the poultice to water stains, you should cover it with plastic wrap and secure with masking tape.
The solution should be on the stain for 24 hours. After this, water and cloth can be used to wipe the mixture away.
Mold or mildew on a gravestone will need to be taken care of with a different set of materials. Mold is best cleaned with hydrogen peroxide, water, and a soft bristled brush.
Make sure to bring your bucket, a clean rag for cleaning, and micro-fiber cloth for drying. Also, bring along gloves to protect your hands from the hydrogen peroxide.
If you are dealing with rust stains on granite, you will need a bucket, dishwashing liquid, water, and an iron removal poultice. You can purchase a solution at any hardware store.
The consistency should be thick like peanut butter. Similar to water stains, the poultice should remain on the gravestone for 24 hours. After that period has passed, it can be washed off and the stone can be buffed.
Marble is another common material used as gravestones. If you are cleaning a marble headstone, you will need different materials than a gravestone of another material.
- a bucket
- non-ionic soap
- marble cleaner
- marble polish
- cotton balls
- protective gloves
- plastic wrap
- masking tape
For an over-all general cleaning, you will need to bring cloths, a non-ionic soap, warm water, a marble cleaner, spatula, bristle bush, and optional marble polish.
Make sure that you clean the marble gently, even though it’s a hard material, and take not of any cracks or chips. These could be the source of future damage so should be sealed up as soon as possible.
If there is moss on the gravestone, bring a bowl, a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water, cotton balls, plastic wrap, tape, and gloves to protect your hands. You should use your spatula (or something similar) to mix the solution, but use the cotton balls to apply it.
You will need to soak the cotton balls in the hydrogen peroxide solution and secure them in place with the plastic wrap and tape. Make sure to wear gloves, as hydrogen peroxide can dry and irritate your hands.
Again, gently work the moss away and be sure that the surface is completely clean of the moss so that it doesn’t come back as quickly next time.
Rust can be handled the same way as moss or mildew on a marble headstone. You will need a bowl, hydrogen peroxide, and water solution, cotton balls, plastic wrap, tape, and rubber gloves.
Unlike with granite, you should see the results of your elbow grease work off the rust much more quickly. You can also finish the job on the same day.
- a bucket
- non-ionic soap
- soft brush
- paste wax
- Protective lacquer
- plastic wrap
The final material that is quite common for gravestones is bronze. To conduct general cleaning of a bronze headstone, you will need soft cloths, water, a soft bristle brush, a non-ionic soap, and a brush that can apply paste wax on the granite for a nice finishing.
If bronze headstones or markers are not cleaned regularly (at least once a year is best), then the surface of the headstone will start to oxidize. This can cause a buildup of grey to form on top of the gravestone. In order to restore the bronze to its old color, you will need to perform restorative cleaning to the gravestone.
When to carry out the restoration
You should pick a dry day to do the restoration, and hopefully on a week where there will not be much rain in the forecast, as moisture will ruin any restoration efforts.
You will need to use a bristle brush to clean the surface of the headstone. After giving the headstone a good brushing, take sandpaper and sand any lettering on the stone. You should sand until the lettering becomes bright and easily visible.
After the sanding, it is time to wash the headstone. Take a non-ionic dishwashing soap and apply it liberally to the granite. Rinse the headstone with filtered water. Once it is rinsed, dry thoroughly. As an optional step, you can take a small paintbrush and outline the lettering so it is easier to read.
After the optional lettering step, remove any dust that may have collected while sanding and finally apply a lacquer protective coat to the gravestone. Finish with plastic wrap so the lacquer can dry for 24 hours.
Resetting a Gravestone
After cleaning, resetting is a very common restoration needed for gravestones. After long periods of time, headstones can shift from their spots and even fall over.
Ground shifting, wind, ice, and vandalism can shift even the heaviest gravestone from its starting position. Often, resetting should be done by a professional. However, if you are feeling confident in your abilities, then you may try to do a reset by yourself.
If you aren’t, then check out this article which talks about the costs and procedures involved in hiring this job out to a professional.
Resetting a gravestone DIY style
Before you reset a gravestone, you need to consult the cemetery for their guidelines. The vast majority of cemeteries will have guidelines for the depth, length, and width of the headstone base. It is important to abide by these guidelines if you are resetting a gravestone by yourself.
Removing the stone
The first thing that must be done in resetting a gravestone is to remove the stone from the ground. The stone must be raised from the ground using a pulley, due to the stone’s probable weight.
Make sure the pulley contraption you are using is set on level ground. The headstone should be raised slowly and carefully to ease the stress put on the stone. The stone must be pulled out straight so it does not crack. When the stone is removed, it should be laid flat on solid ground.
If the stone is in need of a cleaning, then clean the stone before the next step. You can go ahead and clean the stone using my tips in the previous section. If no cleaning is necessary, you can move on to re-aligning the stone.
Checking the alignment
Setting the correct alignment for the stone to go back into the ground is important. If you mess this up, there was no point in removing the stone in the first place and you’ll have to start over again.
The easiest way to properly align the stone is to use guide strings on stakes. This way, you can measure out the area to ensure you are within the cemetery guidelines. Each string should be attached to a stake to guide the placement of the headstone.
Enlarging the hole
Next, widen the existing hole for the headstone. Use a shovel to make the walls of the hole as straight as possible for accurate placement. Of course, do this with a little bit of respect as you are working on someone’s grave.
The hole will be filled later so if you dig a little too big it is not an issue. After you dig the hole, fill the bottom with gravel. The gravel will create a level, solid base for the headstone to rest on.
Replacing the gravestone
The next step is to put the gravestone back into the hole. Use your pulley system to carefully lower the stone into the hole. It is important that the stone is flat on the dirt. Ensure the stone is flat by putting a level on the top of the stone.
Once inside the hole, fill the area around the stone with more gravel and dirt. Pack the filling so the stone is snug. Make sure to check the level so the stone does not move out of place when you are packing the dirt and gravel.
After your stone is aligned, fill in the rest of the hole. Make sure the dirt is packed down and you are done.
The process of resetting a gravestone can be daunting and requires some professional equipment. If you are nervous about damaging the stone, then it is best to consult a professional to reset the stone for you.
How Often Restorations Are Needed
|Granite||yearly||every 10-20 years|
|Marble||bi-yearly||every 10 years|
|Bronze||2-3 times per year||rare with regular cleaning|
The frequency of restoring headstones depends entirely on what material the gravestone is made out of.
Granite is a popular material because it comes in many colors and textures. It is more resilient than marble and limestone, so the lettering on granite headstones can be read for longer.
While cleaning should be completed semi-regularly (once every year for the best conditions), a large restoration will probably only occur once every 10-20 years with granite headstones.
Marble headstones, while beautiful, are becoming less popular. Marble is more sensitive and therefore vulnerable to stains, damage, and withering in the elements. Marble will need to be cleaned more frequently, around twice a year with water and a gentle cleanser. Large restorations may need to occur every 10 years.
Bronze headstones can be seen in abundance in mausoleums and other cemeteries. Many bronze grave markers may lay horizontally, and therefore are more exposed to the weather.
Bronze gravestones that are placed horizontally will need more cleaning and maintenance than those that are placed vertically, as vertical headstones will be more protected from the elements. Bronze headstones also consist of more than one material, as the base is often granite.
Bronze headstones always have a protective layer, but the protective layer will also wear out after a period of time. Cleaning regularly is essential to the upkeep of a bronze headstone. Oxidization is one of the largest risks when purchasing a granite marker, so frequent cleanings will keep the headstone in the best condition. The headstone should be cleaned at least two times per year, or once every six months.
Consulting a Professional
If you do not have enough time, patience, or simply are worried you might botch the headstone restoration, then it’s time to consult a professional. Consulting a professional will give you peace of mind and the assurance that the gravestone will look as good as new. Professional services often include cleaning, flower planting, and grass watering, and resetting.
Headstone cleaning can vary in price depending on the material of the headstone and the amount of cleaning necessary. Headstones that need just a basic cleaning will cost less than a headstone that requires mold or mildew maintenance. Simple cleans can start at $50 and more extreme cleaning can get to be around $200.
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It is highly recommended to consult a professional if the gravestone in question needs to be reset. Resetting a gravestone by yourself without prior experience is difficult and has a high likelihood of damaging the stone, therefore requiring professional assistance and more money.
The cost of a gravestone resetting varies depending on how big the stone is. Resetting costs can vary from $70- $1000, so it is best to get a quote before choosing which company will do the work. The $1,000 price mark is reserved for large stones with major obstructions such as trees or stones. The majority of resetting work will be somewhere between $100 and $300.
If you don’t know where to go to find a professional, it’s good practice to consult the cemetery first. The cemetery more than likely has companies that they have worked with before.
This ensures that the professional knows the guidelines the cemetery has set, making the job easier for you and the company. Your loved one’s gravestone is sure to be looking clean and beautiful in no time.