The “Do No Harm” stone cleaning basics

Cleaning tombstones and monuments has become quite popular among many individuals and groups. Some groups do it as part of reading cemeteries to gather historical documentation or as a way to beautify a cemetery.

The best and easiest ways to accomplish this in the most “do no harm” manner that the Cemetery Conservators for United Standards talks about on their website. When cleaning tombstones during our clean-up days we are sure to follow these basic methods to ensure we do not cause any harm to the stones. These standards have interested me so much that I have applied to become a CCUS Certified Member, so that I can hopefully learn more about preservation, repair and more to be able to use in the cemetery and share my knowledge!

“Most of us have visited cemeteries with headstones and markers covered with environmental grime and biological growth such as moss, lichens and mold. The grime and dirt can be removed with a proper cleaning, which will avoid causing any harm to the stone. Even though the markers are made of stone, most old markers are incredibly fragile. They suffer from “invisible’ stress cracks, delaminating layers of stone, and other age related issues.” Wrote Susan Dunham, CCUS Member from Maine. “Every time a marker is cleaned, minute particles are removed from the surface of the stone. It can be harmful to clean them too often. Most markers in cemeteries are made of limestone, sandstone, slate, marble, granite, or in some cases concrete. However, each marker’s condition is different and you should base your cleaning on the condition of that stone. Cleaning headstones helps to preserve them and it should never be your intent to make them look new again, just clean.”

There are precautions and inspections that should be done before you start cleaning that can be found here on the CCUS website and the basic cleaning procedure is listed below. If you are interested in learning more about proper care and repair of tombstones, I urge you to read their website as it contains very valuable information!


  • Soak the stone with water and wait a few minutes. Gently remove loose materials from the surface. Once saturated, the lichens and moss on the stone will loosen and can be removed easily with a plastic scraper or wooden spatula. This helps remove the big particles so you will not be rubbing them back into the stone. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Clean the wet stone with a wet brush by making random circular motion, and rinsing frequently to remove dirt and biological growth. Always be as gentle as possible.
  • Keep both the brush and the stone wet at all times while cleaning. Be sure to clean the entire stone. Normally, clean water and soft scrubbing will remove the dirt and grime.  If not, use one of the recommended cleaning agents from the materials’ list (see further instruction below). Be sure to rinse often and thoroughly.

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