There are differing opinions about how tombstones should be cared for. They range from pressure washers to scrubbing by hand. The Washington State Cemetery Association recommends that at least every ten years, most tombstones should be cleaned. At this writing, Sunnyside Cemetery has no past or future plans to clean stones. The caretakers do straighten and raise them as needed, but budgets do not allow for a cleaning schedule. As such, any proposed stone cleaning is up to individual families and volunteers. We have been very fortunate over the past several years, as four different Eagle Scout candidates have taken on the maintenance and cleaning of some of the historic stones as their Eagle project. One of the requirements by the Boy Scouts of America is that all Eagle Scout candidates accomplish a major community service project that involves the entire scout troop. These Scouts have done a wonderful job of helping to lengthen the life of many of our beautiful historic tombstones by cleaning the moss and lichens.
Professionals say that pressure washers may be used to clean granite stones. However, be warned that some of the newer stones have darkened lettering (paint) and pressure washing may remove that. Monument companies that make and clean tombstones tell us that pressure washers can also be used on marble if the proper operator is using the high pressure gun. Marble can chip, if one is not careful. Nearly all stones are now granite because of the durability and long life. While marble is beautiful, it just does not last as long. In Sunnyside, some of the old marble stones are gradually becoming illegible. After 100 plus years of weathering, the hand carved lettering and engravings begin to fade. The good news is that modern sand blasting methods make the engravings deeper so that they last longer.
The safest way to clean stones is to use good old fashioned elbow grease, which includes a mild soap, water and a scrub brush. Although there are differing ideas by professionals, the following is generally accepted:
- Use a non-ionic soap. One of the most readily available soaps is Orvus, commonly used in association with horse and sheep husbandry which can be found in feed stores. Mix a solution of one heaping tablespoon of Orvus to one gallon of water. It comes in either liquid or paste form. Another product is Photo Flo, ¼ oz. to 5 quarts of water. It can be purchased from your friendly neighboorhood photography store, such as Ritz. Monument companies use electric dishwasher soap. Do not use chlorine. There is a new product, which we have not tried, called Headstone Cleaner from a company called Make Life Easier. It's item #10-89025-9. The contact number is 1-800 522 0227.
- Pre-wet the stone thoroughly with clean water and keep the stone wet during the entire washing process.
- Thoroughly wash the wet stone using natural-bristled, wooden handled brushes of various sizes. The use of plastic handles is not recommended as color from the handles may leave material on the stone that will be very difficult to remove. Note: In Sunnyside Cemetery, white handled brushes and scrapers have been used successfully without coloring or damaging the stones. Toothbrushes are also a good tool.
- Be thorough. Wash all surfaces and rinse thoroughly with lots of clean water.
- When cleaning marble or limestone, one tablespoon of household ammonia can be added to the above mixture to help remove some greases and oils. Do not use ammonia on or near any bronze or other metal elements.
- Lichens and algae can be removed by first thoroughly soaking the stone and then using a wooden scraper to gently remove the biological growth. This process may need to be repeated several times. Wooden picks, such as toothpicks or shish kabob skewers are also useful.
- Not all stains can be removed by amateurs. Do not expect the stones to appear new after cleaning.
- Do not clean limestone or sandstone more than once every 18 months. Every cleaning removes some of the face of the stone. However, occasionally rinsing with clean water to remove bird droppings and other accretions is acceptable.
- Do not clean slate stones that have begun to peel or chip.
- Do not use wire brushes or metal tools.
- Tombstone repairs should only be done by professionals, such as monument companies.
- If you want to know more about monuments, refer to http://www.stoneworld.com
Sunnyside Cemetery has become a popular tourist attraction. Everyone agrees that it is a beautiful location and the old stones tell the pioneer history of the place where we live. Island County Cemetery District No. 2 has resolutions in place to keep the historic part of the old cemetery as it is. However, the Cemetery District needs help from all of the visitors. Over the years, some vandalism has taken place. When juveniles are having what they think is a good time by tipping over 100-plus-year-old tombstones, they should realize that Washington State laws address cemetery vandalism and the consequences are quite serious. Another problem has been color crayon tracings by young students. Each spring, different school districts bring their students to Sunnyside and they think it is cool to do tracings. Wrong! Teachers, please stop this practice. Color crayons can leave stains on marble which cannot be removed.
The most important thing to remember with stone maintenance is to just use common sense.