People hold on to their departed loved ones in many ways; memories, photos and small keepsakes are treasured items that can keep you feeling connected. Then there is the public memorial to those departed—their grave complete with headstone—which is a place for you to visit and spend time. You'll have spent time thinking about the material, the colour, the shape and size, and finally, the words that capture who they were and what they meant to the people who loved them. Now you have the perfect stone in place, you'll want to ensure that it remains a beautiful memorial to your loved one for years to come. Read on for a simple guide to gravestone maintenance.
When and How to Clean
You don't need to clean the headstone too often. Once a year should be sufficient to ensure that dirt and mould don't build up. In fact, too much cleaning may damage the coating that keeps the headstone protected from the elements. While granite is a strong stone that can tolerate cleaning without causing damage, you should not be too aggressive in your approach.
Before you begin to clean, protect any photography or ceramics by masking them off. You also need to be careful with the granite etching. This is particularly important if the etched areas have been painted to make them stand out. You want to make sure that you're not removing any of the paint during the cleaning process. If granite etching appears faded or damaged after some time, you can have it redone.
Choose a non-ionic detergent. These are the most neutral cleaning agents—they don't contain soluble salts and will not affect the PH levels of the stone. Using a soft nylon brush, wash the stone with the solution, avoiding the protected areas, then rinse with clean water. A new stone cleaned yearly should not have a build-up of mould or mildew and as such a simple clean should suffice.
To Seal or Not to Seal
In the past, sealing seemed like a wise thing to do to keep the elements away from the stone, thus preventing erosion. Today, it is no longer considered a good idea. A stone that is sealed will be unable to breathe. This means any water and soluble salts are trapped under the seal unable to escape. This can, over time, result in deterioration of the façade of the stone.
If you are caring for an older stone that you fear may be deteriorating, then a stone consolidator can be used to help with the preservation. These work by penetrating deeply beyond the surface, bonding the structure at a cellular level. Wherever the consolidator finds a void, it fills it. Consolidators allow the stone to breathe while limiting moisture absorption. Newer graves are unlikely to need this treatment.