How gravestones are deep cleaned

    • Alicia Williams has gone viral on TikTok after sharing cathartic gravestone-cleaning videos.
    • She uses a cleaner called D/2 Biological Solution.
    • Her goal is to make each gravestone legible to conserve each person's story.

The following is a transcript of the video.



Narrator: My name is Alicia Williams, and I'm a gravestone conservator. Today I'm going to show you how I clean gravestones. Before I start a clean, I take the time to assess the gravestone, and I make sure that it's not wobbly or in any way deteriorating before I approach the clean. The next step would be to apply a product called D/2 Biological Solution. It's been tested and shown to be safe and effective at removing all of the biological growth on the surface of a marker, and it doesn't cause any harm or leave behind any residual damage or effects like bleach would, or regular household soap. I soak the whole marker, and then I will allow that to dwell on the surface for a few minutes, and I will spray it down with a little water. D/2 keeps working over time. That's how it's formulated. The warmer it is outside, the better it works. I personally find the fall is my favorite time to go clean, because the D/2 works throughout the winter. And so when you come back in March, April, it's just an entirely new piece. This particular marker had a significant amount of mossy growth on the surface of it. It was a very satisfying scrape for me. I am scraping the lichen and surface debris off of this stone before I begin the brushing process. Lichen is just little mossy, flowery growths that kind of stick onto the surface. They're harmful over time. They will completely overtake the stone. The type of grime and dirt that's on a gravestone varies depending on where you're located and where the grave itself is. Is it under a tree? Is it in the shade? Is it on a hill? Does it get any sun? It's mostly different types of lichens and moss and just dirt and grass and things that get blown on it from mowing and caretaking efforts. I am using a regular bamboo skewer that you would buy at your local grocery store to make sure I get all of the debris out. Occasionally I will pull those out to facilitate the cleaning process. The main type of brush that I use is called a Tampico brush. It is made with natural bristles, and as you scrub the stone, the bristles just get softer. So it really limits any abrasion to the surface of the marker. Some of the smaller ones that I use, the bristles will wear away instead of the stone itself. So I'll wear them down to almost nothing and throw them away. Generally speaking, if you wouldn't use the brush to wash your car, you don't want to use it on a gravestone. Anything harder than that is going to possibly risk harming the integrity of the stone or the inscription itself. I do not press hard. It's pretty gentle. If it's a newer, polished-granite marker, you can be a little bit more aggressive with those, because it's a stronger stone and, typically, they're modern and able to withstand a little bit more than the older ones. Once I feel like I've gotten the bulk of it off, then I give it a good rinse and let it dry. It's very important to keep water on the stone while you work, because keeping the stone wet as you scrub limits any abrasion to the surface, and it also helps whatever is on there to come off a little bit more easy. I carry a lot of gallons of water with me, a low-pressure sprayer -- that's important because on historic stones, they're a softer stone, marble, sandstone, and they're very easily damaged by high pressure. So it's important to use a low-pressure sprayer, like what you would use to spray fertilizer on your garden plants. The most important tip I have for someone who wants to get started in cleaning gravestones is to remember the main principle is to do no harm and to ask permission before you work in any cemetery. The excitement of watching that first stone come clean was the first time I felt a real, genuine smile come up on my face in a really long time. It just made me feel really good inside, like I had found a purpose.