Cleaning headstones is thoughtful and shows that the dead are not forgotten. The process can however cause damage to the tombstones if they aren’t cleaned properly or if wrong chemicals are used. We certainly don’t want that to happen.
How to Clean Cement Headstones?
#1- Cleaning with Hydrogen Peroxide & Baking Soda
This method will remove tough stains from the headstone, and also get rid of mold and mildew. It is also safe to use on all types of headstones.
1- Hydrogen peroxide
2- Baking soda
STEP 1- Use a stiff plastic brush to remove the surface dirt, moss, lichen and other loose debris (such as fallen leaves or dried bird droppings) from the gravestone.
STEP 2- Mix 1 part 3% hydrogen peroxide and 1 part water in a spray bottle. If the headstone is very dirty, you can make the solution stronger. Mix 2 parts hydrogen peroxide with 1 part water.
STEP 3- Spray the headstone using this solution from top to bottom, and ensure the headstone is soaked.
STEP 4- Allow the solution to sit on the cement headstone for about 5 minutes. This will give the solution time to break down the dirt on the headstone’s surface and make it easier to clean.
STEP 5- Use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the headstone thoroughly. Pay attention to stubborn stains and dirt buildup. Add more hydrogen peroxide solution if the headstone seems to be drying while you are still cleaning.
STEP 6- Splash the headstone with enough water, to get rid of hydrogen peroxide residue, and flush loose dirt away.
STEP 7- Areas with hard water spots and stubborn stains that are yet to come off can be cleaned with baking soda. They will be easier to identify now that the headstone has been cleaned.
Make a paste with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Ensure it is a thick paste because a watery paste won’t stay on the stain. Add a little dish soap to the paste and mold it well.
STEP 7- Apply the paste to the stains and hard water spots. If necessary, secure it with tape or something similar to ensure that the paste stays on the stain.
STEP 8- Let the paste sit on the stain for about 10-15 minutes. Afterward, use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the stain spots, working the paste into the headstone. Do this until the stain fades.
STEP 10- Rinse the stains with water thoroughly.
#2- Cleaning with Shaving Cream & Dish Soap
1- Shaving cream
2- Dawn dish soap
5- Whisk broom
6- Paper towel
STEP 1- Use a whisk broom to sweep loose leaves, grass clippings, and dried bird droppings from the headstone. If some stuck-on dirt refuses to budge, let it be.
STEP 2- Use a scraper to scrape off lichens, stuck-on dirt, and debris from the headstone. Brush it away when you are done.
STEP 3- Make a soapy solution with dawn dish soap and water in a bucket. Dawn dish soap is an effective outdoor cleaner, especially for cement as It is also good at getting rid of stubborn stains.
STEP 4- Spray the headstone with some simple water just to make it wet, not soaked. Dip a soft-bristled brush into the soapy solution and use it to scrub the cement headstone. Pay attention to stains and mineral deposits.
STEP 5- Rinse the headstone with water. Even after rinsing, you will notice that the headstone is clean but the printed parts, designs, or markers may still be unclean. Those are the spots for which you need shaving cream.
STEP 6- Spread some shaving cream over the carvings or printed text. Use a squeegee to remove excess shaving cream from the surface and spread it evenly.
STEP 7- Leave the shaving cream for about 1 minute and then scrub it with a soft brush.
STEP 8- Rinse the headstone thoroughly once more and dry it with a paper towel.
#3- Cleaning with Non-ionic Soap & Ammonia
1- Non-ionic detergent
5- Whisk broom
6- Stiff bristled Brush
8- Rubber gloves & nose mask
STEP 1- Use a plastic scraper to remove lichens, algae, and stuck-on dirt from the headstone. Do not use knives or metal scrapers on the headstone, as those can damage the cement surface and even leave metal residues (which will rust later on) in the headstone.
STEP 2- Use a whisk broom or brush to sweep away the loose leaves, grass clippings, and other dirt from the headstone. This will make it easier to see any damages or the location of stains that may be on the cement headstone.
STEP 3- Spray the headstone with water. This ensures that the cleaners used won’t penetrate the stone and cause damage.
STEP 4- To treat the stains, you need ammonia. Wear rubber gloves and a nose mask. Mix 1 part ammonia with 4 parts water in a bucket.
STEP 5- Use a nylon stiff-bristled brush to apply the solution to the stain you have identified. As you apply the solution, scrub the stain until it begins to fade. If the stain doesn’t budge, allow the solution to sit on the stain for about 5 minutes before scrubbing again. It will fade easily.
STEP 6- Rinse the stains with water thoroughly. You are now ready for the next step which is cleaning the headstone as a whole.
STEP 7- Get a non-ionic detergent or soap like D/2 for the cleaning project. You can buy it in an online store or buy a brand that is easily available in your area. Mix 1 tablespoon of the soap or detergent with 1 gallon of water or according to the instructions of the manufacturer.
STEP 9- Pour this solution into a sprayer and spray the headstone until it is soaked.
STEP 10- Allow the detergent solution to sit on the cement headstone for about 5 minutes. If the headstone is very dirty let it sit for 10 minutes.
STEP 11- Use a nylon brush to scrub the headstone starting from the top to the bottom. Then rinse thoroughly.
Do You Need Permission to Clean a Gravestone?
You need permission to clean a gravestone, especially if it doesn’t belong to a family member.
When & Why You Need Permission
1- If you’re going to be passing through private property to get to the cemetery where the gravestone is, then you need the permission of the land owner/ owners. If they refuse to allow you on their land, then you can’t clean the gravestone.
2- You need to take permission from the trustees of the cemetery or the people in charge of it. They oversee the cemetery and can see your act as a trespass if you didn’t inform them prior. If it is a church cemetery, then you need to seek permission from the church leadership.
3- You do not need to take permission if it is a relative’s headstone. You however should notify other family members if the gravestone belongs to an ancestor rather than a close relative.
4- In some states like Illinois, you need a cemetery maintenance permit before you can clean a gravestone. So be aware of the laws of your state regarding this before proceeding.
Cement or concrete headstones need maintenance not just for honoring our families and friends but also to preserve our culture and history.
Cement headstones can be cleaned by first scraping the moss and lichen from the surface followed by removal of surface dirt and loose debris using. Then stains can be removed using items like hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, dish soap, shaving cream, and ammonia. Finally, rinse the surface using clean water.