Headstone Cleaning Tools & Supplies

Remember the first 'rule' for this work? Do no harm. That can't be overstated. 

What purpose is it to clean a headstone if you are damaging it at the same time?

Please observe the restrictions listed here.

  • DO NOT USE ANY METAL OBJECT TO CLEAN A HEADSTONE.  Metal objects will damage the headstone, no matter how careful you might try to be.  This prohibition applies specifically to metal scrapers, and brushes with metal bristles, but includes any and every metal object.

  • Also, DO NOT USE these common cleaning agents because they are HARMFUL to stone:

    • Bleach, or products containing Sodium Hypochlorite (NaClO), Calcium Hypochlorite, Sodium Perborate, Sodium Percarbonate, Sodium Persulfate, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, or Urea Peroxide.

    • Strong Acids including Hydrochloric Acid or Muriatic Acid.

    • Strong Bases including Concentrated Ammonia, Calcium Hydroxide, Potassium Hydroxide, or Sodium Hydroxide.

  • Finally, DO NOT USE PRESSURE WASHERS.  The high pressure of those devices can harm the headstone if it is experiencing granularization ('sugaring').  Also, high pressure drives water into tiny cracks and fissures in the stone with much more force than what is experienced when it is raining.  Driving the water into the stone will be damaging to the stone, long-term.  Hand-pump garden sprayers are OK because their pressure is very low and doesn't drive water into the stone - it is just used for rinsing the stone as a gentle rainfall would do.

The following tools and supplies are safe to use for headstone cleaning.

NOTE: Suitable products are available from a variety of suppliers.  Common products, such as brushes, sprayers, and gloves, etc., can be purchased at local merchants.  Specialized products, such as D/2 Biological Solution, have very limited availability at local merchants, and most people will have to purchase them on-line.  Following are sources for those products.
    •   Cemetery Preservation Supply LLC
    •   Atlas Preservation

What you can (and should) use.

  1. Safety glasses: Cleaning the headstone with liquids and a stiff brush will unavoidably fling small particles of biolological material, dirt, and cleaning solution into the air and you don't want that stuff in your eyes.

  2. Dishwashing gloves (commonly reffered to as rubber gloves, but they are usually a latex or nitrile product).  You should wear these to prevent the D/2 and the biological material from getting on your skin and absorbed into your pores.

  3. Plain, clean tap water for scrubbing and rinsing.  A good rule for suitable water is, "If the water is suitable for drinking, it's suitable for headstone cleaning."
    At a minimum, you need a spray bottle full of water, plus two gallons of water for each headstone.  If you use a spray bottle with a large diameter round base, it will be more stable (and remain upright) when placing it on the grass between uses.  Optionally, a hand-pump pressurized garden sprayer is more convenient to use than a spray bottle because it would eliminate hand fatige from constantly squeezing the spray bottle trigger.
    Also, keep at least 1 gallon of water in reserve at your vehicle so you can be sure to wash your hands before eating anything and/or grabbing the steering wheel to drive the vehicle again.

  4. A specialty cleaning agent which will not cause damage (long-term or short-term) to headstones.
    The solution recommended by the National Cemetery Association is is D/2 Biological Solution.  The important ingredient in that product is a Quaternary Ammonium Compound which kills biolocical growth (such as moss, algae, and lichen), does not have any detrimental effects on the stone, and inhibits re-growth of the biological material for up to a year.
    This product is sold in various quantities, and also comes a hand-held spray bottle size.
    Optionally, you might find a hand-pump pressurized garden sprayer (purchased separately) would be more convenient than a spray bottle because it would eliminate hand fatige from constantly squeezing the spray bottle trigger.

    Preservation expert Jonathan Appell says to use the D/2 Biological Solution at full strength.

    An alternative cleaning agent with similar effectiveness to D/2 is called 'Wet & Forget'. Read more about this product here.

  5. Scrubbing & Scraping Tools. 

    CAUTION: Always check for crystalization ('sugaring') of the stone before using a brush or scraper on it because even an 'approved' brush or wooden scraper will remove the crystalized material which will cause permanent damage to the stone.

    Brushes for scrubbing the headstone must be natural fiber (palmyra, tampico, boar's hair) or nylon bristle brushes.  DO NOT USE METAL TOOLS OR BRUSHES WITH METAL OR PLASTIC BRISTLES because they could scratch or otherwise damage the headstone.

    • A large, flat brush for cleaning the predominently flat areas of a headstone.  A horse grooming brush works well, and some have a strap that goes over the back of the hand which makes holding it securely less tiring on the hand, but any large, flat, natural-bristle (or nylon bristle) brush will give the best results on flat stone surfaces.

    • Smaller brushes, such as toothbrushes which are needed to get into the lettering and other carved designs.  (Some folks also report bamboo skewers are good for getting into really deep etchings.)

    • Wooden paint stir sticks which are useful for scraping off built-up biological material.  The wood will not damage the stone as a metal scraper is likely to do.

    • Flexible plastic scrapers (plastic putty knife).  Make sure the blade is flexible so it is softer than the headstone material and will not scratch the headstone.

  6. Other miscellaneous tools may be required to clean up the plants, bushes, and grass around the headstone.  Tools you can expect to need are:

    • Work/gardening gloves (separate from the latex gloves used for cleaning).  Leather gloves are good if the vegetation has briars or thorns.

    • A bench brush (to clean away dirt and debris prior to getting anything wet)

    • A gardening hand trowel for clearing earth and sod away from the headstone.  Trowels are usually made of metal, so be careful NOT to strike or scrape the headstone when using one.

    • Pruning shears or 'loppers' or hedge trimmers

    • Scissors (convenient for trimming grass around the border of the monument)

    • A small tarp or empty buckets (to hold sod and debris removed from the grave site)

  7. Decorative items:

    • American flags for veteran's graves.   (10-pack)   (50-pack)

    • Plastic flowers for non-veteran graves.  Inexpensive plastic flowers can be found at dollar stores.

    • Pre-cut 16" lengths of 1/2" PVC pipe to pound into the ground next to the headstone in which will be placed the American flag (or flowers).  Place the PVC pipe close to the headstone so as to not make grass trimming difficult for the cemetery workers.

    • Zip-ties (cable ties) to place on the dowel of the flag in order to limit the depth the flag will go into the PVC pipe.  (You limit the depth the dowel will go into the PVC pipe by leaving a 1" 'tab' on the zip tie when you cut off the excess after tightening it on the dowel.)  Position the zip-tie on the dowel so as to keep the bottom of the dowel from touching the earth so it doesn't rot, and ensure the flag itself is elevated off the ground at all times. (Harbor Freight)

    • A rubber mallet to pound the PVC pipe into the ground.

  8. A hand-tote or wheeled cart to move all of the materials to/from the grave site.  Watch craigslist for a used garden cart - even a Radio Flyer wagon.

This page was developed by Herb Klug       Updated September 8, 2022       Contact me at herbk98@gmail.com