Lesson 3: Cleaning Tombstones Do’s and Don’ts


One of the most controversial subjects of discussion among family historians and genealogists is how to clean tombstones and markers. There are those who take an aggressive approach and attack the task with rubber gloves, wire brushes, bleach, lime remover, sandpaper, paint scrapers, and screwdrivers. Yes, you should be cringing! Every one of these approaches is detrimental and destructive. Other people take a more rational, preservationist approach to the process. We will discuss some of those in this lesson.

What any cemetery aficionado or researcher must recognize is that tombstones are not forever. The elements of nature and the environment will ultimately erode the surface of every gravestone or marker. Those who considered marble the height of elegance a century ago would be saddened today to see their family markers crumbling to dust in the inscriptions rendered nearly illegible by acid rain, moss and lichen, and extremes of temperature variation.

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Lessons in this course: