Feb 15, 2023

(+) The Care and Maintenance of Tombstones

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

One of the best methods of honoring our ancestors is to take care of their tombstones. Proper cleaning and maintenance once every ten years or so can help a tombstone remain readable for decades. I also like to take pictures of tombstones; so, anything that improves the legibility of the lettering interests me. 

Sadly, many people do not know how to take proper care of tombstones. They use harsh chemicals, power washers, and, worst of all, wire brushes. These items will damage the stones and actually REDUCE the ability to read the lettering over time.

Here are a few rules to follow.

Never use wire brushes! The brushes will significantly damage the stones. Worst of all, brushes will damage the outer “skin” of a stone and expose the porous insides. Yes, many stones have a “skin” that is formed by years of exposure to the elements. This “skin” acts as a barrier to the elements. Even removing a fraction of an inch during cleaning exposes the porous insides of the stone. Then water gets absorbed, and the temperature changes of the seasons will cause expansion and contraction. The result is cracks in the stone, which may lead to further damage over the years.

While wire brushes cause damage, careful use of soft, white nylon brushes can remove dirt and plant growth. Toothbrushes are also good for cleaning tombstones. Rinse the brush frequently so as to not grind dirt into the stone. The key here is softness. If in doubt, use the brush to rub your face for a few seconds. Press hard. If the brush hurts your face, it will also hurt the tombstone. Instead of brushes, you might use wood popsicle sticks or bamboo skewers. Wood is softer than stone and therefore unlikely to cause scratching or other damage. 

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