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Review and Evaluation of Selected Brand Name Materials for Cleaning Gravestones
by Tracy C. Walther- Architectural Conservator

I. INTRODUCTION -- Some important general guidelines to remember when considering cleaning burial monuments:

A. Evaluate the general condition of the burial monument. Do not attempt to clean the monument if it exhibits any cracks, flaking and scaling, or eroding granular surfaces. Carefully sound (gently tap surface with finger) stone to determine if there are any underlying hollow areas. If hollow areas are detected, do not continue with cleaning or handling.

B. Determine the type of soiling to remove it in the most effective manner. Types of soiling could be:

Carbonaceous or sooty soiling

Urban grime; dirt

Organic--algae, fungi, lichens, mosses

Stains--metallic, oils, etc.

Efflorescence (salts)

C. Initiate cleaning process with the least aggressive method--gentle, clean water rinsing. If washing with water alone is not sufficient, carefully proceed with the use of a selected material to facilitate cleaning. Select the gentlest possible method that will achieve a desirable or acceptable level of cleanliness.

D. Always test selected cleaning method(s) before general application. Test entire cleaning procedure in a small inconspicuous area on the monument.

E. Pre-wet monument with water before the application of any chemical cleaning solutions. Pre-wetting prevents excessive penetration of cleaning solutions and soiling into the stone, and facilitates softening of soiling.

F. Clean from the bottom to the top of the monument to avoid streak staining on the stone. Periodically rinse runoff.

G. Always rinse thoroughly with water. Residues from chemical cleaning solutions can create a blotchy appearance, provide mediums for bacterial action, and cause staining. Do not allow cleaning solutions to dry on a monument.

H. Do not assume that a cleaning procedure that is effective in one specific case is therefore applicable for all cleaning situations.

I. Consult with a conservation professional.

II. Review and Evaluation of Selected Brand Name Materials for Cleaning Gravestones

A. Soaps and detergents

1. Soaps (e.g., "Ivory"): commercial household detergents (liquids and powders) are not recommended for cleaning masonry. They are rendered insoluble by calcium ions present in stone and hard water. They may also produce free alkali and fatty acid salts.

2. Non-ionic Detergents (e.g., Photo Flo - a Kodak product): Non-ionic detergents are recommended for cleaning gravestones. They are electrically neutral cleaning agents that do not contain or contribute to the formation of soluble salts. They provide better wetting of the masonry surface and, therefore, successfully facilitate the removal of general soiling. Non-ionic detergents are available from conservation, janitorial, and photographic suppliers. A suggested cleaning solution is one ounce non-ionic detergent to 5 gallons water.

B. Acidic Cleaning Materials

1. Hydrochloric or Muriatic Acid, Phosphoric Acid (e.g. "Lime Away," "Naval Jelly"), oxalic acid are not recommended for general cleaning of gravestones. The use of hydrochloric or muriatic acid may result in ferrous chloride (rust) staining and the deposition of soluble salts. Muriatic acid, which is readily available in hardware stores, is a raw acid. It is a by-product of processing steel and contains metallic particles that can cause ferrous staining.

C. Alkaline, Corrosive, and Biocidal Cleaning Materials

1. Sodium Hydroxide (e.g., "Borax"), Sodium Hypochlorite (e.g., "Clorox" "liquid chlorine") is not recommended for general cleaning of stone.

2. Calcium Hypochlorite (e.g., Chlorine, "HTH," "Shock Treatment"): Calcium hypochlorite or chlorine is effective for the removal of biological growth. It is a granular product that is not to be confused with "liquid chlorine" or sodium hypochlorite. Calcium hypochlorite is available from swimming pool suppliers. A suggested cleaning solution is one ounce calcium hypochlorite to one gallon hot water. This product should be used only when a waterhose with a good water pressure (e.g., 55 psi) is available.

3. Ammonium Hydroxide (e.g., household ammonia): Solutions of household ammonia are recommended for cleaning light colored stones. Ammonia is particularly effective for the removal of biological growth. One cup ammonia to one gallon water.

4. Quatemary Ammoniums (e.g., algaecides or biocides for swimming pools): Quaternary Ammoniums have a slightly different chemical structure than ammonium hydroxide. They are especially effective for the removal of biological growth, particularly stubborn black algae. Quaternary ammoniums are available from swimming pool suppliers and list ingredients such as alkylbenzyl trimethyl ammonium, benzyl alkyl dimethyl ammonium chlorides, or benzyl aklyl dimethyl ammonium bromides.

5. Trisodium Phosphate (e.g., "TSP, "Calgon"): Trisodium phosphate is not recommended for cleaning monuments. It can cause the formation and deposition of soluble salts. "Calgon" contains trisodium phosphate and a number of additives that may be detrimental to monuments.

6. "Fantastic" All Purpose Cleaner, "Formula 409," "Spic and Span" and abrasive cleansers: These are not recommended for cleaning monuments. Avoid products containing sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and ammonium carbonate, due to their ability to form and deposit soluble salts in monuments.


A. The following items are recommended for use in cleaning procedures for masonry: soft natural bristle (e.g., tampico) brushes, nylon brushes, tooth brushes, Q-tips, sponges (especially natural sponges). Wood and some plastic spatulas are also recommended.

B. Do not use metal brushes or scrapers, or abrasive pads (e.g., "Brillo," "Scotchbrite") to clean monuments.


A. Do not rely solely upon product labels or advertising. Brand name materials that are readily available from hardware and grocery stores are generally intended for household use. Information is not provided for specialized applications outside of the home or workshop.

B. Remember to consult with a conservation consultant before cleaning. The use of improper cleaning materials and practices can cause serious and irreparable damage to gravestones.

Further detailed information is found in "A Graveyard Preservation Primer" click here for order information


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