Cleaning & maintaining memorials

Please note it is important to take special care when cleaning any memorial. We’ve put together this guide based on best practice, however please consult us before commencing. Always observe the specific care requirements for your memorial and material type.

A memorial for a loved one should be a lasting tribute to their memory, a monument that you can visit whenever you feel the need. The type and placement of this memorial – be it a headstone, a bench, a plaque or a fixed vase – is typically the deceased’s last wish and so possibly the final task that you can undertake for them. It’s exceedingly poignant.

cleaning-memorial-headstones
Responsibility for upkeep of a memorial is the registered owner’s, not the church, cemetery or crematorium authority’s. However, as memorials tend to be situated in the great outdoors, keeping them clean and tidy can be a constant battle. If the choice of memorial is left to you, this obligation might inform your decisions in terms of which stone to use, where to site the stone, etc.

Many customers ask us for advice on this subject and as such, here’s our guide to cleaning and maintaining a memorial.

Use the right tools

Care must be taken when cleaning a memorial stone. The wrong product or cleaning tool could damage the surface of the stone, eroding away the inscriptions over time. Your cleaning kit should ideally include:

  • a soft brush for dusting off the surface prior to cleaning
  • a soft nylon brush with white/ undyed bristles
  • clippers to tidy away overgrown grass, weeds and branches
  • a plastic (never ever metal) scraper to help shift moss and any other unsightly deposits
  • an old toothbrush, to help you clean in smaller areas, such as the engraved detail
  • a spray bottle you can fill with water for easy ‘wetting down’
  • a pair of rubber gloves
  • protective goggles (should you use anything other than water)
  • a bucket
  • antibacterial hand gel for when you’re finished.

It goes without saying that no matter what tool or technique you use to clean the memorial, make sure that you are as gentle as possible.

cleaning-headstones

Ensure the product is safe

A general rule of thumb is that you can’t go wrong with lots of water; preferably distilled water as it doesn’t contain any mineral additives that might affect the stone.  If you want to use a product, then you must ensure it’s appropriate for the type of stone you are cleaning. Always wet the stone completely before applying the product and rinse copiously afterwards.

Never use bleach, which can effectively dissolve the stone, impacting the colour and texture. This is especially so if the stone is marble or limestone. Acidic cleaners – under which category many household products come – should similarly be avoided. These can also affect the surrounding ground. Products that list salts among their ingredients (i.e. sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, sodium sulphate) should also be bypassed, as they could leave deposits.

You can buy specific headstone cleaners which promise to remove moss and other forms of ‘stubborn soiling’ with ease, such as HG Headstone Cleaning Spray. Another option is a photographic solution called Kodak Photo-Flo which, if you can get hold of it, has been recommended by the US Association for Gravestone Studies.

For a biodegradable, non-corrosive alternative, D/2 Biological Solution is a safe bet. It was even used on the Washington Monument, should you require further proof of its credentials! This cleaner safely permeates the stone to kill of biological substances without the need for scrubbing. It also reduces the rate at which such mosses grow back.

Removing mosses and mould

Mosses and mould, if left on the stonework for a prolonged period, can leave marks – the result of a reaction between their natural acids and the stone itself. It’s recommended, therefore, that you try to remove this matter regularly. That way, it won’t be such a tough job, either. Simply wet the moss with water and gently use the plastic scraper to remove the offending pest. As mentioned above, cleaning with D/2 Biological Solution could help keep regrowth to a minimum.

removing-mould-from-headstones

Renovating and repairs

If the stone is chipped, flaking or in any other form of deterioration, it’s not a good idea to start cleaning as you could do more damage. Instead, contact us for advice on repairs.

Should you wish to revive any gold lettering on the memorial, it is possible to buy paint and tackle this job yourself. However, unless you have a very steady hand, it might be worth asking a professional for assistance – usually the original memorial mason.

Other issues

Generally, public burial sites are routinely inspected to identify any issues, such as instability. In addition, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has requested all local councils to inspect memorials a minimum of every five years for safety purposes. If problems are identified, the owner will be contacted in the first instance, advising them to make repairs. To that end, it is crucial you keep your contact details up to date with the local council’s Bereavement Services officers.

To prevent issues from the onset, it’s advisable to use a National Association of Memorial Masons-accredited supplier, to ensure that the memorial is erected solidly, in accordance with the correct procedures and High Court rules (which state that a memorial should be able to withstand the elements without the need for repair for 30 years).

Insurance

Another consideration is whether or not to take out memorial insurance – something that we can help you with. Though policies naturally vary, they tend to cover any accidental damage, subsidence, theft or vandalism and could provide you with some peace of mind, especially if you are unable to visit the memorial on a regular basis.

Ultimately, you want your memorial to stand the test of time and serve as a symbol of remembrance. Cleaning and maintaining the memorial will help ensure that this is the case, no doubt providing you with a sense of peace too.

For any questions or further details, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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