Reading and Preserving Gravestones
Part I - What not to do to gravestones
"Do No Harm"
One of the things we're frequently asked is how to clean, read, and
preserve gravestones. Before delving into what to do, it is more
important to fully understand what NOT to do. As you read stones,
attempt to clean them, or are just wandering through a cemetery, we
encourage you to keep in mind the basic premise that we work under - "Do
No Harm". We forego getting a full reading if our efforts will cause
long term damage to the stone. For more information, please visit the
Links and Resources page.
Techniques to Avoid
- Do not pressure wash stones
- Its important to remember that the majority of older stones are
typically either marble, slate or sandstone. Pressure washing will
contribute to surface erosion of the stone. It can open cracks and
fissures in the stone which can lead to its ultimate destruction
during the yearly freeze thaw cycles. It will also remove any
adhesive or filler between the various portions of a monument.
- Do not use any acid / acid based solutions
- Acid rain is already doing irreparable harm to the stones, thus
making them significantly more difficult to read. So what is an acid
based solution? The one we most commonly hear about being used to
enhance the readability of the inscriptions is shaving cream.
Shaving cream is approximately 8% stearic acid. Since the stone used
in historic markers is porous, it acts like a sponge. Consequently
there is no easy way to remove all the chemicals imparted by shaving
cream. Basically you are adding stearic acid to the acids in acid
rain (sulfuric and nitric acid ), which is eating away the surface
of the stone.
- Do not use any type of abrasive.
- If you wouldn't use it on your fine china or silver, don't use
it on a stone. While it may make the stone look 'pretty' in the
short term, it only serves to shorten the life span of the stone.
- Do not use metal or wire brushes
- This one should be obvious but people use strange and wonderful
techniques in an attempt to get a full reading of a stone. If you
wouldn't use the brush to wash your car, don't use it on a stone.
Stones may look hard but in reality they are quite soft and fragile.
- Do not use household cleaners such as bleach
- We see this being used quite frequently. It effectively destroys
the surface of the stone and leads to severe streaking.
- Do not attempt to clean fragile stones
- If it's already flaking, crumbling, or has had any of the
previous don'ts applied, just leave it alone. Is it really worth
getting the inscription if it will result in harm to the stone?
Damage done to stones
Although the following examples are from Hillside
Champion Cemetery, examples of improper cleaning are evident in many
cemeteries throughout the tri-county area.
|Shown is a portion of Noadiah Hubbard's
monument at Hillside Champion Cemetery which contains the
inscription for Noadiah's wife, Eunice Hubbard. This stone clearly
demonstrates the long term effects of pressure washing. The majority
of the inscription has flaked off and is no longer readable
||This is a portion of Deacon Jonathan Clark's
headstone at Hillside Champion Cemetery. This stone has apparently
been cleaned with bleach and pressured washed. A significant amount
of the original detail has been eroded and the stone exhibits heavy