How to properly clean a headstone – Do’s and Don’ts:

Cleaning a headstone or monument can make a world of difference in both appearance and legibility. However, most people don’t realize how much damage you can do if done incorrectly. Headstones are made of various materials, all of which age differently. Some stones are softer than others. Some are more susceptible to what is known as sugaring, delamination, and “invisible” stress cracks. Many old markers are extremely fragile. You should never clean a broken stone. If there are ANY questions about the state of the stone – DON’T TOUCH IT! Once the damage is done, there is no fixing it. Please call a professional that has been properly trained to prevent permanent damage.

  • #1 is to get permission to clean a headstone from either a family member, the sexton, cemetery caretaker, or the city/county – in that order.
  • Check to be sure the headstone is stable. Many times, especially here in Florida, markers sink into the Florida sand. This can make them unstable. These markers weight hundreds if not thousands of pounds and people have been crushed by them! Test the stone to make sure it will not move if you attempt to clean it.
  • Most of the substances you will find on a headstone are biological growth. This may include lichen, fungi, moss, and mold in addition to plain old dirt and grime. Every time a marker is cleaned, minute particles are removed from the surface. It can be harmful to clean them too often. The rule of thumb is that they should not be cleaned more than once per year.
  • Do not clean a stone if there any chance of freezing temperature in the next 48 hours. Water can get into cracks and then freeze, causing cracks in the stone. On the same hand, do not use cool water on a hot stone. It may also cause cracks. Cover the stone and let it cool or warm the water in the sun before using it.
  • Make sure you have enough water to thoroughly rinse the stone multiple times. Leaving any residue on the stone could cause permanent staining.
  • NEVER, EVER, EVER use bleach, household cleaners, metal tools or scrub brushes, power tools, pressure washers, or nyalox brushes.
  • The only approved cleaners at this time are plain old water, Orvus paste (a horse soap found at Tractor supply) and D2 Biological cleaner. DO NOT use anything else!!
  • You may use a plastic scrub brush, and wooden popsicle sticks are great for scraping off fungus
  • Do not attempt any repairs unless you have been properly trained. Many well meaning people have caused permanent damage. Please call a professional.
  • NEVER set a headstone into concrete. Concrete is too hard for the softer stone materials and will cause damage.

Cleaning basics:

  • Thoroughly wet the stone with water and wait a few minutes. This will help soften anything stuck to the stone, so you can easily scrape it off with a plastic or wooden scraper. Rinse away anything you were able to remove.
  • Many times just scrubbing with water will remove the dirt on a stone. Using a circular motion, clean the stone top to bottom and clean all sides of the stone. Then rinse thoroughly.
  • If water is not enough, you may use Orvus soap cut with water. (We use a full spray bottle of water, with one tablespoon of Orvus soap. It goes a LONG way!) Repeat the above steps and be sure to rinse, rinse, rinse!
  • After scrubbing you may find the stone needs a little more assistance at breaking down the biological growth. If needed, spray the stone with D2 biological cleaner. Wait 10-15 minutes for the D2 to work, then scrub it again with plenty of water. Rinse thoroughly. If stubborn staining remains, mist the stone with D2 again and allow it to work over time. I can promise you it has worked into the stone and will begin to kill off the fungi that has grown inside the stone. You will see dramatic results in about 4-6 weeks. LESS IS MORE with D2!
    *A word of caution – don’t be surprised if you see a rusty color haze after spraying D2. This is completely normal and known as “D2 blush”. It will return to normal color in a few days.