Jason Church demonstrates the proper technique for cleaning a marble headstone using a biocidal cleaner, water, and a soft bristle brush.

In 2004, the Department of Veteran Affairs National Cemetery Administration turned to NCPTT when it wanted advice on chemical cleaners for their marble headstones. This began and partnership and extensive research on the subject of commercially available cleaners for removing biological growth and general soiling from marble headstones.

This week, NCPTT’s Mary Striegel reported the results of the six-year VA-funded study to Steve Muro, the VA Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, and a variety of National Cemetery Administration officials. Based on NCPTT research, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will implement new policies that ban bleach-containing cleaners and encourage the use of gentle biocidal cleaners for regular maintenance of more than three million headstones nationwide. The results of the study led NCPTT to develop a document on the best practice for cleaning government-issued marble headstones, which can be downloaded here.

Download “Best Practice for Cleaning Headstones” Best-Practices-Final.pdf – Downloaded 3749 times – 219 kB

The main recommendations include the following:

  1. Cleaning should be undertaken with the mildest, least-abrasive method.
  2. A biocidal cleaner performed the best in this study. Recommended biocidal cleaners include D/2 Biological Solution (which was tested in this study) manufactured by Sunshine Makers,  Enviro Klean® BioWash®, or other cleaners that contain quaternary ammonium compounds.
  3. Soak the stone liberally with water before applying the cleaner with a hand or backpack sprayer or garden hose.
  4. Always keep the stone wet during cleaning and thoroughly rinse afterwards.
  5. Agitate the surface gently in a circular motion using a soft bristle brush. Clean small areas from the bottom up.
  6. Remember to rinse after cleaning each area and to thoroughly rinse the stone at the end to make sure that no cleaner is left behind.

The research which led to these recommendations included field and laboratory studies that cut across disciplines from chemistry and biology to materials science and conservation treatment development. There were two main goals of the study. The first goal was to find effective commercial cleaners that removed soiling and microorganisms which alter the appearance and degrade headstones. The second goal was to look at factors that led to the re-growth of microorganisms on the stone.

NCPTT researchers studied five different cleaners which can be easily applied in the field. The cleaners needed to be effective in improving the appearance of the headstone and do no harm to the marble. In the field, NCPTT evaluated cleaners on stones located at five different climates and in both sunny and shady environments. Microbiologists at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences evaluated the microorganisms originally on the stone including bacteria, fungi, and algae. They helped to follow the re-growth on the headstones after cleaning over an eighteen-month time period. Additionally, they conducted accelerated laboratory tests using fungi to distinguish between the best field performing cleaners.

A technical report of the research findings is forthcoming.

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49 Responses to Best Practice Recommendations for Cleaning Government-Issued Marble Headstones (2011-17)

  1. Sandra Lopez says:

    thank You for info! We run a small very old family cemetery. We would like to publish your site and info On Facebook page Lopez Cemetery….

  2. Jan says:

    The download link takes you to a paper on human skeletons…

  3. Lori Mandell says:

    Here’s a link to current D2 distributors:

    http://www.d2bio.com/

  4. Jarrod Roll says:

    The “Gravestone Cleaning Kit” is available for those needing the correct tools/materials and instructions for cleaning one or two gravestones. Learn more at http://www.saveyourstones.com/gravestone-cleaning-kit.html

  5. Felicia says:

    Hello, would you happen to know the policy for maintenance of headstones at a national cemetery? Specifically, who is allowed to maintain a headstone and if a private citizen wanted to do so, could they?

    Thank you.

    • Jason Church says:

      Dear Felicia,
      Generally the cemetery and staff maintain the stones. I encourage you to contact the staff of the cemetery and ask them directly. I have worked in many of our National Cemeteries and have found their staff members easy to approach and very willing to help.

  6. Arthur says:

    I had no idea that there is such a problem as cleaning headstones. Thanks for the information. Definitely, I’ll keep it in mind to share this information with my friends!

  7. forrest koland says:

    I need info on how to restore the black lettering on my fathers white military stone. Thank You, Forrest

    • Jason Church says:

      Forrest,
      The paint and the process is called lithochrome. The stone but be cleaned and taken out of the ground and laid flat. The lithochrome paint is a type of stain so the stone must be horizontal to keep from staining the stones face. This is usually done by a monument dealer or certified memorialist that offers this service.

  8. Dean says:

    A gravestone should be cleaned and maintained carefully so as to avoid getting it scratched or tarnished. Thus, it is best to use a soft-bristle brush, or at most a plastic scraper or craft stick, instead of a wire brush or abrasive pad.

    Moreover, care should be taken so as to avoid cleaning with detergents that contain compounds like sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, sodium sulfate, ammonium carbonate, and trisodium phosphate (TSP or Calgon); they contribute in the build-up of soluble salts beneath the surface of the stone. Great post thanks

  9. Jackie McCarver says:

    I am thankful I found this site as I have 5 markers to clean at one site. I was told to use clorax water but wanted to check first as one of these date back to 1948. I am now aware of water, soft brush and water. Thank you for the info. The addition of a cleaning agent is not necessary as these will be maintained, at least, for my life.

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