How to clean a gravestone

Before you clean a gravestone, buy a mild, gentle soap or a non-ionic soap. Next, mix your soap with water and dampen a sponge with the solution. Then, gently wipe down the surface of the stone with the sponge, using a brush for the tougher dirt. If there’s any natural growth on the stone, like lichen, mix 1 part ammonia with 4 parts water and use a sponge to scrub the affected area. Aim to clean the gravestone once every 18-24 months, or as needed.


The first thing you should do is to ask yourself whether or not the stone actually needs cleaning. Many people mistake the signs of aging for dirt or grime. Marble and other materials will naturally fade over time.[1]

  • Conservationists caution against an aggressive cleaning program. Every cleaning has the potential to damage the stone, even if you are exceedingly gentle.
  • Avoid cleaning the stone as a way to honor your loved one. If the stone doesn't need to be cleaned, you can find other ways to honor their memory.
  • If the stone has been dirtied by mud or other materials, then it is okay to clean it. Just be aware that once you begin cleaning a stone, you will find that you need to do so on a regular basis.

Time and weather can cause a gravestone to look less than pristine. If you notice the gravestone has become dirty, you will want to take time to carefully clean it. Make sure to choose the right products.[2]

  • Harsh chemicals can damage stones. Choose a mild, gentle soap.
  • Purchase a non-ionic cleanser. These soaps are available at retailers that sell conservation and janitorial supplies.
  • Non-ionic soaps do not contain the harsh salts that can damage grave stones. Read the label carefully to ensure that it says "non-ionic". Ask a member of the sales team for help if you are unsure.

Once you have your cleanser, you are ready to gather the rest of your supplies. You will need clean water. If the cemetery has a faucet or hose you can use, take a clean bucket with you to hold the water. [3]

  • You can purchase gallons of distilled water to take with you if you are unsure if there will be running water near by. You should still take a bucket so that you can easily dip your supplies into the water.
  • Take some soft, clean cloths with you. Old towels or t-shirts will work fine.
  • Purchase sponges. Natural are best, as they will be less likely to damage the stone.
  • Take non-metallic scrubbing pads and brushes with you. Choose a few different brushes with a variety of stiffness levels.

When you arrive at the gravestone, take a few minutes to assess the stone. Look for any obvious signs of damage. Check the front, sides, and top of the gravestone.[4]

  • Cracks are an obvious sign of damage. Flaking is also an indication that the stone is damaged.
  • If you see signs of damage, clean very cautiously. Damage indicates that the stone is weakened.
  • Avoid putting pressure on the weakened areas. It is better to leave some dirt than to put additional stress on the stone.

Once you have checked out the stone, you are ready to start actually cleaning. Follow the directions on your cleanser. Mix it with the proper ratio of water.[5]

  • Dampen your sponges in your bucket of water. Once they are wet, gently begin wiping down the surface of the stone.
  • After you have removed the first layer of dirt or grime, you can use your brushes. Wet your brushes, then use them to gently scrub each part of the stone.
  • It is best to start at the bottom of the stone and work your way up. This will help you to avoid leaving streaks.
Step 6: Remove growth

Sometimes you will discover growth on the gravestone. Since it is exposed to nature's elements, this is completely normal. Lichen is especially common.[6]

  • Lichen are living organisms that are similar to a fungi. They come in many different colors, such as grey, green and yellow.
  • You can remove the lichen with an ammonia mixture. Combine one part ammonia with four parts water.
  • Using a clean sponge, gently scrub the affected area with the ammonia mixture. After you are done, rinse with clean, plain water.

It is important that you know what type of stone you are dealing with. Different types will require different cleaning methods. Marble needs to be treated even more gently than granite.[7]

  • Pre-wet the stone with clean water. If there is growth, remove using a wooden scraper.
  • Apply non-ionic cleanser. Use the same method you would use for a granite stone. Repeat this process approximately every 18 months. Cleaning more frequently can weaken the marble.
  • Limestone is another popular choice for headstones. Clean limestone using the same method as the one used to clean marble.
Step 8: Use snails

When it comes to cleaning gravestones, natural methods might sometimes be best. Some people have effectively used snails to clean their stones. This method is the most environmentally friendly.[8]

  • Snails consume many of the materials that grow on gravestones. For example, they will eat lichens, mold, and fungus.
  • Create a small tent over the gravestone. Use polyethylene to cover the stone, and use pieces of wood to keep it on the ground.
  • You can likely find several snails on surrounding graves. Collect them and place them in the enclosure that you have made. Make sure to poke several small holes for ventilation.
  • Check back on your snails after a few hours. If they were hungry, the stone will be pretty clean.

If you have any concerns about the state of the gravestone, it is a good idea to talk to an expert. For example, an expert will be able to tell you the approximate age of your stone. He will also be able to definitively identify the material.[9]

  • Contact the cemetery to ask if they can recommend someone you can speak to. Conservationists typically know a lot about gravestones.
  • You can also reach out to a local museum. The staff can likely recommend an expert. Make sure to ask about the proper cleaning method and frequency for your particular stone.
Step 10: Keep a record

Gravestones do not require regular cleaning. Although it might seem natural to want to frequently clean the stone, resist the urge. Instead, you should clean the stone approximately 18-24 months. Some will require even less frequent cleanings.[11]

  • Write down the date each time you clean the stone. This will help you prevent over cleaning.
  • Talk to the cemetery about maintenance plans. Some sites may offer service plans. They will take care of the cleaning for you.
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