We field a lot of cemetery and headstone questions at NCPTT. The most common question is how to clean grave markers. The second most common is where to get funds for cemetery care, I am still looking for that answer. However, we can usually help with the first question. Generally, cemetery stewards around the country are caring for marble, limestone, or granite markers with lots of slate, sandstone, and brownstone mixed in. I still get the rare wooden or iron marker question, and I look forward to the occasional question about concrete markers, which are some of my favorite.
However, in all my years of questions only once has anyone asked me about soapstone. This is either that people are not interested or that they do not know what soapstone is. I hope this post covers both of those possibilities.
Soapstone is a metamorphic stone composed mostly of talc. A relatively soft stone it is easily quarried and carved, for this reason it has been used to mark graves all along the Southern Appalachian Region. In this area most soapstone is in the blue or green range of colors. It appears to with stand weathering well and most headstones that I have personally documented were very readable. Commonly these stones are very vernacular, having been carved by family members or by local craftsman but not by formal monument shops.
If a soapstone marker is in the need of cleaning. I would only recommend the softest of brushes and water, I have used a baby hair brush with great results. The biggest thing to keep in mind it how very soft this stone is, some soapstones have a value of 1 to 2 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. When cleaning or working around soapstone exercise patience and care not to scratch or damage the stone.
The largest enemy of the soapstone grave marker is careless landscaping practices, so if your site has
soapstone markers special care should be taken around them when weed eating or mowing.
If you are interested in seeing more pictures of soapstone markers, I suggest the excellent book “Sticks and Stones, Three Centuries of North Carolina Gravemarkers” by M. Ruth Little.