There are a lot of home remedies for cleaning tombstones. Some of them are weird – like shaving cream – and most of them are harmful, said Vienna Historical Society’s Christine Novicky and Jeff Ford.
Headstones are porous, and chemicals from those home remedies, such as bleach, will get inside and rot the stone.
“The bleach will leach into the stone and start breaking it down over time,” Novicky said at the May 11 meeting of the Brookfield Historical Society.
Novicky and Ford, who are married, have been part of a crew of history buffs who are cataloging the contents of Vienna cemeteries through the computer app Find a Grave, and undertaking stone cleaning and repair projects.
“Don’t use soap, or vinegar, household detergents, any of that stuff,” Novicky said. “It will do the same thing. Even if it’s polished, it will still find a way to get in, if there’s any kind of little nick or crack. This damage is irreversible.”
People have been known to use chalk, paint or magic marker on stones to try and bring out the writing – Don’t, the said.
“Don’t ever use a power washer,” Ford said. “Great for your house and your deck, you will take the faces right off of those stones, and it’s gonna be horrible.”
The safest and cheapest method of cleaning a stone is soft brushing water to remove mud, grass clippings, lichens and moss. Don’t use a wire brush or scraper.
For those who want a deeper clean, use D2, a biological solution.
“It’s very simple to use it,” Ford said. “It’s biodegradable. It removes mold, algae, mildew.”
D2 can be applied to marble, granite, limestone, masonry and wood.
“It’s very safe,” Ford said.
D2, which Novicky said is used at Arlington National Cemetery, can simply be sprayed on and walked away from, as long as it doesn’t rain for 12 hours. After that, the rain will help it work.
“This will last and continually work for months,” Ford said. “It likes the elements outside, It does like the rain; it likes the sun; it likes the wind.”
About 15 minutes after applying D2, the stone will turn brown.
“It looks like the dirt running down,” Ford said. “Just leave it go.”
It can take a month or more for a stone to become its whitest, he said.
D2 costs about $50 a gallon, which is enough to clean about 55 stones, and also can be bought in spray bottles for about half that price, Ford said.