cemetery monument and memorial cleaning

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Modern Monuments and Markers - Granite Only

When I speak about modern monuments and markers, I am basically refering to stones manufactured after about 1950. The reason I picked that year for the cut-off is because it seems to be about the time that a noticable decline in monument quality began to appear. It became standard operating procedure to use spray paint on a headstone's lettering and carving to make it show up. The sandblaster replaced the chisel, and the monument industry began to think of itself as "modernized". Looking through the cemetery, you will still see handcrafted gravestones created after 1950, but this is mainly because individual monument companies resisted the transition into the modern era. Eventually, tombstones were mass produced, resulting in the repetition of shape, color and carving that we see in the cemeteries today. This is also about the time that the memorial park cemeteries really started to gain in popularity. Rows upon rows of flat stones or bronze markers.

Most of us will be cleaning stones from this category. We will have a lot of gray, brown, and red stones, and a lot of flat bronze markers as well. We will touch on all of these, so let's get down to business.

Thorough Annual Cleaning - What you will need :

You may need your whole cleaning kit for this. It depends on how clean you've kept your monument through the year. Bring it all, and be prepared to get a little wet. Hopefully there is a water supply close by. If there is, then you may want to add a hose to your cleaning kit. It's nice to have an attachment on the end of the hose, but do not use one of those powerful nozzles. Get a plant watering wand and use that. It will have plenty of pressure for what you need and it will keep the stone safe while keeping you a bit dryer. If there is no watersupply close to you, then remember that you will need about 20 gallons of water to clean the average sized stone for 2 people. (Tablet size - 3 feet wide x 20 inches tall)

Thorough Annual Cleaning - What you will do :

Step 1 - Planning

A. Make sure you have everything you are going to need. Plan on spending about an hour at the cemetery. B. Make sure that you schedule your monument cleaning for the morning. Do not clean any stone in the afternoon or evening. There are a couple of good reasons for this. First, when the stone gets hot during the day, the water will evaporate too quickly. It is important that you don't let any cleaning agents dry on the stones surface. Keep it wet. Second, Granite is porous. When the tombstone gets hot, the pores open up, allowing more water into them. If the water is dirty, some of that dirt can be taken into the pores, leaving you with a stain. If a bird has been eating berries, and leaves you a nice purple trophy on the face of a gray stone, you could actually scrub that purple right into the face of the gravestone. C. Make sure there are no funerals planned in the cemetery close to where you will be working. Some people might take your activity as a sign of disrespect, and rightfully so. D. Get a friend to go with you. It's nice to have a little company when you're working, and you may be able to help each other in your cleaning efforts. E. Bring some new flowers to the grave. You will feel better and your stone will look great. F. Grab a camera.

Step 2 - Evaluate

Examine your stone. Make sure there are no visible cracks or scratches. Look closely at the lettering and carving. Determine if your memorial stone has painted lettering. This is fairly easy to do. No monument or marker has deep cut lettering that is black. It doesnt happen. If you have black lettering, it's painted. If your paint is coming off, tell the manufacturer. If the stone is less than 5 years old, then insist that they fix it at no charge. They will resist, but no self respecting monument company wants Mrs. Johnson to go around telling everyone that ABC Monument Company won't stand behind their work. If the stone is older than 5 years, be prepared to hear that it's normal wear and tear, and you may have to pay to get it re-painted..It's a shame, but 2 thirds of the stones out there will have painted lettering and carving. Clean up the area surrounding the tombstone. Use a trashbag and pick up the old flowers and such. If you have flower vases, empty the liners. If you dont have vase liners... get some. Take some photos of the stone and put them somewhere safe. Each year you can compare the photos and you will notice if something is different.

Step 3 - Get to Work

Fill your bucket with clean water. Use the sponge to wet the surface of the whole stone. Keep it wet until it's ready to be dried. Look around and make sure you aren't going to get anyone else's stone wet. If you are, lay down a plastic tarp to protect the other people's stones. When the stone is thoroughly wet, let is sit a fe seconds. Let the surface dirt soak up a little water so it will be easier to clean. Kind of like soaking a pan in the sink. After it has soaked, wet it down again with the sponge. The easy stuff shoud come right off. At this point you are using only water and you havent scrubbed anything. You are only putting water on and letting it run off. Once more soak it with the sponge. Get your big brush and starting from the bottom, work your to the top of the stone using small, gentle, circular strokes. Do this on the whole surface of the stone. Use the water left in the bucket for the first rinse. Fill your bucket again and rinse your sponge at the water source. Make sure the grave marker is still wet. Spray the wet gravestone with the bottle of Photo Flo. Wear your rubber gloves and safety goggles and again work from the bottom up. Don't expect to get a bunch of suds when you use the Photo Flo. It doesn't work that way. You don't need to use the whole bottle. Scrub gently with the brush until you think you have got the granite pretty clean, using a toothbrush or a Q-tip to get into the small places. Rinse the stone again, using the sponge to help you as you rinse. Fill the bucket again, and rinse the sponge at the water source. If you don't have any moss, lichen or algae growing on the stone, then you're nearly finished. Give the tombstone another rinse. If you think it is thoroughly rinsed, blot the stone dry with a towel, clean up the area, put the new flowers in the vase, take a picture and you're done.

If you have moss, lichen or algae growing on the panels where the lettering or carving is, then before the last rinse spray the stone with the shock mixture. Scrub it like you did before, paying particular attention to the affected areas. Hopefully you have a hose, because you need to rinse this very well. After the stone is rinsed, spray with the algaecide. Give it a quick scrub and rinse well. The black algae that grows on a lot of stones may still look a little dark, but as time passes it will keep getting lighter as it dies.

Flat markers present a bit of a problem. Depending on how the ground lays, the water you use to clean and rinse pay keep washing dirt back onto the stone from the ground around it. You may have to be creative here. I know one person that makes a dam around the stone with towels. I know another person who brings a leaf blower with him to plow the stone dry. You may have to experiment and find your own method of keeping the water from washing back onto the stone.

Bronze markers People have a lot of misconceptions when it comes to bronze markers. The thing you need to know about a new or newer bronze marker is that you are not actually cleaning the bronze. You are cleaning a clear, painted laquer coating that is sprayed on the marker to make it look shiny and clean. When bronze markers are made, they are first cast, then a grinder is used to remove the rough areas. After that, the whole surface is painted with brown laquer. This laquer is removed from the raised areas with a grinder, exposing the actual bronze, Now you have 2 contrasting colors, the shiny bronze up against a dark brown background. The whole thing is then sprayed with clear laquer. Eventually this paint will all come off ( usually within 10 years you will notice it) and the bronze will start to oxidize and turn green. This greenish coloring is called patina. One of the distingushing characteristics of bronze is that when it develops a patina, the patina actually protects the bronze from further deteriation. My advice is to never use anything to clean bronze that will destroy the patina. If you use a brass cleaner, or other destructive chemical agent to clean your bronze marker, you are removing the protective coating, and forcing the marker to patina again. So again, I advise not to use any brass cleaner, acid or other chemical agent designed for cleaning metals. Clean it according to the directions above. You shouldn't have a moss, algae or lichen problem, since the bronze doesn't offer anything to nourish the plants, so you probably won't need the shock or algaecide.

If you don't like the way bronze turns green, and want it to look like it did when it was new, then you will need to call a professional to refinish it. Be advised, however, that it will turn green again eventually and you can only refinish bronze so many times before you grind everything away. I tell people when they come to my monument shops that if you don't like green bronze, then you better buy granite.


Basic Periodic Cleaning - What You Will Need :

Water... Not as much as before. 5 gallons should do just fine.

Spray Bottle of Ammonia Solution... From your kit


Paper Towels... For the quick, simple stuff. Remember to dispose of them properly. Don't litter the cemetery.

Basic Periodic Cleaning - What You Will Do :

It's almost like cleaning a window. Your ammonia solution is essentially Windex. Get the stone wet, then spray with the ammonia and wipe it off. It's a very simple proicess. Rinse it thoroughly, blot it dry and your done. If you just need to clean a spot, then spray it with the bottle of clear water, then the ammonia and dry it with paper towels. Simple. You might want to use a regular bath towel to dry your stone if you have deep cut lettering or raised areas. Paper towels will shred.

As a side note, always take your camera when you go to the cemetery. If you see an interesting stone, then snap a picture. See a problem area in your cemetery? Snap a picture. It's fun and relaxing to walk around and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of a cemetery. Also, if you have trouble cleaning your stone, you can e-mail me a photo and I will do my best to help you.