Skip to main content

A headstone or grave marker is a special place where your family and friends can remember and honor your loved one’s memory. But because most monuments are outside, it’s easy for dirt, plants, or moss to build up and damage the headstone.

But how do you clean a headstone? You may need to consult a restoration expert if a monument is old or damaged. In many cases, though, you can clean a monument yourself as long as you take certain precautions. Follow these 6 steps to clean your loved one’s headstone properly so your family can visit them and honor their memory for years!

1. Make Sure You Have Permission

person wiping a headstone with a white cloth
First, you’ll need to make sure you have permission. Some cemeteries may have specific rules and regulations about cleaning headstones, especially those that take care of maintenance themselvesGreen or natural cemeteries that allow grave markers will likely prohibit certain chemicals and cleaning products.

Additionally, government-issued headstones for veterans are still considered government property and can only be cleaned following the VA’s cleaning guidelines. Historical and preservation societies also have specific policies regarding how older headstones should be cleaned.

You should also only clean the headstones of your loved ones or those you have explicit permission to clean. While cleaning someone else’s headstone might be a nice gesture, some people may see it as an invasion rather than a help. Plus, you would be liable for any damage to the headstone.

2. Check the Headstone for Damage

Cross-shaped headstone fallen over and broken in several places
Before you clean the headstone, you’ll need to ensure it’s in good condition. If the headstone sounds hollow or is cracking, chipping, flaking, or powdery, even gentle cleaning could further damage the marker. Plus, if the grave marker seems unstable (shifting, wobbling, or leaning), cleaning increases the chances that the headstone could fall.

If the headstone you want to clean is damaged, consult a headstone preservationist to get professional help repairing the headstone. That way, the marker will be fixed properly and can stand for generations to come.

3. Pay Attention to the Headstone Material

variety of headstones and grave markers of different materials
The material of the headstone you’re cleaning will affect the products and cleaning strategies you can use. While most modern headstones and grave markers are made of marble, granite, or bronze, a wide variety of materials can be used for headstones.

Once you know what material your loved one’s headstone is made of, you can choose cleaning products that will safely clean without causing damage. If you can’t tell what material was used and don’t have any records to consult, you can check with the cemetery to see if they can identify the stone, read this article for some more info, or do a quick search online for similar headstones.

4. Use Gentle Options First

headstone carved with flowers with plants growing over it
As you start the actual cleaning process, start by using the gentlest methods. Carefully remove plant growth by hand, cutting plants close to the roots to prevent them from growing back. Brush off dirt with a light cloth or gentle brush, and use a soft toothbrush to get the dirt out of the carvings and grooves in the stone.

To remove moss and lichen, soak the headstone in water and wait a while. After a little while, the growth should loosen up, and you can use a plastic scraper to remove the moss.

Before using any cleaners, start with water, gentle soap, and brushes. Depending on the material, you can also try baking soda on some headstones. If these methods don’t work, you can then move on to use stronger cleaning products (step 5) if your cemetery allows.

5. Test Cleaners Before Using

woman's hand using a cloth to wipe cleaning products on a headstone
As you pick a cleaner to use on the headstone, start by reading the instructions and looking at product reviews. Do research to ensure you choose the best cleaner based on the headstone’s condition, material, and local conditions (sunny vs. shaded cemetery, high vs. low humidity, etc.).

Once you’ve selected a cleaner, test it on a small, less visible area of the headstone first. After following the product’s instructions, let the area fully dry before using it on the entire headstone. That way, you know for sure that it won’t cause damage!

No matter what, you should avoid power washing the gravestone or using harsh cleaners like bleach and strong acids or bases. These can cause permanent damage to the headstone and surrounding grass and plants.

6. Don’t Clean Too Often

woman with cleaning gloves using a brush to clean a headstone
Now that the headstone looks clean and new, you’ll probably want to keep it that way! But think twice before cleaning the headstone frequently. Cleaning too often can accelerate the wear and tear of the headstone. Additionally, you should avoid using chemicals too often or cleaning the headstone during extreme heat or cold.

A good rule of thumb is to clean a headstone about once every 1-2 years, but that number can vary based on the environmental conditions in your area and the headstone’s condition.

Cleaning a headstone is an important task that shouldn’t be taken lightly! As you follow these steps, take time to remember your loved one and the impact they made on your life. While the cleaning process can be time-consuming, know that you are ensuring your loved one’s memory lives on for years to come.

Skip to content