Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gravestone Cleaning

As Memorial Day approaches, we will be thinking of those we lost and visit their cemetery sites. We will plant geraniums, lobelia, and pansies to make a statement about those we loved…that we still remember them and they are in our hearts, and we honor them by maintaining the site that is a memorial to them.

We will also want to keep the family stone clean free of lichen and moss.  It may add some character, but it can also fill up the incised lettering and start to deteriorate the stone.  This is a very easy cleaning job as I found out when visiting my family’s stone in a nearby town cemetery with my aunt.  We poured water over the stone, and then easily scraped off the lichen and moss with a simple car windshield scraper.  It worked great.  The one we used had a hard plastic handle and a softer plastic scraper. 

You could use other types of scrapers as long as they are not as hard as the stone such as wooden craft sticks, or a wooden or bamboo spatula.  Do not use metal.  If you use metal or something with metal edges or even a metal-bristle brush, you are likely to do a great job removing all the lichen, moss, and algae, but it might also damage the stone making it more susceptible to future damage.  Power washing is not recommended, and do not try to clean a stone that is already flaking or delaminating.  You may want to get professional help to maintain the stone.  

We also used a nylon bristle brush to get into the lettering to remove the lichen.  We were not able to remove the flat growth that clung to the stone, but most of that was on the rougher sides of the stone and not where the lettering had been made.

Most household cleaners are more acidic than the stones, so if you use them to clean the headstone, you may be causing a chemical reaction that will eventually show up as the stone erodes.  Bleach will do just that and change the color of the stone, and possibly make the stone porous and rough to the touch.  Plain water works just fine.

Memorial Day also reminds us to tend to our flags as we lower them to half-mast for the day.  If you have a flag that has been frayed over the winter, have a look to see if it’s cotton or nylon or some other synthetic material.  Cotton flags are fine to give to the Boy Scouts or Veterans of Foreign Wars for ceremonial burning on Flag Day in June.  However, the synthetic versions of the American flag should not be burned as they produce toxic gas and pollute our air. 

American Flags, Inc. is providing a flag-recycling program.  There is a small fee depending on the size of your flag, and you do have to mail it to the company.   I sent my neighbor’s torn nylon flag in for recycling after he died.  I folded it into the traditional triangle and mailed it with a $4 check to Wisconsin.  I know my 101 year-old neighbor Joe would have approved.  (Note on 10/16/13:  I found the above link to be broken and can only find the following service for recycling an American flag:  http://www.flagkeepers.org/home0.aspx)

Remembrance Day in Canada is in November to recall the end of WWI.   Canada Day in July is Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador.  I just found a site for recycling Canadian Flags.  I don't see any details, but you can contact them Monday through Friday from 9am to 5 pm EST at 1-800-565-4100 or websales@flagsunlimited.com 

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