Illinois Saving Graves by Foxie Hagerty 102 County Page

"Illinois Saving Graves is dedicated to providing leadership, education and advocacy in preserving and restoring endangered and forgotten cemeteries statewide"

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Cleaning of a Gravestone

  • Tombstones are just what the word says, stones to mark tombs: granite, sandstone, limestone, slate and marble. Stone is made of a combination of minerals and salts. Therefore, using chemicals of any kind, such as chlorine bleach or even household soap, can cause leaching of the surface of the stone.

    Photograph tombstones rather than doing rubbings. Even rubbings can be invasive of the delicate surface of old stones.


    1 cup ammonia to 1 gallon water can be used for cleaning MARBLE only.


    Do not use brushes with natural bristles, as these bristles may leave behind biological matter that will attract dirt and mold.


    Keep all dyes, even in brush handles, away from the tombstone.

Cleaning of Old Marble stones.

Inspect the marble tombstone for crumbling, scratches or flaking. If you notice any damage, do not attempt to clean the tombstone. Doing so could cause more destruction to the marble.

Fill a spray bottle with cool water. Saturate the marble tombstone completely with water about 30 minutes before you begin the cleaning process. This helps keep the cleaning solution from leaching into the marble.

Dip a soft-bristled brush into cool water and gently scrub the marble tombstone. Work from the bottom up and scrub in a gentle, circular motion.

Apply a neutral cleaner to a sponge and scrub the marble tombstone. A neutral cleaner is sulfate-free, acid-free and ammonia-free. Once again, work from the bottom to the top. Continue gently scrubbing until the streaks are no longer visible.

Dampen a soft cloth in cool water and rinse the marble tombstone by gently wiping it. Repeat this step several times to make sure you have removed all traces of the cleaning solution.

Wipe the tombstone dry with a microfiber cloth.


  • Soft-bristle brush
    Metallic brushes are entirely too harsh, and they also leave particles on the surface of the stone that can rust. 
  • Small, soft, slanted paintbrush - To clean debris and critters out of lettering or carvings
  • At least one large sponge
  • Water
    You may also want to bring a small spray bottle of water for gently cleaning dirt and debris from the stone. The spray bottle, should contain only water
    and not detergent or chemicals of any kind that would  damage and further erode the stone's material. You might want to use Photo Flo, which  is made by Kodak and used in photo developing. Mix one capfull per gallon of water. Wash stone with solution, then rinse stone with clean water. Use brush
  • Towel or old rags
    Used to kneel on or clean polished granite stones. Launder them first, but do NOT use fabric softener. The softener will affect their ability to absorb liquids as well as cutting down on the "magnetism" for dirt and dust.
  • Hand cleaner
    Bring along a sample size of antibacterial waterless hand cleaners or wipes.
  • Cutting Tool - Hand-held grass clippers,  scissors or a retractable razor knife for trimming grass and/or weeds close to the stones. Do NOT use weed whacker type trimmers as these  can scar the stones. For site clearing/cleaning, a pair of pruning shears or hedge clippers is also helpful for brush that is too thick to rip out or cut with grass clippers, but not thick enough to bother with a chain saw.
  • Pencil and Notepad to record information about the stone or cemetery location.

In addition, you will want to also look at taking along the following safety items:

  • Drinking water - plan to bring at least several quarts of water with you for drinking , apart from the water you use for washing the stones.
  • Sunscreen
  • Gloves - Both work gloves and rubber gloves.
  • Work Boots
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Insect repellant 
  • First Aid kit
  • Snakebite kit
  • Bee and wasp spray
  • Cellular phone
  • Safety goggles
  • Antibacterial liquid soap and or waterless instant hand sanitizer 
  • Protective hand lotion 
  • Ivy Block (for poison ivy, oak and sumac)


  • Before you attempt to remove a stain, it is extremely important to know what has caused it. If you don't know, it is highly recommended that you consult a stone specialist
  • Avoid using chemicals of any kind until you know which chemical cleaner to use. Certain chemicals will react with the spilled material, and could make the stain permanent.

Removing stains from marble or granite can prove difficult. These stones are porous materials, and  If not thoroughly sealed they we be susceptible to staining. The only way a stain can be removed is to use a safe chemical that will pull it out of the stone and an absorbent material that will soak up the stain. This chemical absorbent-material combination is commonly referred to as a poultice.

Poultices are commonly powder or cloth materials that can be mixed with a chemical and placed on top of the stain. Refer to the table below for some of the more common poultice materials. Clays and diatomaceous earth are safe and readily available, but do not use whiting or clays containing iron with an acidic chemical; iron will react with the acid, and may cause rust staining. It is best to purchase powders that are designed specifically for stone and tile. Consult a stone restoration specialist or your stone supplier if in doubt.

Poultice materials:

Paper towels Cotton balls Gauze pads Clays such as attapulgite, kaolin, fuller's earth Talc Chalk (whiting) Sepiolite Diatomaceous earth Methyl cellulose Flour Saw dust How to apply a poultice

To apply a poultice, take the following steps:

1. Clean the stained area with water and stone soap. Remember to blot rather than wipe.

2. Pre-wet the stained area with a lot & lots of water. Distilled water is recommended.

3. Refer to the chart and determine which chemical to use for the stain.

4. Mix the poultice material with the selected chemical. Mix until a thick peanut-butter paste consistency is obtained.

5. Apply the paste to the stained area, overlapping the stain by at least ¼ . Do not make the application too thick, or it will take a long time to dry.

6. Cover the paste with a plastic sandwich bag or food wrap. Tape the plastic using a low-contact tape.

7. Allow the paste to sit for 12–24 hours.

8. Remove the plastic cover and check to see if the paste has dried. If it has not, allow it to sit uncovered until thoroughly dry.

9. Once it is dry, remove the paste by scraping and rinse the area.

10. Examine the stain. If it still remains, but is somewhat lighter, re-poultice until it is gone. If the stain refuses to disappear completely, it is time to give up, replace the tile or call a stone specialist.

Stain removal can be very difficult, and care must be taken when using a poultice.

(The above information from The National Training Center for Stone and Masonry Trades)


  • Practice on a rock at home, or check with a local monuments store to see if you can practice on one of their tombstones, before going to the cemetery.
  • In the case of cemeteries located on private property, remember that you are doing rubbings on someone else's property. It is ALWAYS advised to gain permission by attempting to  speak with the property owner, and explain want you want to do,  BEFORE you begin.  If you do not get permission, please respect the wishes of the cemetery and ask if you can take a photograph to record the information and condition of the stone. If you find that a gravestone is severely damaged, please notify the property owner or supervisor of the cemetery.


  • Before starting, all surfaces of the stone should be checked. If there is any question as to the stone's condition, do not attempt to clean it, as the surface could be irreparably damaged in the process.
  • Start with a test patch of your proposed cleaning technique on an area of the structure that is least visible.
  • The stone surface should be thoroughly pre-soaked with water. 
  • Thoroughly wash with plain water the pre-wetted stone with natural, soft bristled (natural or nylon), wooden-handled brushes of various sizes. The use of plastic handles is not recommended, as colors from the handles may leave material on the stone that will be very difficult to remove. Wire brushes, metal instruments and abrasive pads may give you instant satisfaction but, if you clean with anything that is harder than the stone, you risk scratching the face of the stone and causing more damage in the long run. Be thorough. Wash all surfaces. Scrub the stone from the bottom up to avoid further streaking and staining. Always watch carefully to make sure that none of the stone’s surface is eroding as you scrub. Rinse thoroughly, with lots of clean water.   
  • Keep the stone wet at all times; really wet. Where a garden hose is not available, be sure to bring plenty of jugs of water and keep dousing the stone as you work and, most importantly, flush the stone well when done.   
  • Remove bird droppings, dirt moss, lichen etc. from the stone if possible. This will insure clear and sharp copy. If lichen is a problem, you can scrape with a wooden or plastic scraper. Tongue blades or craft sticks work well. Also, inexpensive plastic putty scrapers from home stores work well. Remember, no metal. If you have any trouble getting any of these materials off the stone, STOP and be sure that you do not cause any damage the stone in your attempt to clean it.
  • If used, do not allow detergent solutions to dry on the stone while cleaning.
  • Some stains in porous stones cannot be removed & cleaning some that is embedded can damage the stone. Do not expect the stones to appear new after cleaning.
  • Do not clean marble, limestone, or sandstone more than once every 18 months. These types of stone may occasionally be rinsed with clean water to remove bird droppings and other accretions. Granite can be cleaned as needed.


  • Keep a record of the cleaning, including date of cleaning, materials used and any change in condition since last cleaning (such as missing parts, graffiti, and other damage). These records should be kept at a central location where the condition of the stone can be monitored over time. Illinois Saving Graves will be happy to store this information as a part of a cemetery protection association listing.

Information from original Savings Graves Site, Thank You Steve., although you are no longer with us you live on in some of my pages.

Illinois Saving Graves, By Foxie Hagerty

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