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The causes of a dark or unreadable tombstone may be one of, or a combination of, the following:
- Lichen, algae, mold and tree tannins (leaves, nuts and bark) stain headstones.
- Lichens secrete acid that dissolves the calcium in marble and limestone.
- Algae, mold, and lichen grow because the stone pores absorb water.
- In the winter, the freezing/thawing of moisture in the stone causes spalling (surface loosening of minerals and cracking).
- The effects of acid rain
- Other contaminants -- such as microorganisms from bird droppings, etc.
Tombstone Cleaning DON'Ts!!!Edit
- NO wire brushes
- NO shaving cream
(See Dick Eastman's blog on tombstones and shaving cream.)
- NO chemicals ... no acids, vinegar, ammonia, bleaches, etc.
- NO soaps
- NO household cleaners (including, but not limited to): soap, detergents (liquid or powder), Borax, Clorox, TSP, Calgon, Fantastik, Formula 409, Spic and Span (or any other abrasive cleaner).
- NO metal or plastic scrapers, putty knives, etc.
- NO brushes or products with natural bristle brushes as they leave fibers behind that biological growth adheres to.
- NO sealants of any kind.
- NO power washers, etc.
- The above items rip the skin of a stone, which promotes water penetration -- stone breathes water vapor but hates water.
Tombstone Photography TipsEdit
- If your shadow appears on the tombstone, when taking the picture:
- Stand on the other side of the tombstone and take the picture upside down. (You can rotate it to the right angle when you print it) or
- Stand farther away and zoom in on the tombstone.
- Try taking photographs in full sun, or a cloudy day, or when the sun is in different positions during the day. Sometimes a reflecting surface, like a white poster, will light up the subject when it is angled to catch the sun. If photographing from all angles doesn't seem to bring up the inscription, try spraying plain water on the grave marker.
- Drywall sanding sponge ... in medium and/or coarse ... sponge is surrounded on all sides by sandpaper
- Plain water and a spray bottle.
- Small whisk broom ... use only to dust off any grass clippings, etc. that may be obscuring the stone due to the latest mowing, etc.
The following technique was learned from a professional who is helping Huntsville, Alabama restore some of its older cemeteries. It is truly low-tech and relatively inexpensive, won't harm the stones, and is very effective.
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Use the sanding sponge to LIGHTLY "sand" the tombstone of any surface debris. Tombstones that look like they're totally UNreadable will suddenly have enough contrast from the "crud" left in the crevices to take some really good photos of the tombstone.
- Note: You are "sanding" off ONLY the environmental crud on the tombstone ... you are not sanding the tombstone surface itself.
The beauty of using the sanding sponge is that it doesn't harm the stone.
Once the stone is cleaned ... help other researchers by taking a picture and posting the tombstone photo to one or more of the following