Guest post by Virgil F.

For novices, cleaning and tending grave markers seems incredibly intimidating. Mistakes are almost all irreversible, and incredibly easy to make. So, for those trying to contribute to their local community by volunteering their time with a scrub brush.. how are you supposed to start? Take a quick moment to read an introduction to the basics from a fellow novice! This isn’t necessarily an exhaustive list, but it should help anyone inspired by the hours of TikTok’s on the topic.

1. Learn what might make a marker “safer” to work on

Granite is a very hard stone (6.5 on the Mohs scale), which means it is resistant to weathering and disturbance in a way that “softer” stones like marble are not. When it comes to tending the
markers, granite could be labelled “beginner friendly” as it tolerates some of the common mistakes that come with learning to clean and maintain markers. Accidentally scrubbed a bit too hard? That’s okay, you’re just learning! Decided to bust out the pressure-washer in the name of convenience? A granite
marker will probably survive the ordeal, unless it’s already falling apart in some way. If you want to figure out the best ways to care for grave markers, granite is a material that will forgive more than a few transgressions.

2. Learn how to recognize marker materials

An added benefit to using this sturdy stone is the multitude of colours available, which can’t necessarily be said of other marker materials. Here in Victoria, B.C., most of our cemeteries have their fair share of reddish granite that stands out in a sea of grey and black. Even without engraved motifs or designs, the hues of the red granite are pretty enough to draw the eye on their own. The sliding scale of grey granites range from a pale white-grey (which is easily mistaken for marble) to a striking slate-
black. One constant throughout the different hues and shades are the inclusions of dark minerals and “glitter” that lend a great deal of depth and movement to the stone itself. These speckled inclusions make lighter shades of granite distinguishable from marble, cement, or limestone of a similar shade. Typically, the little spots and freckles have a broad distribution and don’t form streaks or lines as they would in marble.
Remember folks, if you’re uncertain about what you’re working with, best leave it be until you’re better acquainted with the techniques and processes involved in cleaning these grave markers. The stones aren’t going anywhere fast, and you can revisit that pretty headstone once you’re confident you can safely clean that dirt and moss away!

3. Understand what tools work best

While granite is a beginner friendly stone, one should still take care not to get too aggressive with markers while cleaning. Steel wool and pressure washers aren’t really necessary to get rid of moss and dirt. Think of stone like particularly rough skin- would you use steel wool on your hands after a few hours in the dirt? Stone has pores like we do, and it shifts and breathes as the weather changes. More often than not, a dish scrubbing brush and some patience is all that’s needed to clear away the
worst of the grime. While cleaning a few of the grave markers during the most recent field day, we found ourselves using Popsicle sticks and toothbrushes to get into nooks and crannies! Wood is an excellent option for cleaning away mosses growing in crevices, as it isn’t hard enough to cause damage to stone. Scrubbing between letters with a toothbrush was enough to lift surface lichens from the stone in areas that weren’t suited to the larger brushes, and the soft bristles didn’t lift away any of the paint remnants from the headstone I was working away at, either!
Some experts use a chemical cleaner called D2 to clear mosses and lichens from stone, as it doesn’t eat away at the surface of the stone like most other chemicals. However, it is fairly pricey,
making it inaccessible for most beginners. For first-timers, it’s best to avoid chemicals entirely- most of them are going to do more harm than good.

There you have it, three little things to keep in mind for anyone interested in the realm of grave marker care! If you are still thinking about contributing to your local community in this respect, try reaching out to cemetery directors in your area, or the head of your local churches and synagogues to see if they would like your help. Many of them can point you in the right direction to start your journey, and you can spend your weekends in the sun with rubber gloves up to your elbows!