Gravestones provide a visual marker of a loved one. For many, they become a place of solace where visits bring the individual back to life and can be used to continue on much-needed conversations. While these markers are designed to withstand the elements and provide long-term service, they do require regular maintenance and cleaning to minimise wear over the years. And, for so many of us, all of this information is new. This is why we’ve created this guide to help you understand regulations, responsibilities and methods.
Whose Responsibility Is it to Clean and Maintain Gravestones?
Unless you have chosen to bury a loved one on private property, you will have had to have purchased a burial plot before laying your loved one to rest. While this gives you and your family the Deed of Grant and the right to this section of land for a designated period of time, it does not mean that you own the land. This remains the property of the authority that owns the cemetery.
When purchasing a burial plot, you will be given information about the regulations that surround its responsibility. For some, there are very strict agreements on how often they should be cleaned, what ornaments or objects can be left as mementoes of memorial and how personalised you can make this space. In situations where a person dies without family or funeral arrangements, they may be given a public health funeral. And, in this instance, an unmarked grave is used and you are not permitted to add any markers to the spot.
While the land itself will belong to the authority, the responsibility for maintaining the gravestone is with the Deed or Grant owner. You will need to either organise professional cleaning and repair, when needed or undertake the task yourself. Many people will pull weeds and tidy up the surrounding area when they pay a visit to a site. But, for more in-depth cleaning, it pays to have an understanding of the options out there.
Burial Authority Regulations
Abiding by the regulations given out by the related authority is important. As owners of the land, they have the final say on what can and cannot be undertaken at a burial site. Some of the information you will need to consider includes:
Burial Plot Dimensions
Within your Deed of Grant, you will be given information about the exact dimensions and scope of your plot. With cemeteries becoming more and more full, it is important to be strict when sticking to these. Make sure that ornaments, flowers or other decorations don’t encroach on other gravesites as this can become distressing for other families. You may also face prosecution of some description from the authority themselves.
Some cemeteries have strict policies on how long items such as flowers and wreaths can be left on a grave. This is to maintain an orderly and tidy environment for everyone that visits. There may also be rules as to what type of tributes can be left – especially if they run the risk of impacting safety or attracting pests to the site.
Some authorities will also have very strict rules on the types of ornaments you are allowed to leave at a site. Paying attention to the regulations they give out will help eliminate the risk of distress or upset down the line.
Overall, the expectation is for you to properly maintain and care for the burial site during its time under your ownership. And, this includes making sure you clean and maintain the gravestone regularly. Some authorities will issue safety checks every few years to make sure they are safe and may even lay some stones flat if they are thought to present a falling or toppling hazard.
How to Clean Gravestones?
As we mentioned above, it is your responsibility to clean the gravestone of a loved one. This process also ensures that the message and information on the stone remain legible, making it easier for people to find it when they wish to pay a tribute or pay their respects.
Gravestones are exposed to the elements. Lichens are a form of fungi that grow in any environment that is left exposed to the surrounding environment for a long period of time. These, along with moss, mould and other biological growths are common and can cause damage or staining to gravestones over time. Cleaning a gravestone is a specialist process – especially when they get to a certain age – and is something you need to do with care.
- Use Soft Water
Your first port of call should always be warm, soapy water and a cloth or soft brush. Non-harsh liquid detergents will help to shift surface dirt while specialist headstone cleaner sprays (such as D2) can be used to help extend the lifespan of the stone for many years. Avoid using bleach or acids as these can cause irreparable damage and make it more prone to erosion over time. As with all decisions, make sure to check with your local authority to make sure there are no restrictions or conservation laws you need to be aware of.
- Use Circular Patterns
To reduce the risk of damage as much as possible, use circular motions to work away any dirt or grime sitting on the surfaces of the gravestone. We highly recommend avoiding hard scrubbing – it is vital you use a gentle motion to keep the stone looking its best at all times.
- Pay a Specialist for Maintenance
If you notice any damage to the gravestone, it is vital to enlist the support of a professional. The authority will likely have the contact information for an approved memorial mason and will be able to advise on any restrictions where these works will need to take place. This can include repairing chips or stress cracks in a way that will allow the gravestone to look its best for many more years to come.
The gravestone you choose isn’t just a financial commitment. It’s a celebration of your loved ones and a place where you will be able to memorialise them. At Wallace Stuart, we’re here to help you make those difficult decisions, before and after you lay the deceased to rest. For more information and support, please get in contact with us here today.