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Cleaning Stones - Part 1

The first question should always be, does this stone truly need cleaning? Often people mistake the patina of age for dirt. They want marble stones, for example, to be as white as when originally purchased and this is a tragic mistake. Not only does such aggressive cleaning cause irreparable damage, but it destroys the stone's patina and history making it look like the stone was placed in the cemetery only yesterday. Moreover, the cause of much biological growth is the shade created by the dense foliage of trees that usually can't or shouldn't be removed from the cemetery. Consequently, once you begin a program of washing you find that you must clean the stones every few months. And every cleaning, no matter how gentle, has the potential to cause additional damage to the stone.

So, you may decide that a soiled stone is best left in that condition.

There are times when biological growth may be causing deterioration of the stone. In such circumstances it may become necessary to clean the stone. Many professional conservators will also clean the stone in order to get closer to the original stone color for infill matching.
Algae, lichen, fungi - that may be green, black, gray, yellow, red, orange, brown, or blue - can be hazardous to gravestones because they trap moisture on (and under the surface of) the stone. They also secrete acids that can dissolve limestone, marble, sandstone, concrete, and mortar. And they may insert their "roots" into the pores of the stone. These growths will swell and shrink in response to moisture, leading to cracking and spalling of the stone.
Plant life - such as ivy, ferns, and moss, may be hazardous to the gravestone because they have roots that will penetrate the stone and also because they trap moisture.

Removal of Organic Materials

(Part 2 - continued on following page)
Used with permission of: Chicora Foundation, Inc., PO Box 8664, Columbia, SC, USA, 29202, 803-787-6910 Copyright © 2003 Chicora Foundation, Inc.